The new Declaration on sacramental matter and form: Context and questions

Gestis verbisque addresses an important and potentially serious problem in the Church today but does not completely address lingering problems in contemporary Catholic sacramental theology.

Pope Francis baptizes one of 27 babies during a Mass on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Jan. 13, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The latest “Note” from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, titled Gestis verbisque, addresses the issue of using proper form to celebrate the sacraments. It does so within the larger context of a treatise on general principles of sacramentology. “Form” here has the technical meaning in sacramental theology, that is, the essential words required for a valid sacrament (e.g., “This is my body” in the consecration of the Eucharist). This essay will examine the document, situating it within a larger context and providing some comments on it.

The first question is: why now? What occasioned this document? Its opening paragraph suggests a reason: many bishops are being asked to determine whether someone was properly baptized. Since baptism is the entry to all the sacraments, invalid reception of baptism negates the validity of subsequent sacraments (for example, Confirmation). Perhaps the most concerning case came from Detroit in 2020, where a man who thought he was a priest discovered his baptism was invalid.

What do we mean by an “invalid” baptism? Simply put, something that looked like a sacrament but which was not a valid sacrament because it lacked something essential to the sacrament in terms of matter (the material element required for the sacrament, e.g., water for baptism, certain types of bread and wine for the Eucharist) and/or form (the formula required for the sacrament). The form for baptism is “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” while triply immersing the child in or pouring water upon the child’s forehead.

Background and context

This is not rocket science; this should not be a major problem. Why is it?

Frankly, because we once had priests and deacons who decided to improvise when it came to baptism. In the case of Matthew Hood, the man who discovered he wasn’t a priest because he wasn’t baptized, it was because of how a certain deacon adulterated the rite of baptism.

Having had my undergraduate education in the Detroit Archdiocese in the days of John Cardinal Dearden, I can testify that there was a major obsession about “feminist” and “inclusive” language in various quarters of that Archdiocese. Others were obsessed with a “democratic” Church that should not appear too “clerical.” For the deacon involved in this case, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” was too clerical. To overcome that this deacon decided to substitute a formula, saying “We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Now, it is not the community that baptizes. In the ordinary case, it is the priest acting in persona Christi and in nomine Ecclesiae. Even in an emergency when a lay person baptizes someone in danger of death, it is a concrete person who baptizes, not some group. No “us” here.

So, to baptize as this deacon did is invalid, redefining who baptizes and the minister of the sacrament. How did Matt Hood find out about this? Well, he was baptized in the 1980s, by the time videos were filming baptisms and, watching his own baptism, he discovered what happened.

Other sacramental ministers of that era decided that the baptismal rite was “misogynistic” and “patriarchal” and so decided on even more extensive surgery to the Baptismal rite, substituting the formulation “I baptize you in the name of the Creator and the Redeemer and the Sanctifier.”

Now, Jesus revealed His “Father” to us. When His apostles asked Him to teach them how to pray, He said “Our Father” (not “Our Father and Mother”). And just before Jesus ascended into heaven, He commissioned those apostles to “baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19), that is, in the names He revealed of the Persons of the Trinity.

When ministers substitute functions for names, a two-fold error occurs. First, God addresses us by name and revealed His Name to us. When two people marry, they exchange consent as “I, John, take you, Mary ….” They don’t say, “I, the salesman, take you the bakery clerk ….” Second, while we tend to associate the Father with Creation, the Son with Redemption, and the Holy Spirit with Sanctification, it would be false to imagine that these “functions” are specialized niches of particular persons of the Trinity. The whole Trinity created: the Father sees, He sends out His Word, and the Spirit moves upon the waters. The entire Trinity likewise engages in the work of redemption and sanctification.

This ad lib was not just because God is addressed by His revealed name but also because the deacon’s parceling out the “jobs” of the Persons of the Trinity is, bluntly, heretical. This bowdlerizing of the Rite of Baptism proves that a very little knowledge of theology can be a dangerous thing.

Now, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in 2008, declared that baptisms “in the name of the Creator” were invalid. It declared the “we baptize” formula invalid in 2020. Previously, in 2001, the CDF had declared Mormon baptisms invalid. That’s important because baptism is a sacrament that cannot be repeated if it was validly administered. Most Protestants who convert to Catholicism do not require baptism because they were validly baptized in their own communities, as most Protestant denominations baptize with water, more often by immersion than pouring, using the Trinitarian formula (upon which they would insist by Scriptural warrant).

Now, isn’t this much ado about nothing, a question of legalism? Absolutely not, as I have previously explained. Proper form and proper matter are both essential to express what a given sacrament is supposed to do. Somebody pouring water on a baby may be (a) washing baby, (b) breaking a temperature, (c) wrongly trying to hydrate the child, (d) drowning the kid, or (e) baptizing. What is said in conjunction with the act gives it meaning: a child is not baptized if the minister pours water and says “rub-a-dub-dub!” Neither is a child baptized if the minister pours water but replaces the essential declaration of the Church since its origins—that is, being baptized in the name of the Trinitarian Persons. Either the baptism occurs, or it does not. The Church cannot “retroactively” replace what was not there in the first place.

Why this document now?

If Gestis verbisque was promulgated because increasing numbers of bishops are having to grapple with the question of valid baptisms, then what’s not asked is: what were bishops doing in the 1970s and 1980s while these sacramental abuses were occurring? Catholics were writing to their bishops and to Rome, but–let’s be honest–many bishops of the time ignored those warnings and failed to rein in sacramental ministers who thought they were improv artists. Is the DDF being forced to face the extent of these abuses?

As noted, the CDF previously addressed questions of deficient baptismal formulae. Those declarations, however, were typically in classic “dubia” form, i.e., a particular genre of Vatican document.” Dubia usually are framed in the form of a precisely crafted question and answer, e.g., “Is baptism “in the name of the Creator …” valid?” “No.”

The DDF’s Gestis clearly wanted to expand the why behind the issue and, given the centrality of baptism to the entirety of one’s sacramental life, if the Dicastery is experiencing an influx of queries about the validity of baptisms, “Rome, we have a problem.”

Arguably, we do, which is why Gestis finds it necessary to reiterate classical principles of Catholic sacramental theology that have been undisputed for millennia. That particular matter and particular forms are prerequisite to sacraments is clear. You cannot celebrate the Eucharist with rice cakes (another “cultural decolonization” hangup of some 1970s/80s clergy). The form for some sacraments is clearer than others. “This is my body” or baptism in the name of the persons of the Trinity clearly reaches back to the apostolic age. The particular language for expressing consent in marriage has changed in the Church, as long as it preserves the free choice of a permanent union consistent with marriage’s essential characteristics. Gestis reminds us that matter and form are essential to sacramental celebration.

Gestis also raises the question of the minister’s intention. A minister must “intend to do what the Church does.” That does not mean he must necessarily believe everything the Church does. Anybody can validly baptize an infant in danger of death as long as he intends to do what the Church intends in baptism by pouring water and baptizing in the name of the Trinitarian Persons. They simply need to say “I want to do what the Church is doing” and use the matter and form in the proper manner. As previously noted, this is neither rocket science nor requires esoteric theological study.

A minister may be personally unbelieving or morally flawed. The Church has dealt with these cases in her history, e.g., the Donatist controversy in the early Church. As long as a minister simply intends to put himself at the Church’s disposition, using the very minimal matter and form requirements, one has done what he is supposed to do. How he stands before God in his double life is an issue between God and him.

Gestis puts the question into a larger context. The sacraments are God’s gifts, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church (which itself is a sacrament that reveals Christ to us). They are not the minister’s. When celebrating the sacraments, Gestis reminds us of the twofold role of the minister:

  • the minister acts in persona Christi—in the person of Christ. It is Christ who baptizes, confirms, forgives, etc. The minister merely puts himself at Christ’s disposal because Christ touches us here and now through the sacraments; and
  • the minister act in nomine Ecclesiae, in the name of the Church. The sacraments are not his sacraments. He celebrates them in the name of and on behalf of the Church. And since the sacraments are liturgical acts and it is the role of the bishop to govern the liturgy in his diocese (which is why the dereliction of episcopal duty mentioned above is so consequential), ministers need to recognize they cannot add or subtract from what the Church has appointed and which the People of God have a right to expect. (I italicized the latter because we have tended to emphasize the responsibility of the bishop in matters liturgical while failing to note that episcopal dereliction also abridges the rights of the faithful).

Three further concerns

Gestis therefore addresses an important and potentially serious problem in the contemporary Church and, so, is a welcome restatement of teaching. That said, I would add three additional concerns.

First, one reason the Church is facing these problems is ministers’ misunderstanding or rejection of their role. The minister is there to make Christ present and do what the Church does. That’s everything (which is quite a lot), but that’s it. That it is “Father Paul” or “Deacon Jack” who baptizes means nothing.

Two corollaries flow from this. Sacramental ministers must truly acquire a sense of kenosis, of emptying out; they must take as their norm John the Baptist who, faced with Jesus, is clear: “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). And while individual ministers need to work on the virtue of humility, the Church herself must also ask whether certain aspects of post-Vatican II liturgical reforms are not at least partially responsible for the accentuation of the minister-celebrant as an individual human personality over his role in persona Christi. An honest assessment of post-Conciliar “celebration styles” of the Mass, e.g., versus populum, centrality of celebrants’ seating versus sidelining of tabernacles, would honestly ask whether these practices–intentionally or unintentionally–have turned the minister celebrant into a “personality” rather than in persona Christi.

Second, Gestis dredges up but does not completely address lingering problems in contemporary Catholic sacramental theology. A discussion of matter, form, and ministerial intention is appropriate to this case but, as noted above, the document really says nothing that has not been said for centuries and centuries.

But it hasn’t been said out loud very much for the past half century. I suggest that the average Catholic under the age of sixty is unlikely to have heard the terms “matter” and “form” in relation to the sacraments, even though the terms have pre-Christian roots in the hylomorphism of Aristotelian metaphysics. That is, in part, because no small number of sacramental theologians experiment with approaches to sacramentology that abandon the classic Aristotelian-Thomistic understanding which, when coupled with the metaphysical ignorance of our virtual generation, is a lethal combination. I have every expectation, for example, that the “left” of Catholic American journalism will soon chime in with criticisms of Gestis for even talking in this way. Fr. Thomas Reese’s recent attack on transubstantiation would be representative of this tack.

Two recent works in sacramental theology—José Granados’s Introduction to Sacramental Theology and Romanus Cessario OP’s The Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church—separately identify a specter I fear is lurking in the background of all this, one which Gestis does not address: the problem of sacramental causality. Put bluntly, our language in the past five decades has eroded an understanding that the sacraments cause grace, not just celebrate it. In other words, the works of justification (baptism), reconciliation (penance), and so forth happen in and through the sacrament. The sacraments cause them. The sacraments are not rituals that celebrate something that happens independently of or maybe even prior to them. And it is this separation of awareness in the divine causing of grace (e.g., justification in baptism) from its sacramental rite that in fact allowed people–including bishops–to allow the problem of invalid baptism to acquire the dimensions it did, dimensions the Holy See seems finally to admit.

Third, reading Gestis makes me wonder how it fits with Fiducia supplicans, the recent and very controversial Declaration on “the pastoral meaning of blessings”. Gestis makes clear that the grace-causing activity of the sacraments is joined to their valid celebration, which at least presupposes certain minimal prerequisites in matter and form. It affirms that the minister is acting in persona Christi and in nomine Ecclesiae. There is no question that sacramental actions are inherently and indivisibly liturgical acts.

So, might one be so bold as to ask whether the “non-liturgical blessings” that Fiducia dreams up as a new species of “blessings” is less a “development” of theology than an ad hoc tactic to differentiate what apparently some people want to do: “bless” irregular situations from all the other kinds of blessings that should occur within ecclesial-liturgical contexts wherein the minister speaks in nomine Ecclesia (and presumably in fidelity to her teaching)?

What’s at issue is not the straw man of “blessing-as-moral-query” as much as blessing as ecclesial act necessarily bound up with the service of liturgy as progress in human sanctification. And how do we reconcile the contrast between the damage caused by ad lib ministers tampering with sacramental form with the DDF advising (via press release) that ministers offer their other blessings in short and simple ex tempore form? Is Fiducia less a “development” than an example of wanting one’s cake and eating it, too?

(Editor’s note: This essay was updated on Feb. 5, 2024, to clarify and correct the section about the baptism of Matthew Hood.)

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About John M. Grondelski, Ph.D. 31 Articles
John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. He publishes regularly in the National Catholic Register and in theological journals. All views expressed herein are exclusively his own.


  1. About ten years ago, I attended a weekday Mass in an archdiocese where I used to live but no longer did. Throughout the Mass, instead of saying, “The Lord be with you,” the priest stated, “The Lord *is* with you,” with an emphatic stress on the verb. This bothered me greatly. The Mass is not a private devotion that a priest can tinker with to suit his feelings or the needs of the moment; furthermore, were I or anyone else sitting there in a state of mortal sin, the Lord would not have been “with” us, at least not in the sense that the priest was implying. I now wonder if his corruption of the text invalidated the entire Mass. I know enough Latin to realize that in the phrase “Dominus vobiscum,” the verb is implied rather than stated, but the Church always inferred the verb as “be,” not “is.” It seemed to me that the priest was conveying a false sense of security to those present.

    • I’ve been hearing “The Lord is with you” regularly for decades at various parishes. “The Lord be with you” is a prayer; “The Lord is with you” is an invitation to presumption.

    • I expect that was illicit, not invalid, as long as he didn’t also mess with the words of consecration.

      Such priests need to visit the other side of the Confessional.

      • Amanda, the words of consecration were “messed with” with the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae. Recommend reading Pius V’s “Quo Primum” for his thoughts on the matter.

        • It cannot be illicit, seeing as it was approved by the Church (unlike all those accretions < 200 years old that Pope Pius V forbade).

          The change in wording does not necessarily make something invalid. This is obvious both in the way illicit changes in wordings are handled (some invalidate, some do not) and in the fact that the Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil do not have the exact formula that the Gregorian Mass has. The Church's authority to bind and loose applies to at least some of the wording. And frankly, if the Magisterial authority does not apply to the validity of the Novus Ordo in modern times, why should it apply to the validity of any Sacrament ever?

          I have objections (IMO well-grounded) with the laying aside of Tradition in the Vatican Mass. But that doesn't make the Mass invalid or illicit (when actually celebrated according to ALL the rubrics).

  2. Let’s also recall that that Bishop Hunthausen gave absolution to a stadium full of Catholics in what was purported to be Sacramental Confession. How was that ever rectified regarding all those people who left the stadium that say thinking their sins had been forgiven?

    • General absolution is valid if, among the standard requirents the penitents (?) are resolved to make a personal auricular confession as soon as reasonably possible. Otherwise, not. Yours truly is eager to be corrected if necessary.

      But as for things that transpired on Archbishop Hunthausen’s watch in Seattle (1975…), there was a Visitation–and a publicly available report which might serve as a reference point for ambiguities of our day when mercy at least seems to be advanced at the expense of truth. Signed by Apostolic Pro-Nuncio Pio Laghi (November 14, 1985) and balancing the good observations with the bad concerns:

      As part of the report, and apart from a laundry-list attachment (not public), the five included “concerns” were these:

      “(a) The need to bring into clear focus–working together with priests, religious and theologians–certain teachings of the Church and their implications for the pastoral practice of the Archdiocese. These include the role of conscience in making moral decisions; the role of the Magisterium in giving definitive guidance in matters of faith and morals; the nature and mission of the Church, together with its sacramental and hierarchical structure; an anthropology which provides an authentic understanding of the dignity of the human person; and a Christology which correctly reflects our Catholic faith concerning Christ’s divinity, His humanity, His salvific mission, and His inseparable union with the Church.
      “(b) In particular, the need to present more clearly the Church’s teaching concerning the permanence and indissolubility of marriage and to ensure that the Archdiocesan Tribunal, both its constitution and practice, conforms with all the prescriptions of the revised Code of Canon Law.
      “(c) Greater vigilance in upholding the Church’s teaching, especially with regard to contraceptive sterilization and homosexuality.
      “(d) The need to ensure that pastoral practice regarding the liturgical and sacramental ministry of the Archdiocese is in accord with the Church’s universal norms, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist. This includes, for instance, routine intercommunion on the occasion of weddings or funerals. Such a need also involves the Sacrament of Reconciliation, mentioning particularly the proper sequence of first confession/first communion and regulations regarding general absolution.”
      “(e) The need to review the ongoing education of the clergy and the selection and formation of candidates for the priesthood., and to be clear that laicized priests are excluded from certain roles in accord with the rescripts of their laicization.”

      • Oregon, where elderly chickens are given end of life care on designated retirement farms, and perhaps more evident in sister state Washington, the general absolution practice rightly initiated during war when time wasn’t available was apparently abused, perhaps by bishops as you allude. Persons I’ve met from the region seemed under the impression that the general confession given by parish priests, so I was told, at Mass was thought sufficient and followup with a priest unnecessary. As to your question such a confession is validated with a followup personal confession to a priest.

  3. I recall the case of the Detroit deacon that you mention, and also, about the same time, a priest in the West that had been using the wrong formula for years and had invalidly baptized many. All this happened in our Church which has strict controls on the sacraments.

    This brings up a question I have had for some time. In parish RCIA (now OCIA) we have catechumens, not baptized, and candidates, baptized in a protestant denomination that we accept as having valid baptisms. But how do we know that a candidate who was baptized 20 years previously by reverend Billy Bob in a mountain Baptist church used the correct formula, and did not improvise. It seems to me that we really don’t know. So, why don’t we baptize these people conditionally to be on the safe side? It is obvious from Vatican rulings that strict adherence to the formula is required for valid baptism.

    Two years before he died my father was baptized conditionally because there was no evidence indicating whether he was previously baptized or not.

    • In our church RCIA program, if we don’t know that the candidates baptism was valid then they are conditionally baptized in a private ceremony. We do accept their baptism as valid if they have statements from either their previous denomination or a witness to the Trintitarian baptism.

    • They could be baptized conditionally but the truth is that Protestants are far less likely to have tampered with Mt 28:19 than their Catholic counterparts.

      • I entered the Catholic Church a few years ago and my Protestant baptism was accepted.
        I was baptized in a Protestant church with water and the proper words. But our pastor clearly stated before the congregation that this (Baptism) does nothing. It is often called a believer’s baptism, an outward sign of an inner work. So – is this a valid baptism?

  4. What should someone do if they suspect they might have been invalidly baptized (it was long ago, not in the Catholic Church, and no one is around that could possibly remember)? Since salvation seems to rely on this, does one just hope, or can one approach a priest to seek proper baptism and subsequent sacraments?

    • You can request a priest in your parish to conditionally baptize you and record it. Conditionally in the sense of your reasonable doubt.

  5. According to the article linked to in this essay—the article about the deacon attempting to baptize invalidly—the mistake was not one of inclusive language but of substituting the pronoun “we” for “I” in the baptismal formula. Was that original article mistaken about what happened?

  6. John Grondelski in posing the question of blessing as ecclesial act v ad lib informal blessings begs another, more significant issue. Donatism was addressed with the teaching that insofar as the infidel priest acts with the mind of the Church the act, such as consecration is valid.
    A while back in another forum the problem of infidelity and absolution of sins was discussed, whether an infidel priest could absolve a sinner. The response to Donatism is sufficient. Although an unbeliever priest, with malevolent intent, or simple disinterest might well change the formula for absolution the penitent unaware [especially when Latin was exclusively used the penitent would be less aware], would the unlawful absolution remain valid? From this writer’s perspective God would ‘supply’, meaning that he would accept the good will of the penitent and absolve him. The issue of invalid baptisms would, in my opinion, be likewise validated by Our Lord in acknowledgement of the good will of the candidate. If men are legalists God is not, when it is to the benefit of salvation for a perfectly honest, willing penitent or candidate.

    • Well said, dear Fr Peter.

      Yes, The Church is uniquely that of King Jesus Christ, appointed so that good order in obeying Christ’s commands in The New Testament can be maintained. God is of good order, not of disorder, nor of random order. God does not contradict God.

      Yet this indispensable social role of The Church adds to and does not replace the heart-to-heart intimacy between a lovingly obedient believer and our Good Shepherd LORD (see John 10:27-30).

      Catholic Christian maturity is all about BOTH the Church organization AND each individual Catholic getting the balance right, in mutual humility & love.

      Catholic heavy-handed hierarchism can be just as sinful as Protestant free-range individualism.

      Ever seeking to hear & lovingly obey King Jesus Christ; blessings from marty

    • Father Morello – I understand what you say about God would “supply” and the good will of the penitent. But the Church still required that the priest in Detroit be re-baptized, re-confirmed and re-ordained. It does not seem that the Church was willing to rely on God supplying. In fact, I believe that the Church said that his Masses were invalid, no valid consecration, his good will not withstanding.
      In the case of the priest out West they tried contacting all those that the priest had invalidly baptized to re-baptize. Everyone’s good intentions at the original baptisms seemed not to matter.

      • Crusader, it’s one thing when you’re aware and have the opportunity to correct the error. It’s is another reality when you’re unaware.

      • And then there’s the case in Seattle in the late 1970s. An imposter was admitted to a parish as a visiting priest and without proper vetting by the chancery office. Before being found out, Fr. Joe or whomever had presided over three weeks of sham masses and confessions.

        A bit of backpedaling by the chancery office…for a “couple” of sacraments!

    • Ecclesia supplet applies to jurisdiction, not fact: it is not a question of whether the deacon had jurisdiction but whether he properly celebrated the sacrament, i.e., in the name of Christ in whose persona he acts (“I” baptize) versus the community (“we” baptize). That God fills in for our invincible ignorance is one thing, but if we know that something is deficient, we cannot “play dumb” and pretend “God will supply.”

  7. I agree that this matter is not rocket science. It can be easily resolved by re-reading
    Vatican II’s (1963) The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium #III, A.22 (3): “Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may addd, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” This language was subsequently incorporated as Canon 846.1: “The liturgical books, approved by the competent authority, are to be faithfully followed in the celebration of the sacraments. Accordingly, no one may on a personal initiative add to or omit or alter anything in those books.” Canon 838.1 states: “The ordering and guidance of the sacred liturgy depends solely upon the authority of the Church, namely, that of the Apostolic See and, as provided by law, that of the diocesan Bishop.” And Francis could just as easily reminded everyone of St. John Paul II’s instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum from 2004 which condemned a whole litany of liturgical abuses. This crisis of liturgical hubris has been going on for a very long time. I blame liturgics professors and the bishops who both seem to lack backbones and the courage to confront rebellious clergy and call them back to faithfulness. I would be loath to ascribe ignorance of these church documents to the ‘guilty’ parties but I suppose that is also regrettably possible.

    • Please correct me here:

      “Form” includes –
      a) The Church-approved Rite used to validly administer a Sacrament, and
      b) The Priest or deacon, having received the faculties to administer said sacrament by his bishop, to perform the rite of imparting the sacrament.

      “Matter” includes –
      a) all physical components deemed intrinsic to the proper execution of the sacramental rite, e.g., bread and wine, holy water, holy oils, etc., and
      b) the properly disposed object, i.e., person or persons to whom the sacrament is imparted.

      After all, if the recipient of a given sacrament is not properly disposed, then the imposition of the sacrament does not take place. The case of a priest baptizing a cat or, say, blessing two men openly living together with the intent of practicing sodomy, would be two examples of improper matter.

      Such situations would, by their very nature, impede the imposition any sacrament, even if the rite is properly administered by a valid minister.

      • So two men cannot marry, because they are not the proper object of marriage. However, a person in mortal sin can be validly Confirmed (rather sacriligeous, but valid) but will not receive the graces of the Sacrament until they’ve been properly shriven. A man and woman can marry validly while in mortal sin and not properly disposed, but again, no Sacramental graces. But a person who Confesses a sin and is unrepentant cannot be absolved.

        I’m not sure what the appropriate terminology would be, perhaps proper recipient vs. proper disposition?

    • Ignorance of liturgical rules on the part of the laity would generally be considered excusable. Not really a lot of obligation to know there.

      The clergy have an obligation to know what they’re doing. Just like doctors have a responsibility to know what they’re doing, and airplane pilots have a responsibility to know how to fly a plane. If they are ignorant, it’s culpable ignorance. If it makes a Sacrament invalid, that’s serious culpable ignorance.

  8. What would be the canonical consequences of two improperly baptized people–who didn’t realize their status–marrying and later seeking an annulment? Could one or the other (or both?) spouses claim Pauline Privilege (after lawful baptism) to enter a new union with a properly baptized person?

    I was conditionally baptized at age 4 because my emergency baptism in the hospital nursery wasn’t recorded. I needed a certificate to register at a Catholic school, and of course, for later life.

    • St Augustine developed a sacramental theology. Although marriage in the Catholic Church wasn’t instituted as a sacrament until 1184 Council of Verona [in response to Cathar heresy]. Prior to that when a man and women decided to live together, there was a ceremony in the Church, exchange of promises, the union consummated by conjugal relations. It was considered a marriage in accord with natural law. And that in accord with the indissolubility taught by Christ.
      Your question regarding freedom to remarry after discovering they were invalidly baptised, is a subject for canon law. My personal opinion is that the natural law bond would remain as indissoluble, since at the time of their marriage they both were believing Catholic Christians. For example, Christ held that Jewish marriages under the former dispensation and Mosaic law were indissoluble.

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