Monday, May 06, 2002

Over at Nota Bene, Sean has a blog entitled Is Donatism rearing it's head?

In this blog, he talks about a lady who compared priestly ordination with marriage, and how an anullment in the later might somehow imply that priests too can have invalid ordinations because the "right frame of mind" was lacking. Since I am not a theologian, I went to the one reliable on-line resource I know of, and that is the Q&A Forum of Father Joe Horn, O.Praem.

My questions to him will be in italics, and Padre Horn's replies will be in bold.

How do you know that a priest had a valid ordination?

As you know, ordination imparts sacramental "character", which is an indellible but invisible mark on the soul. Baptism also imparts character. So your question parallels this question: How can you tell whether or not a person has been validly baptised?

The answer is that you can't. There is no "character detector" nor does it seem possible that one will ever be invented. It'd be cool to have one; just wave it over the person and it'd give a complete readout of which sacramental characters they have, when and where obtained, by whom, and in what state of grace they were at the time. Sort of like the mythical "blessing detector" that you wave over an object to see if it's been blessed, and it has a meter that shows how "strong" the blessing is.

Seriously, you could look up a priest in the Catholic Directory, or on the website of his diocese or Order, to verify that he is at least considered to be a validly ordained priest by Those Who Ought To Know. Beyond that, we cannot know, nor do we need to know. If there is no serious evidence that a priest was not validly ordained, then you ought to dismiss any doubts and claim your right to peace of mind, since even if he WASN'T validly ordained God will not withhold any graces from YOU on that account.

Would sexual impropriety be an indication that it may have been invalid?

No. Although the sacraments give grace, they do not eliminate temptation nor prevent us from falling into sin. Indeed, the baptised are tempted MORE than the unbaptised, since the unbaptised are already in the devil's clutches.

The person then equated it to annulments and the sacrament of marriage by asking... did this man fully understand the commitment he was making? Was he in a position both mentally and emotionally to make such a commitment?

A "full" understanding is not necessary, because it is not possible. The priesthood is a mystery, which means it is an infinite source for meditation that can never be exhausted no matter how deeply it is understood. All that is requested is sufficient understanding, but even that isn't necessary for validity. If the intention is something as minimal as "I want to do whatever it is that the Church does", it's valid!

One of the purposes of the many years of seminary training is the discernment by the bishop (and his appointed helpers) of the level of understanding of each ordinand. Before ordination, each is given sufficient understanding, and that understanding is tested sufficiently. It would be a very rare case indeed that somebody would be determined retroactively to have had insufficient understanding AFTER all those years of training, discernment, and testing.

Where does the "intention" of the Sacrament of Holy Orders lie? Is it with the Bishop or the Priest?

The bishop. Saint Augustine was ordained a priest without having any intention whatsoever of becoming a priest, and only later did he acquiesce to his new state in life. As long as the matter (the laying on of hands), the form (the prayer of ordination) and the intention (of the bishop) are present, then the ordination is valid.

Hope this helps!

It most certainly did Father Joe. If anyone would like to see the exchange, just go to the following link.

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