Tension between liturgical restoration and liturgical reform

Summary: This article details how Vatican II decided to address all the complex issues surrounding the renewal of the liturgy as its first order of business.  Then, however, is shows how a small minority of  bishops and priests rejected the liturgical changes and insisted that the Latin Liturgy of Pius VI was to be accepted at all times and in all places as the exclusively valid form of worship of God.  Finally, the artilcle shows how Pope Benedict XVI agreed with the nay-sayers and gave them permission to ignore the liturgical reforms of Vatican II.

This  background will help make clear why Pope Francis has made it clear that those who cling to the Latin Mass are not permitted to celebrate the Sacraments in Latin as a way to deny the validity of the rites that emerged out of the liturgical reform of Vatican II.   This tension in the Church helps explain why the CDF would put forward a ruling that emphasizes the invalidity of every baptism that fails to woodenly repeat the required words sanctioned by the tradition of the Church.  If the faith of the Church cannot change, then it follows that the rites of the Church must not change.  Ultimately, therefore, this endorses the principal of those who affirm the necessity to return to the Latin rites mandated by the Council of Trent.



The field of tension between liturgical restoration and reform

Gerard Lukken



The beginning of the twentieth century saw the emergence of a movement that would have far-reaching consequences for the Christian ritual. In Christian churches, and especially in the Catholic Church, there was a growing awareness of the unique place of the liturgy and of the fact that it had degenerated into a mysterium depopulatum, a ritual in which the congregation hardly participated.2 Liturgy had become the exclusive affair of the priest, leaving no room for believers to contribute: they were only passive spectators, mere consumers of the ritual. This Liturgical Movement gradually grew into a widespread Church faction which, in the middle of the 1940s and 1950s, also had an important influence on the center of the Church. Under Pius XII, the first tentative revisions in the liturgical books were made.


  1. Second Vatican Council: comprehensive reform of the liturgy


In 1959, shortly after his election, Pope John XXIII  announced the Second Vatican Council. Without any doubt this Council was a breakthrough: the focus was now on a comprehensive reform and an aggiornamento of the Christian ritual. At the same time, it was also a culmination of what had been set in motion by the Liturgical Movement with the support of extensive research from the field of liturgical studies. It was for a good reason that the Constitution on the sacred liturgy was the first document, issued by the Second Vatican Council: the time was more than ripe for it. The document was approved in 1963 by an overwhelming majority, with just four votes against.3

In a nutshell, the principal characteristics of the reform were the following: Liturgy is not solely the work of the office holders, but fundamentally belongs

to all those who believe; they are all active participants in the ritual. It is not the priest’s private celebration of Mass that should be its basic form, but the communal celebration of the Eucharist. This applies to all Christian rituals, from birth to death. There are various liturgical services and, in principle, there is a division of roles. Accessibility and participation can be enhanced by the use of the vernacular, simplification of rites, and by granting a measure of autonomy to bishops’ conferences.

An extremely important point is the rediscovery of the value of the Scripture and the Word in all parts of the liturgy. The Liturgy of the Word as such is expressly considered a liturgy in its own right. In carefully chosen words the Constitution also opens the door to a decentralization of the liturgy and its adaptation to different countries and cultures, provided that the authentic Roman tradition is preserved. All official liturgical books will need to be revised in the spirit of the Constitution.

The implementation of the Constitution on the sacred liturgy was entrusted to the postconciliar Commission for the Liturgical Reform, led by Cardinal Lercaro and with Annibale Bugnini as its secretary, and at a later stage to the Congregation for Divine Worship. They approached the reforms energetically, with the support of liturgical and pastoral experts from all over the world. In just over ten years practically all books of the Roman liturgy were revised. These were published as standard editions in Latin by Rome, and translated and adapted in the different countries within the limits set by Rome. Much progress was made in a short time, and the renewal was widely welcomed by those at the base of the Church.


  1. From 1975: stagnation of the reform and increasing restoration


However, from the beginning the reform was accompanied by serious tensions. On the one hand, there were some Curia bodies that did not want to relinquish control. Also, a small minority wanted to maintain the status quo and found support within the Curia for their opposition. Detailed information on this can be found in Piero Marini’s book A Challenging Reform.4  On the other hand, the need for further-reaching inculturation pushed the advocates of renewal at the grassroots level to sometimes run ahead of things. This tension was there from the start, particularly in our country [Holland]; I witnessed it from close by.

The  post-conciliar  commission  showed  itself  open  to  these  developments. Bugnini visited our country [Holland] several times, and intensive deliberations took place in Rome as well. But this openness also meant that Bugnini’s opponents, and, increasingly, the traditional Curia bodies, started to regard him with suspicion.5 In fact, a battle of ideologies soon broke out between those who wanted to consistently implement the Council’s reforms, and those who rather wanted to put the brake on the process. Pope Paul VI eventually opted for a conservative line, also regarding the liturgy. The Congregation for Divine Worship was accused of causing a rift in the Church. According to the Curia, the Congregation was too tolerant with regard to the question of translations and new Eucharistic prayers, and in allowing communion in the hand. It was probably the issue of adding new Eucharistic prayers – in which the Netherlands played an important role – that made tensions reach boiling point. Ultimately, Bugnini’s courage was not rewarded and Paul VI gave in.

In 1975, Bugnini and his direct collaborators were dismissed, the staff was downsized and much expertise was lost. Financial resources were also reduced to a minimum.6  ‘What direction will liturgy take now?’, was the desperate question asked in liturgical circles.7  In 1973, Bugnini had already put inculturation on the agenda as an urgent item for the ‘next ten years’.8 In 1974 he referred to this as the phase of the ‘incarnation’ of the Roman form of the liturgy into the customs and mentality of each individual church.9  Unfortunately, nothing ever came of such a further aggiornamento. On the contrary, with Bugnini’s discharge a period of stagnation set in, followed by an increase in the support for restoration rather than reform.10


  1. The Society of Pius X: opposition of an extreme traditionalist movement


Earlier I mentioned the opposition emerging after Vatican II from a minority which received support from the Curia. This opposition had actually already started during the Council. It originated with Cardinal Ottaviani, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Vatican’s Latin expert, Cardinal Bacci. They signaled a break with the Council of Trent. Soon after, in 1964, the association Una voce was founded, which opposed any type of reform; in its wake all sorts of other radical groups under many different names sprang up.11  The ‘Society of Pius X’, which under the leadership of the French (mission) Bishop Marcel Lefebvre (1905-1991) [pic shown] was to break with Rome, was a continuation of this development.12   Lefebvre belonged to the group of French Catholics that saw religion, State and society as one inseparable whole. In the spirit of Pope Pius X (19031914), they challenged the so-called ‘modernism’ of the beginning of the twentieth century, which explicitly included the dimensions of human experience and history in theological thinking. More and more, Lefebvre emerged as the leader of a traditionalist movement against Vatican II and its reforms. He was convinced that a modernist conspiracy had taken place there, led by Jews and Freemasons. Especially from 1974 onwards, the old liturgy became a distinguishing mark of the Society of Pius X. In his 1974 Declaration  Lefebvre  characterizes  the  Tridentine  Mass  as  the  ‘eternal’  Mass.13   In France, the Tridentine Mass was openly celebrated at meetings of the National Front party of Le Pen. Tensions led to an overt schism with Rome in 1986.

In order to make sure that his work would be continued, Lefebvre consecrated four bishops without the Vatican’s permission in 1988, when he was 83 years old. One of them was Richard Williamson (born 1940), an Englishman who was later to create quite a stir with his denial of the Holocaust. Lefebvre and his four new bishops were immediately excommunicated. With regard to the Tridentine Rite, Rome had so far only allowed its celebration in exceptional cases through the issuing of so-called indults. But in 1988, the year of the excommunication, permission to celebrate it was substantially extended: the Holy See no longer required priests who rejected Lefebvre’s schism to formally agree with the principles of Vatican II, and allowed them to continue to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. This was a far-reaching concession.14  The Vatican continued its negotiations with the Society of Pius X also after 1988,15  and it is interesting to note that the then Cardinal Ratzinger was always closely involved in these negotiations. He showed his affinity with the Tridentine Rite in several of his publications, and celebrated the Tridentine Mass with sympathizers a number of times.16

Lefebvre’s movement can be characterized as that of the extreme traditionalists. They reject any openness to modernity on the part of the Church, and want to return to the lost divine order that knows no dualism between Church and State, between religious and secular power, and in which faith and Church are completely interwoven with society. This order they see, on the one hand, as supratemporal; on the other hand, they identify it with historical-political configurations in the nineteenth and twentieth century.17  In this context they see the Tridentine liturgy as the ultimate expression of the unchanging symbolic order created by God, in which Church and society are inextricably linked. As regards the number of uncompromising supporters of the Tridentine Mass, it is an extremely small percentage of Catholics: no more than 0,0008333 percent (less than a thousandth of a percent).18  But this small group is supported by trends in the policies of the Roman Curia and a number of Episcopal Curias, which makes it much more powerful than it deserves; its force is also supported by the great combativeness of minority groups and conservative media.19


  1. The neotradionalist movement of the ‘Reform of the Reform’ and the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum


In addition to the extreme traditionalist movement, another movement gradually emerged after Vatican II, namely that of the ‘Reform of the Reform’. Rouwhorst characterizes this movement as belonging to the neotraditionalists.20 They do recognize in part the importance of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, but consider those reforms too radical, and believe that more connection with the past should be sought. From the start the opinion leader of this movement was undoubtedly Cardinal Ratzinger, who was elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. This group has also gained more and more influence within the decision-making bodies of the Curia and the bishops, also in our country.

On 22 December 2005, shortly after his election, Benedict XVI [pic shown] addressed the Curia, underlining the unbroken line between Vatican II and the tradition. His message was that it is wrong to emphasize discontinuity, as if Vatican II was a new beginning rather than part of the tradition.21  In his speech he also pointed to the importance of continuity in the liturgy. According to Benedict XVI the new liturgy often seemed to be the cause of discontinuity, especially in practice.22  Prior to his Declaration he had already criticized the reforms after Vatican II repeatedly and in no uncertain terms, raising a finger in warning at the liturgy professors and the mainstream of liturgical studies. He did not spare Bugnini either in this respect.

Underlying Benedict’s criticism is his belief that Greek metaphysics is the optimal setting for the Christian message; in fact, he views all subsequent developments that abandon the Hellenistic paradigm as a degeneration into unbelief. Thus, Ratzinger is very pessimistic with regard to contemporary culture, which no  longer  perceives  the  reflection  of  the  divine.  What  is  needed  is  a  resacralization of the liturgy. Liturgy, in his view, is the sensory mirror of the divine world, transcending our human condition, sacral, God-given, not created. Just as a plant, a living organism, it continually develops and renews itself organically from within, without any discontinuity. In this essentially Platonic and timeless perspective of liturgy, any further developments are seen, as it were, as being outside historical contingency, with its instability and moments of discontinuation with the past, and as withdrawn from the active contribution of people and cultures.23

This is undoubtedly a contestable point of view. Those in favor of the new developments in Vatican II with its aggiornamento point out that the past itself also shows moments of discontinuation. This is already evident from the history of theology as such: think for instance of the condemnation of Galileo, now repealed; of the revision of the theory that all people are descended from Adam and Eve; and of the antimodernist oath, still firmly held on to by the Society of St. Pius X, but no longer compatible with the teachings of Vatican II. In addition, liturgical studies show that over the centuries one can indeed find substantial contributions from theologians, poets, musicians, masters of ceremony, experts and other specialists in ritual. Councils, monastic orders and committees have also been responsible for contributions and interventions, of a sometimes revolutionary nature. Also,  discontinuations often come to light with the publication of new books, which usually start with the comment that they signal a revision.24 And in ritual studies, too, it is assumed on the one hand that rituals sometimes develop and grow without any intervention, but on the other hand the contribution of ritual experts is also recognized.25  There is certainly more to liturgy than the anonymous organic growth suggested by Benedict XVI.

In 2007, Benedict XVI issued the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, by no means an innocuous document.26  This decree affects the essence of the whole postconciliar liturgical reform: all books from before Vatican II are again allowed, as ‘extraordinary form’. As was to be expected, the document elicited many protests, particularly from within the mainstream of liturgical studies and from countries such as Germany, France and Switzerland, which had been confronted headon with the ideas of the Society of St. Pius X. According to the Motu Proprio, the reintroduction of the Tridentine liturgy as ‘extraordinary form’ means that from now on there are two forms within one and the same rite. The same rite? This may be the case when viewed from a purely speculative and abstract theological perspective, but certainly not from an empirical point of view and in liturgical or ritual terms. There are definitely two different forms of lex orandi, which cannot be easily reconciled. Benedict’s radical intervention strikes at the base of the Second Vatican Council and threatens to discredit the Council’s first document, the Constitution on the sacred liturgy, and its implementation.  The  Motu  Proprio  undoubtedly  adds  to  the  tensions  and  polarizations within the field of liturgy, these days also referred to as a ‘battlefield’.27  This battlefield is now the arena for the restorative movements of the extreme traditionalists and the neotraditionalists with their own theological premises.

Besides these, there is the large influx of those who – in varying degrees – support the aggiornamento of Vatican II and wish to continue in Bugnini’s footsteps, with an open mind to contemporary culture and the pluriform contributions of the local churches and communities. This influx, too, covers a number of specific theological choices. 28


  1. Instead of battle preference for a dialogue about the tension between a bottomup and topdown approach


For the discussion of those theological choices I prefer an open dialogue to a battle, but with the restriction that no concessions are made with respect to the principles of Vatican II – which are precisely those called in question by the Society of St. Pius X. In my opinion, it is essential that this dialogue starts from the theological premise that liturgy is always about sensory rituals that occur in the tension field of mediated transcendence. These rituals are not eternal, but are always interwoven with history and culture. The traditionalists erroneously speak of the time-determined Tridentine form of the liturgy as the ‘eternal’ liturgy. The question is whether the neo-traditionalists do not over-sacralize the form of the liturgy as well. Do advocates of the ‘Reform of the Reform’ not have a too divine view of its form?

On this subject, the Jesuit priest, John Baldovin [pic shown], correctly observes that we always have to ask ourselves what it is that we venerate and worship: the liturgy, or the God that it focuses on.29  The form of liturgy, however divine and God-given, is incarnated in history. It is not like a static whole that exists completely outside history. The dialogue should be about the tension between the bottom-up or top-down approaches, between transascendence and transdescendence, which each can have different accents. In our culture, however, we look for and discover the transcendent divine world rather from the bottom up, in a transascendent way starting from God’s immanence, and discovered as that which transcends us, and as a fullness that comes to us and is received by us.

That is why, in agreement with Vatican II, the advocates of aggiornamento emphasize a bottom-up approach to liturgy, associated with a similar bottom-up Christology, ecclesiology and view of holy office, and embedded in contemporary culture and the dynamics of history.30  The day before the conclusion of the council on December 7, 1965, the most intensive and longest document of the council was accepted: the pastoral constitution on the Church in today’s world, Gaudium et spes. That Constitution is explicit on the need to complete the perspective from inside, the approach from above and from the tradition with that of the outside perspective, from below and from the present. In our country, that change of perspective was taken seriously early on; it was actualized already in the sixties, also with regard to the Christian ritual.31

The advocates of aggiornamento are looking for a liturgical form which is accessible and credible, and which can be experienced by a contemporary audience. This bottomup approach undoubtedly makes us also more responsive to the pluriform possibilities of the Christian ritual in our culture. Such a contemporary empirical ritual form by no means needs to be at the expense of its Christian identity. On the contrary, it is precisely in this inculturated liturgy that the ritual can be celebrated as a saturated phenomenon, that – according to the phenomenology of JeanLuc Marion – is ‘saturated’ with ‘givenness’, comes from elsewhere, is irreducible, and precedes us. In this phenomenon an abundant and empathetic ‘other side’, oriented towards us, is revealed, and ultimately a personal God, even the God of the Christian tradition, whose love precedes us.32

Some will prefer to take the transdescendent road and this is a legitimate choice. But they should be mindful of the tension with the anthropological basis of the liturgy. That basis, with all its resulting contingencies, cannot be excluded. God and man do not have to compete, not in any culture, and that includes our own. Time and again, it is a question of ‘keeping on top’ of the tension between the Jenseits and the Diesseits that occurs within the sensory immanence, both as regards ritual in general and the specific Christian ritual.33  And in the dialogue it remains important to emphasize that the transascendent way seems to be more in keeping with the spirit of Vatican II.       ~~~~end~~~~

Gerard Lukken (1933) studied at the Diocesan Seminary in Haaren (Noord Brabant) (19511957), the Pontificia Università Gregoriana in Rome and the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie in Paris (19591964). He was pastor and teacher of religion (19571959), professor of liturgy and theology of the sacraments at the Diocesan Seminary in Haaren (19641967) and at the Theological Faculty of Tilburg, (at present part of the department Cultural Studies, School of Humanities, Tilburg University) (from 1967), and director of the Liturgical Institute at the same Faculty (from 1992) until his retirement in 1994.

Email: g.m.lukken@gmail.com.



1  Introduction on the symposium Worship wars. Contested ritual praxis (November 26, 2010). I would thank Ineke Smit for translating my Dutch text. For a more extensive discussion, see G. LUKKEN: Met de rug naar het volk. Liturgie na Vaticanum II in het spanningsveld van restauratie en vernieuwing (= Meander 13) (Heeswijk/Averbode 2010); IDEM: ‘Liturgie in het spanningsveld van restauratie en vernieuwing’, in Tijdschrift voor liturgie 95 (2011) 209226.

2 A.L. MAYER: ‘Liturgie und Geist der Gothik’, in Jahrbuch für Liturgiewissenschaft 6 (1926) 93.

3  E. CATTANEO: Il culto cristiano in occidente. Note storiche (= Bibliotheca ephemerides liturgicae 13) (Roma 1978) 634.  Jaarboek voor liturgieonderzoek 27 (2011) 261271

4  P. MARINI: A challenging reform: realizing the vision of the liturgical renewal (Collegeville 2007);  Dutch  translation:  IDEM:  Een  uitdagende  hervorming.  De  droom  van  de  liturgische vernieuwing (Averbode/Heeswijk 2010). This book is a significant supplement of A. BUGNINI: Die Liturgiereform. 19481975. Zeugnis und Testament (Freiburg 1988) 114 ; original Italian edition: IDEM: La riforma liturgica (19481975) (= Bibliotheca ephemerides liturgicae, subsidia 26) (Roma 1983). New edition: IDEM: La riforma liturgica (19481975).

Nuova edizione riveduta e arricchita di note e di supplementi per una lettura analitica (Roma 1997); English edition: BUGNINI: The reform of the liturgy 19841975 (Collegeville 1990). For a critical review of these memoirs of Bugnini with innumerable detailed corrections and supplements, see E. LENGELING: ‘Liturgiereform 19481975. Zu einem aufschlussreichen Rechenschaftsbericht’, in Theologische revue 80 (1984) 265284.

5 For the details, see G. LUKKEN: ‘De oorspronkelijke toonzetting van de liturgievernieuwing. Leven en werk van Annibale Bugnini (19121982)’, in M. HOONDERT, I. DE LOOS, P. POST & L. VAN TONGEREN (red.): Door mensen gezongen. Liturgische muziek in portretten (= Meander 7) (Kampen 2005) 234256.

6 For literature, see BUGNINI: Die Liturgiereform 114.

7 S. MARSILI: ‘Dove va la liturgia’, in Rivista liturgica 62 (1975) 622625.

8 A. BUGNINI: ‘Progresso nell’ ordine’, in Osservatore Romano, 12 December 1973.

9 A. BUGNINI: ‘La riforma liturgica, conquista della chiesa’, in Notitiae 110 (1974) 126. 10 For details, see LUKKEN: Met de rug naar het volk.

11 BUGNINI: Die Liturgiereform 300.

12 SeeLUKKEN: Met de rug naar het volk chapter 1, sub 1.2.

13 In 1969 the cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci protested in a letter to Paul VI against the new Ordo Missae. They referred to a little book of 25 pages, Breve esame critico del Novus Ordo Missae, written by a group of theologians, liturgists and pastors, obviously under the leadership of Lefebvre. About this see: E. CATANEO: Il culto cristiano in occidente. Note storiche (Roma 1978) 648 ff.; C. VAGAGGINI: ‘Il nuovo ‘Ordo missae’ e l’ortodossia’, in Rivista del clero italiano 50 (1969) 688699 (= Rivista liturgica 96 (2009) 449459); W. HAUNERLAND: ‘Die Messe aller Zeiten. Liturgiewissenschaftliche Anmerkungen zum Fall Lefebvre’, in R. AHLERS & P. KRÄMER: Das Bleibende im Wandel. Theologische Beiträge zum Schisma Lefebvres (Paderborn 1990) 5185, especially 55, note 12.

14   See  P.  HÜNERMANN:  ‘ExkommunikationKommunikation.  Schichtenanalyse  der Fakten – Theologische Beurteilung – Wege aus der Krise’, in P. HÜNERMANN (Hg.): Exkommunikation oder Kommunikation? Der Weg der Kirche nach dem II. Vatikanum und die PiusBrüder (Freiburg/Basel/Wien 2009) 31 ff.

15 L. RINGEIFEL: ‘Der Papst und die Traditionalisten’, in W. BEINERT (Hg.): Vatikan und die PiusBrüder. Anatomie einer Krise (Freiburg im Breisgau 2009) 19 and 23.

16  For instance in Le Barroux in 1988 and 1995. In 1990 he celebrated the Mass of Easter in Wigratzbad, the head office and settlement of an international seminary of the Society of Pius X (see www.fssp.org/de/ratzwig1990.htm [November 26, 2009]) and in 1999 in Weimar he celebrated a pontifical Mass at the annual session of the Society Pro Missa Tridentina (see www.promissatridentina.org/galerie/galerie_4_2.htm [November 26, 2009]). Via references on the key site www.promissatridentina.org/index.htm one can find percentages of the Tridentine liturgy in Germany, Switzerland and Austria and also further links with other analogous societies etc. elsewhere.

17   W.  DAMBERG:  ‘Die  Piusbruderschaft  St.  Pius  X.  (FSSPX)  und  ihr  politischgeistgeschichtlicher  Hintergrund’,  in  HÜNERMANN:  Exkommunikation  oder  Kommunikation? Der Weg der Kirche nach dem II. Vatikanum und die PiusBrüder 121.

18 See LUKKEN: Met de rug naar het volk Chapter 1, sub 1.4.

19 So in 2009 the Italian Institute for statistic research Doxa, on behalf of the on internet very active defenders of the Tridentine Mass Messainlatino (Italy) and Paix liturgique (France), examined the opinion of the Italians about the ‘old mass’. According to this

examination two thirds of the practicing Catholics in Italy would at least once a month participate in a Tridentine Mass, when this would be possible. And nine millions would at least once a week celebrate an ‘old mass’. One can expect that these groups will use this kind of examination as pressure. Compare: http://blog.messainlatino.it/2009/10/ risultatidelsondaggioassolutamente.html (November 18, 2009).

20 See (more extensive and very informative): G. ROUWHORST: ‘Bronnen van liturgiehervorming tussen oorsprong en traditie’, in Jaarboek voor liturgieonderzoek 20 (2004) 724; IDEM: ‘Historical periods as normative sources. The appeal to the past in the research on liturgical history’, in J. FRISHMAN, W. OTTEN & G. ROUWHORST: Religious identity and the problem of historical foundation. The foundational character of authorative sources in the history of Christianity and Judaism (Leiden 2004) 495512; IDEM: ‘Liturgie en constructie van het verleden’, in Tijdschrift voor liturgie 92 (2008) 308310.

21  For Ratzingers view on the problem of continuity and discontinuity of the second Vatican Council, see J.A. KOMONCHAK: ‘Erneuerung in Kontinuität. Papst Benedikt’s Interpretation des Zweiten Vatikanische Konzils’, in BEINERT: Vatikan und die PiusBrüder  163174;  H.J.  POTTMEYER:  ‘Streitpunkt  Konzil  und  Traditionsbruch.  Papst Benedikt und dieTraditionalisten’, in BEINERT: Vatikan und die PiusBrüder 207212; M. GERWING: ‘Konzil im Blick vom Klaus Wittstadt’, in C. BÖTTINGHEIMER & E. NAAB (Hgs.): Weltoffen aus Treue. Studientag zum Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzil (Sankt Odilien 2009) 4250 (with literature).

22 For Ratzingers view on liturgy, see more extensively: LUKKEN: Met de rug naar het volk, Chapter 2.

23   For  the  movement  of  the  ‘Reform  of  the  Reform’,  see  also  A.  HÄUSSLING: ‘Nachkonziliare Paradigmenwechsel und das Schicksal der Liturgiereform’, in Theologie der Gegenwart 32 (1989) 243254; P. POST: ‘Over de historische referentie in de roomskatholieke ‘HervormingvandeHervormingsbeweging’’, in Jaarboek voor liturgieonderzoek 20 (2004) 7388; M. KLÖCKENER: ‘La dynamique du mouvement liturgique et de la réforme liturgique. Points communs et différences théologiques et spirituelles’, in La MaisonDieu 260 (2009) 92106 ; J.F. BALDOVIN: ‘Idols and icons: reflections on the current state of liturgical reform’, in Worship 84/5 (2010) 386402.

24  M. KLÖCKENER: ‘Wie Liturgie verstehen. Anfragen an das Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum Papst Benedikts XVI’, in M. KLÖCKENER, B. KRANEMANN & A. HÄUSSLING: Liturgie  verstehen.  Ansatz,  Ziele  und  Aufgaben  der  Liturgiewissenschaft  (=  Archiv  für Liturgiewissenschaft 50; Jubileumsband) (Fribourg 2008) 294295; M. KLÖCKENER & B. KRANEMANN (Hgs.): Liturgiereformen: Historische Studien zu einem bleibenden Grundzug des christlichen Gottesdienstes. 1. Biblische Modelle und Liturgiereformen von der Frühzeit bis zur  Aufklärung;  2.  Liturgiereformen  seit  der  Mitte  des  19.  Jahrhunderts  bis  zur Gegenwart (= Liturgiewissenschaftliche Quellen und Forschungen 88) (Münster 2002); A. ANGENENDT:  Liturgik  und  Historik.  Gab  es  eine  organische  LiturgieEntwicklung?  (=

Quaestiones disputatae 189) (Freiburg/Basel/Wien 2001); A. ANGENENDT: ‘Wie im Anfang, so in Ewigkeit? Die tridentinische Liturgie. Die Liturgiereform: Beharren oder verändern?’, in A. GERHARDS (Hg.): Ein Ritus Zwei Formen. Die Richtlinie Papst Benedikts XVI zur Liturgie (Freiburg/Basel/Wien 2008) 122143.

25 G. LUKKEN: Rituelen in overvloed. Een kritische bezinning op de plaats en de gestalte van het christelijk ritueel in onze cultuur (Baarn 1999) 5455 and 186188; IDEM: Rituals in abundance. Critical reflections on the place, form and identity of Christian ritual in our culture (= Liturgia condenda 17) (Leuven 2005) 4849, 213 and 291294; C. BELL: Ritual theory, ritual practice (New York/Oxford 1992) 130140; IDEM: ‘The authority of ritual experts’, in Studia liturgica 23 (1993) 98120 and 101103; IDEM: Ritual. Perspectives and dimensions (Oxford 1997) 223.

26  BENEDICTUS XVI: Litterae Apostolicae motu proprio datae Summorum Pontificum (July 7, 2007); IDEM: Epistola ad Episcopos ad producendas Litteras Apostolicas motu proprio datas, de usu Liturgiae Romanae instaurationi anni 1970 praecedentis (July 7, 2007).

27 K. VAN SETTEN: ‘Spreekt onder elkaar in lofzangen. Een belichting van de onlangs verschenen  ‘Evangelische  Liedbundel’’,  in  Eredienstvaardig  16/4  (2000)  152155;  R. WEAKLAND: ‘The liturgy as battlefield’, in Commonweal (New York, January 11, 2002) = IDEM: ‘Liturgie zwischen Erneuerung und Restauration’, in Heiliger Dienst 56 (2002) 8393 and Stimmen der Zeit 220 (2002) 475487; T.W. YORK: America’s worship wars (Massachusetts 2003) X; N. VAN ANDEL & M. BARNARD: ‘Discourses in liturgy. De totstandkoming van het nieuwe protestantse liedboek (2012) vergeleken met de totstandkoming van het Liedboek voor de Kerken (1973) – een onderzoekspresentatie’, in Jaarboek voor

liturgieonderzoek 25 (2009) 6061. For a more extensive survey, see B. AULAGNIER: La bataille de la messe, 19652005 (Versailles 2005).

28  The tensions also refer to psychological dimensions that can be clarified from the ritual studies. There is the fact that rituals seem more reliable, as they are older. Hence the concern to conserve the form of the rituals in exquisite detail and regulated by refined rules (ANGENENDT: Liturgik und Historik 186190; IDEM: ‘Wie im Anfang, so in Ewigkeit?’ 122123). But on the other hand there is the fact that rituals, as soon as they are celebrated with heart and soul, and thus subjectivity enters, should also express the sincere heart of man. Then rituals will change. This is a known tension. Moreover, the perception of the invariability of rituals can be connected with the search for security and stability, especially in difficult circumstances and uncertain times. The more threatening the life or culture is, the more one looks for a stable ritual (ANGENENDT: Liturgik und Historik 186188). Then to some it is of little importance weather these rituals are inculturated or comprehensible. They are in search of a sacred supernatural atmosphere. But this transcendent atmosphere, pleaded by the movement of the ‘Reform of the Reform’, may also be reflected in the new liturgy as such. In that liturgy pluralism certainly is possible.

29 J.F. BALDOVIN: ‘Klaus Gamber and the postVatican II reform of the Roman liturgy’, in Studia liturgica 33/2 (2003) 229230.

30  Compare in this context C. BÖTTIGHEIMER: ‘Koreferat zu Manfred Gerwing. Zur Würde der menschlichen Person im Zeugnis der Pastoralkonstitution Gaudium et spes’, in BÖTTIGHEIMER & NAAB: Weltoffen aus Treue 7580 and IDEM: ‘Nicht von dieser Welt? Von                       der             Kommunikationsfähigkeit                 der     Kirche      in     der     Bedeutung      der Pastoralkonstitution Gaudium et spes’, in Ibidem 81113, p. 94 and 96100 (Innen und Aussenperspektive).

31 G. LUKKEN: ‘Een kritische blik op het hedendaagse rituele landschap met het oog op het  christelijk  ritueel’,  in  Jaarboek  voor  liturgieonderzoek  22  (2006)  113133;  IDEM: ‘Kritische  Sichtung  der  heutigen  rituellen  Landschaft,  im  Blick  auf  das  christliche Ritual’,  in  B.  KRANEMANN   &  P.  POST   (eds.):  Die  modernen  ritual  studies  als Herausforderung für die Liturgiewissenschaft / Modern ritual studies as a challenge for liturgical studies (= Liturgia condenda 20) (Leuven 2009) 87110.

32 G. LUKKEN: ‘De overkant van het menselijk ritueel. Herbezinning vanuit fenomenologie en semiotiek op antropologische en theologische lagen in het christelijk ritueel’, in Tijdschrift voor theologie 40 (2001) 145166 = IDEM: ‘L’ autre côté du rituel humain : reconsidération à partir de la phénoménologie et la sémiotique sur des couches anthropologiques et théologiques dans le rituel chrétien’, in Questions liturgiques 83/1 (2001) 6891; IDEM : ‘De liefde gaat ons vooraf. De onherleidbare overkant van het ritueel als prolegomenon van het christelijk ritueel’, in Jaarboek voor liturgieonderzoek 23 (2007) 147175. See further: JL. MARION: Étant donné. Essai d’une phénoménologie de la donation (Paris 1997); IDEM : De surcroît. Études sur les phénomènes saturés (Paris 2001); IDEM : Le Phénomène érotique.  Six  méditations  (Paris  2003);  IDEM:  Le  visible  et  le  révélé  (Paris  2005).  And  also BALDOVIN: ‘Idols and icons’ 386402.

33  G. LUKKEN: ‘Rituelen: een dynamisch grensgebied’, in Tijdschrift voor geestelijk leven 63/2 (2007) 5968.



Short history of Baptism

by Emma Martin  (Source)


Sacred Scripture indicates that Jesus and his disciples performed Baptisms (John 3: 22), yet in saying that Baptizing did not play a major part in Jesus’ own earthly ministry. Significance lies in the fact that there is biblical evidence that Baptism quickly became a central ritual of the Christian community almost immediately following Jesus’ death. In fact, the two key historical events that were most formative in the church’s understanding of Christian initiation were Jesus’ death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The earliest rites of initiation, water baptism by submersion and the laying of hands, together sacramentalised these two historical events in one act of Baptism.

The public’s assent of faith marked the entrance into the Paschal Mystery (one of the central concepts of Christian faith relating to the history of salvation (7)) and experience of the Spirit. In the sacrament of Baptism this action is what was celebrated by the convert and community, as it was believed that meaningful faith could not be private, it was public and it was communal (7). Baptism celebrated this reality.

It is important that we are able to see this early development of Baptism in it’s proper context. It clearly was an expression of the life of the Church (6). It was a sacrament of initiation. As the church grew and developed in its first few centuries, the process of initiation also expanded to include what we now refer to as the Catechumenate, a faith journey undertaken by both candidate (catechumen) and community (5). This journey often spanning years clearly demonstrated that initiation was a process. Early in Church practice the Baptism of a convert (by this time a rich rite including the imposition of hands and an anointing) was immediately followed by the celebration of the Eucharist, the principle worship of the Church (5). Since Baptism was obviously associated with conversion, it was therefore administered primarily to adults for the first two or three centuries. When whole households were converted, and received into the Church, children were included in this rite (5).

Encouraging the delay of Baptism in the early Church was the harsh penitential discipline. The Early Church believed at that time that one had only two opportunities to receive the sacramental sign of forgiveness: Baptism and the reception of Penance after Baptism (5). In the fourth and fifth centuries Baptism underwent some of the most dramatic changes, as a result of a blend of theological insight and historical circumstance. Before this time Baptism was understood as a sacrament of adult conversion, the convert celebrated reconciliation with God and liberation from sin (4). It was Saint Augustine who emphasized the notion of baptismal liberation from sin and took the understanding of the Sacrament in a new direction, Augustine emphasized the reality of original sin and the resulting necessity for the grace of baptismal cleansing. Prior to this, people had little reason to fear for the salvation of their unbaptized children (5).  With this new theology, and the high rate of infant mortality, parents began to appeal to their bishop for the immediate baptism of their children. By the fifth century infant baptism had become the common practice. It should also be remembered that by this time the empire had become predominantly Christian, adult conversion and baptism was de-emphasized because there were few unbaptized adults left (5).

While infant baptism is the most common practice in the Church today, the new Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, restored at the Second Vatican Council, offers us a more ancient vision of the Sacrament. It reminds us of the biblical connection between personal conversion and communal initiation, and it restores the ancient unity of the three presently distinct Sacraments of Initiation- Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist (5).

By maintaining the validity of infant baptism, while also pointing to the vision of the adult catechumenate, the Church powerfully communicates the degree to which initiation should be viewed as a lifelong process worthy of such diverse sacramental expression (4).

Whether the Baptism conferred with the formula «We baptize you. . . .» is valid?

RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS by the  Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the validity of Baptism conferred with the formula
«We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit»


First question: Whether the Baptism conferred with the formula «We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit» is valid?

Second question: Whether those persons for whom baptism was celebrated with this formula must be baptized in forma absoluta?


To the first question: Negative.

To the second question: Affirmative.

The Supreme Pontiff Francis, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, On June 8, 2020, approved these Responses and ordered their publication.

Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 24, 2020, on the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.

Luis F. Card. Ladaria, S.I.

✠ Giacomo Morandi
Titular Archbishop of Cerveteri

* * *

on the modification of the sacramental formula of Baptism

Recently there have been celebrations of the Sacrament of Baptism administered with the words: “In the name of the father and of the mother, of the godfather and of the godmother, of the grandparents, of the family members, of the friends, in the name of the community we baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Apparently, the deliberate modification of the sacramental formula was introduced to emphasize the communitarian significance of Baptism, in order to express the participation of the family and of those present, and to avoid the idea of the concentration of a sacred power in the priest to the detriment of the parents and the community that the formula in the Rituale Romano might seem to imply[1]. With debatable pastoral motives[2], here resurfaces the ancient temptation to substitute for the formula handed down by Tradition other texts judged more suitable. In this regard, St. Thomas Aquinas had already asked himself the question “utrum plures possint simul baptizare unum et eundem” to which he had replied negatively, insofar as this practice is contrary to the nature of the minister[3].

The Second Vatican Council states that: “when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes”[4]. The affirmation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, inspired by a text of Saint Augustine[5], wants to return the sacramental celebration to the presence of Christ, not only in the sense that he infuses his virtus to give it efficacy, but above all to indicate that the Lord has the principal role in the event being celebrated.

When celebrating a Sacrament, the Church in fact functions as the Body that acts inseparably from its Head, since it is Christ the Head who acts in the ecclesial Body generated by him in the Paschal mystery[6]. The doctrine of the divine institution of the Sacraments, solemnly affirmed by the Council of Trent[7], thus sees its natural development and authentic interpretation in the above-mentioned affirmation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. The two Councils are therefore in harmony in declaring that they do not have the authority to subject the seven sacraments to the action of the Church. The Sacraments, in fact, inasmuch as they were instituted by Jesus Christ, are entrusted to the Church to be preserved by her. It is evident here that although the Church is constituted by the Holy Spirit, who is the interpreter of the Word of God, and can, to a certain extent, determine the rites which express the sacramental grace offered by Christ, does not establish the very foundations of her existence: the Word of God and the saving acts of Christ.

It is therefore understandable that in the course of the centuries the Church has safeguarded the form of the celebration of the Sacraments, above all in those elements to which Scripture attests and that make it possible to recognize with absolute clarity the gesture of Christ in the ritual action of the Church. The Second Vatican Council has likewise established that no one “even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority”[8]. Modifying on one’s own initiative the form of the celebration of a Sacrament does not constitute simply a liturgical abuse, like the transgression of a positive norm, but a vulnus inflicted upon the ecclesial communion and the identifiability of Christ’s action, and in the most grave cases rendering invalid the Sacrament itself, because the nature of the ministerial action requires the transmission with fidelity of that which has been received (cf. 1 Cor 15:3).

In the celebration of the Sacraments, in fact, the subject is the Church, the Body of Christ together with its Head, that manifests itself in the concrete gathered assembly[9]. Such an assembly therefore acts ministerially – not collegially – because no group can make itself Church, but becomes Church in virtue of a call that cannot arise from within the assembly itself. The minister is therefore the sign-presence of Him who gathers, and is at the same time the locus of the communion of every liturgical assembly with the whole Church. In other words the minister is the visible sign that the Sacrament is not subject to an arbitrary action of individuals or of the community, and that it pertains to the Universal Church.

In this light must be understood the tridentine injunction concerning the necessity of the minister to at least have the intention to do that which the Church does[10]. The intention therefore cannot remain only at the interior level, with the risk of subjective distractions, but must be expressed in the exterior action constituted by the use of the matter and form of the Sacrament. Such an action cannot but manifest the communion between that which the minister accomplishes in the celebration of each individual sacrament with that which the Church enacts in communion with the action of Christ himself: It is therefore fundamental that the sacramental action may not be achieved in its own name, but in the person of Christ who acts in his Church, and in the name of the Church.

Therefore, in the specific case of the Sacrament of Baptism, not only does the minister not have the authority to modify the sacramental formula to his own liking, for the reasons of a christological and ecclesiological nature already articulated, but neither can he even declare that he is acting on behalf of the parents, godparents, relatives or friends, nor in the name of the assembly gathered for the celebration, because he acts insofar as he is the sign-presence of the same Christ that is enacted in the ritual gesture of the Church. When the minister says “I baptize you…” he does not speak as a functionary who carries out a role entrusted to him, but he enacts ministerially the sign-presence of Christ, who acts in his Body to give his grace and to make the concrete liturgical assembly a manifestation of “the real nature of the true Church”[11], insofar as “liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations of the Church, which is the ‘sacrament of unity,’ namely the holy people united and ordered under their bishops”[12].

Moreover, to modify the sacramental formula implies a lack of an understanding of the very nature of the ecclesial ministry that is always at the service of God and his people and not the exercise of a power that goes so far as to manipulate what has been entrusted to the Church in an act that pertains to the Tradition. Therefore, in every minister of Baptism, there must not only be a deeply rooted knowledge of the obligation to act in ecclesial communion, but also the same conviction that Saint Augustine attributes to the Precursor, which “was to be a certain peculiarity in Christ, such that, although many ministers, be they righteous or unrighteous, should baptize, the virtue of Baptism would be attributed to Him alone on whom the dove descended, and of whom it was said: ‘It is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’ (Jn 1:33)”. Therefore, Augustine comments: “Peter may baptize, but this is He that baptizes; Paul may baptize, yet this is He that baptizes; Judas may baptize, still this is He that baptizes»[13].  [Source]


[1] In reality, a careful analysis of the Rite of Baptism of Children shows that in the celebration the parents, godparents and the entire community are called to play an active role, a true liturgical office (cf. Rituale Romanum ex Decreto Sacrosancti Oecumenici Concilii Vaticani II instauratum auctoritate Pauli PP. VI promulgatum, Ordo Baptismi Parvulorum, Praenotanda, nn. 4-7), which according to the conciliar provisions, however, requires that “each person, minister or layman, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 28).

[2] Often the recourse to pastoral motivation masks, even unconsciously, a subjective deviation and a manipulative will. Already in the last century Romano Guardini recalled that if in personal prayer the believer can follow the impulse of the heart, in liturgical action “he must open himself to a different kind of impulse which comes from a more powerful source: namely, the heart of the Church which beats through the ages. Here it does not matter what personal tastes are, what wants he may have, or what particular cares occupy his mind…” (R. Guardini, Vorschule des Betens, Einsiedeln/Zürich, 19482, p. 258; Eng. trans.: The Art of Praying, Manchester, NH, 1985, 176).

[3] Summa Theologiae, III, q. 67, a. 6 c.

[4] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7.

[5] S. Augustinus, In Evangelium Ioannis tractatus, VI, 7.

[6] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 5.

[7] Cf. DH 1601.

[8] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22 § 3.

[9] Cf. Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae, n. 1140: “Tota communitas, corpus Christi suo Capiti unitum, celebrat” and 1141: “Celebrans congregatio communitas est baptizatorum”.

[10] Cf. DH 1611.

[11] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 2.

[12] Ibid., 26.

[13] S. Augustinus, In Evangelium Ioannis tractatus, VI, 7.

[00923-EN.01] [Original text: Italian]


Does a valid baptism require wooden conformity?

Note: My response to the validity of baptism when the words used are “We baptize you. . . .” has two parts:

(1) The short and simple answer and

(2) the longer and more complex answer (here below):

In June 2020, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith  [abbr:CDF] published a Responsum to a question posed regarding the validity of baptism when the priest says, “We baptize. . . ,” instead of “I  baptize. . . .”  In the judgment of the CDF, the use of “We baptize” gives rise to a false notion of baptism.  Here are the words of the CDF:

In the specific case of the Sacrament of Baptism, not only does the minister not have the authority to modify the sacramental formula to his own liking, for the reasons of a christological and ecclesiological nature already articulated, but neither can he even declare that he is acting on behalf of the parents, godparents, relatives or friends, nor in the name of the assembly gathered for the celebration, because he acts insofar as he is the sign-presence of the same Christ that is enacted in the ritual gesture of the Church. When the minister says “I baptize you…” he does not speak as a functionary who carries out a role entrusted to him, but he enacts ministerially the sign-presence of Christ, who acts in his Body to give his grace. . . . (Source)

So the complaint of the CDF has two parts: (1) the minister does not have the right to change the words used and (2) the affirmation, “I baptize you. . . ,” affirms that, in every case, Christ is the one baptizing.

Relative to the second complaint, the CDF appeals to Augustine when he says:

Although many ministers, be they righteous or unrighteous, should baptize, the virtue of Baptism would be attributed to Him alone on whom the dove descended, and of whom it was said: ‘It is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’ (Jn 1:33)”. Therefore, Augustine comments: “Peter may baptize, but this is He that baptizes; Paul may baptize, yet this is He that baptizes; Judas may baptize, still this is He that baptizes»[13].  (Source)

Why the “I” cannot be Jesus

What the CDF affirms here is that, while there are many ministers of the Sacrament of Baptism, in every instance, it is Jesus Christ who imparts efficacy to the Vatican approved rites.  Hence, when a priest says, “I baptize you. . . ,” in reality the “I” is Jesus Christ who is baptizing.

This explanation is defective for various reasons:

  1. This explanation does not correctly interpret the meaning of the baptismal formula. The priest affirms, “I baptize you . . . in the name of the Son” who is Jesus Christ.  If the “I” was Jesus, then one has a confusing circularity for Jesus would effectively be saying, “I [Jesus Christ] baptize you . . . in the name of Jesus Christ.”  If Jesus is the “I,” then it is redundant for him say that “I am acting in the name of Jesus Christ.”  Thus, it must be the case that the “I” is someone else.  Here, in this rite of baptism, the baptismal formula is placed on the lips of the minister who acts “in the name of Jesus Christ.”  The fears of the CDF that the presence of Jesus would go unnoticed or that the efficacy of the rite would be due to other forces is this counteracted by the open acknowledgment that the priest acts “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  Thus, the words of the priest make present the Creator and the Sanctifier, in addition to Jesus, our Redeemer.
  2. The inherent theology of the baptismal formula can be more easily understood by reflecting on the meaning of undertaking some activity “in the name of Jesus Christ.” This Hebraic expression of acting “in the name of x” has to do with the way that a disciple or a servant is authorized to act due to the training or mandate received from his trainer/master.  According to the Christian Scriptures, for example, the Twelve heralded the kingdom of God and apprenticed disciples “in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18, 5:28, 9:27, 9:29).  At other times, they are presented as baptizing (Mt 28:19; Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48, 19:5, 22:16), healing (Acts 3:6, 3:16, 4:7), and exorcising demons (Acts 19:13‑16) in this same name.  Contrary to a widespread misunderstanding, “there is in the New Testament no belief in the magically [or even supernaturally] potent names; in fact, there are no mysteriously dreadful words or names at all” (TDNT, p. 278).
  3. After every baptism, no one imagines that the minister of the rite would personally bring the one who was baptized to love Jesus. Nor will he be the only one who will, over a period of time, make use of the Gospels to train his new “disciple” in right thinking and right living.  Parents and grandparents will do these things.  God-parents will do these things. Teachers and role models (saints) within the church community will do these things.  Hence, one way to acknowledge this providential situation would be to say “we baptize you . . . .”  Indeed, “it takes an entire village [/congregation] to train a child.”
  4. The CDF leaves the impression that “retaining the official words” is absolutely necessary. The CDF enforces the notion, citing Vatican II, to the effect that no one, “even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority”[8].  Going even further, the CDF emphasizes that any change in the official words is not simple a “liturgical abuse,” it is, moreover, “a vulnus inflicted upon the ecclesial communion and the identifiability of Christ’s action.”  Vulnus is the Latin word that refers to “an ugly wound inflicted on someone’s body” or “an offense capable of destabilizing a principle or norm.”  Thus, the CDF takes the position that any liturgical change is a vulnus.  I take this as an emotionally charged attack on any and all liturgical innovators.

    In my 25 years of teaching in three different seminaries, I have known instances wherein candidates to the priesthood were taught that any inadvertent errors or deliberate changes in the rites results in committing a “sacrilege.”  As a result, many newly ordained priests were literally traumatized.  I myself witnessed a priest literally shaking when celebrating his first Mass. What should have been a joyous affair with his family and friends in attendance became a personal trial dominated by fear.  The CDF has unfortunately tried to revive an atmosphere wherein both priests and the faithful are prompted to question the validity of their infant baptism based upon a liturgical terrorism—Did the minister use the exact words?

  5. What the CDF fails to tell us is that there are two kinds of innovations: one that destroys and one that builds up. The CDF classifies all changes to the words as destructive.  The use of “we” instead of “I,” as understood by the CDF, has the effect of denying the centrality of Christ who is the unseen administrator of every baptism (as explained above).  But let’s see why the CDF does not want us to see, namely, liturgical innovations that “build up.”  Here is one such formula found in the official rites regarding the Sacraments of Initiation:

Celebrants should make full and intelligent use of the freedom given to them either in Christian Initiation, General Introduction (no.34) or in the rubrics of the rite itself. In many places the manner of acting or praying is intentionally left undetermined or two alternatives are oered, so that ministers, according to their prudent pastoral judgment, may accommodate the rite to the circumstances of the candidates and others who are present.  In all the rites the greatest freedom is left in the invitations and instructions, and the intercessions may always be shortened, changed, or even expanded with new intentions, in order to fit the circumstances or special situation of the candidates (for example, a sad or joyful event occurring in a family) or of the others present (for example, sorrow or joy common to the parish or civic community). The minister will also adapt the texts by changing the gender and number as required.


No tradition for the wooden recitation of memorized prayers

One finds no tradition for a wooden recitation of memorizing prayers within ancient Judaism (other than the Shema of Dt 6:4f), it would have been a remarkable “departure from tradition” had Jesus imposed upon his disciples a prayer of fixed words (“recite after me”).  The Lord’s Prayer, as a result, was seen to be a schematic summary or abstract that invited spontaneous expansion and adaptation to present circumstances on the part of the one chosen to pray on behalf of the assembled group. The thematic summary that has been understood as the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel is not what one finds in the Gospel of Luke or in the Didache.  If the early churches had a wooden repetition norm in praying, one can be sure that there would be only one formula (instead of three).  Needless to say, there was no movement within the early churches to suppress this “legitimate diversity” in the Lord’s Prayer. This is probably due to the fact that Jesus himself never prayed “the Lord’s Prayer” in exactly the same way on any two occasions.

This same line of reasoning applies to the eucharistic prayers.  Here, as in the Lord’s Prayer, the plural form (“we” and “our”) indicates that one is dealing with a prayer normally used in a group setting.  The one chosen to lead the prayer would be expected to know the thematic summary and to expand and adapt it to fit the special moods and concerns of the group assembled.  In the case of delayed rains, for instance, the Mishnah goes so far as to suggest that the prayer leader chosen to lead the morning prayers on the day when the fast begins ought to be “an experienced elder who has children and whose cupboard is empty so that his heart should be wholly in the prayer” (m. Taanit 2:2).  The choice of an “experienced elder” with hungry children surrounding him at home was clearly done with the expectation that his personal engagement combined with his mastery of the prayer form would allow him to weave together the standard themes with a heart-felt expansion that moved those present.

Prayer leaders in ancient Judaism or in the early church were not expected to memorize and recite fixed prayer formulas.  Justin Martyr (C.E. 150), for example, spoke of “the presider” at the eucharist as giving thanks “at considerable length” and “according to his ability” (First Apology 65, 67).  He surely was not thinking of a rote recitation of Did. 9-10 which would take less than two minutes.  The Apostolic Tradition (C.E. 220), in its turn, presented an elaborate set of eucharistic prayers for use by the presiding bishop on various occasions.  Following this set of prayers, however, this telling rubric was offered:

It is not at all necessary for him [the bishop] to utter the same words as we said [note oral emphasis] above, as though reciting them from memory, when giving thanks to God; but let each [bishop] pray according to his ability.  If indeed anyone has the ability to pray at length and with a solemn prayer, it is good.  But if anyone, when he prays, utters a brief prayer, do not prevent him (9).

Here again, the prayer of the celebrant was characterized as being “at length” and “solemn”–terms that could not apply to a “canned” prayer where the length and mood were fixed in advance.  The rubric, “Let each pray according to his ability,” undoubtedly prevailed in the Didache community as well.  The prophets, more especially, were prized for their ability to improvise dynamic prayers that nourished and healed the hearts of those who heard them.  Concerning this, the Didache says: “Let the prophets eucharistize as much as they wish” (Did. 10:7).  This free-flowing style of spontaneous prayer that characterized the prophets was cherished and seen as a necessary compliment to the more stylized expansion of the eucharistic prayers offered by the celebrant (Did. 9-10).

All in all, one does not find a movement to standardize public prayers prior to the mid-third century (Hanson:173-176).  Beyond this, the push to regiment prayer leaders and to require that they “read” standard prayers from a printed text only came about after the invention of the printing press.  Presumably this penchant for “reading the approved text” came about as a backlash of the Protestant Reformation where Latin prayers were simplified and translated into the common language of the people.  The Council of Trent vigorously suppressed all of the variations that had entered into the Mass especially among the religious orders of men.

For 25 years I taught in three Catholic seminaries.  During this time, I lamented the fact that future priests were “solemnly warned” never to deviate from the approved “printed” prayers under any circumstances.  This was at a time when the Catholic Charismatic Movement was in full swing. I witnessed seminarians (imbued with the Spirit) offering inspiring and forceful (free-style) prayers.  But then, in their liturgical preparation, the Spirit was shackled and they were taught NEVER to deviate from the approved text.  To this day, I consider this as the “sin against the Holy Spirit” that has served to kill the prophetic aspect of liturgical celebrations.

Where do we go from here?

The CDF is not playing with a full deck of cards.  They have presented us with bogus reasons to support the notion that Jesus formulated the words required for a valid baptism in Matt 28:19.  They have failed to notice that early baptisms were done “in the name of Jesus” and only after two generations did the trinitarian formula take its place.  They have presumed that the standard formula was used generation after generation down to the present day.  They have failed to notice that even the Didache does not have the standard formula.  In truth, the so called “standard formula” did not emerge until the late middle ages.  But they don’t want us to know this.  They want us to believe that the only way to keep the sacredness of the rite is to use the standard formula.  They give no credit that Jesus did not use standard formulas for his prayers.  Every time he prayed to the Father, he improvised using the template [= what we now call the “Our Father”].

But the CDF does not want us to notice this.  They want to imagine that God wants to commit himself to those who follow wooden memorized prayers.  Having the right words is the sole way to guarantee validity.  So they want to discredit every deviation and to breed fear in the faithful whenever their ministers deviate from the standard formula.  They are wrong in this.  They have divinized the words and acted as though the divine magic does not work unless the right words are pronounced in just the right way. They want to freeze the official words and to insure that there are no more deviations because all change is, for them, a vulnus.  They cannot allow that the rite of baptism was changing from the very beginning even during the New Testament period. In the centuries that followed the rite and the theology of the rite continued to change in order to continue to be used to address the needs of the faithful.  As Cardinal John Henry Newman said, “To live is to change; to grow perfect is to have changed often.”  He applied this to the Sacrament of Baptism and he applied this to the Church.

But the CDF wants us to distrust all innovators at all times and all places.  This is a false ideal that subverts true religion.  Jesus was a pioneer and a prophet.  He was never content with wooden conformity.  His disciples also followed this principle.  Only the CDF wants to take charge and freeze-dry the entire process.  They want to sow fear in the hearts of Catholics such that they run away from innovating priests.  Parce domine!  [Latin: “Spare us O Lord.”]

Arguments for and against the validity of the Sacraments administered by Fr. Hood

Peter Darcy and his “best friend”

#1 Peter Darcy gives a well-reasoned and easy-to-follow argument against the validity of the Sacraments administered by Fr. Hood.   Here is an essential part of his argument:

All Fr. Hood’s Masses were invalid. He did not have the spiritual power to consecrate the Eucharist because he was not validly ordained, therefore, he did not actually consecrate the bread and wine at Mass even though he pronounced the words of consecration and performed the actions associated with it. Objectively speaking, all of his Masses looked like Masses but were actually pious prayer services.  [source]

To comment on Darcy’s position, go to the comment box below and begin by typing in #1 so that everyone will know what issue you are addressing.

PS: Click here for a canon lawyer who would agree with Darcy.

#2 San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy has encountered a situation wherein Fr. Arango was performing baptisms in his diocese twenty years ago.  When  Bishop Olmstead declared that Fr. Arango was not validly ordained because he was never validly baptized, the Phoenix diocese  began a search out and to notify thousands of Catholics that they had never been validly baptized.  Bishop McElroy, on the contrary, judged that such a search was impossible and unnecessary because of the “bounty of God’s grace.”  Here are his exact words:

It is unclear if any invalid baptisms by Father Arango took place within the Diocese of San Diego. If any such baptisms did take place, it is impossible 20 years later to analyze the nature of each specific baptismal formula that was used in individual baptisms, find the person who was baptized, and re-baptize them.

Fortunately, this is essentially a pastoral dilemma rather than solely a matter of church law. The theology of the Church teaches that God binds himself to the efficacy of validly celebrated sacraments. But that same theology states that God is not bound by the limitations of the sacraments. The bounty of God’s grace powerfully suggests that any men and women who were possibly baptized so long ago have received from the Lord the graces of baptism and all that goes with them in their lives. And thus, they should be at ease [trusting in the Lord].  [Source]

What is your take on this? Did Bishop McElroy do the right thing for the right reason? If so, then would this provide solid ground for Fr. Hood’s bishop to scrap his earlier judgment and to declare that Fr. Hood’s original baptism was valid after all?  Go to the comment box below and begin by typing in #2 so that everyone will know what issue you are addressing.

#3 Here is the argument of Aaron Milavec in favor of validity:

When I was taking my first course on the Sacraments some sixty years ago, it was pointed out that the “intention” of the minister decides the outcome.  Thus, if in case of an emergency, a young mother baptizes her infant son who has turned blue and has stopped breathing, and she uses the words, “I baptize you in the name of God and of Jesus,” this suffices as a valid baptism.  How so?  Because she intends to do what the Church has done, namely, to baptize her son.  The Church tacitly supplies what is missing.  This principle is called Ecclesia supplet, which in Latin means “the Church supplies.”

If Bishop Olmstead had remembered his first course in Sacraments, might he not have used this principle to dispel any fear that the case of Fr. Arango involved any invalid baptisms.  Bishop Olmstead declares,

“I do not believe Fr. Andres [Arango] had any intentions to harm the faithful or deprive them of the grace of baptism and the sacraments.”

That’s all that is needed.  Ecclesia supplet. All of the baptisms of Fr. Arango were valid.  There is no mess to clean up.  That’s the good news for everyone involved!

Likewise, when this is applied to the defective baptism received by Matthew Hood, one would be able to say that his original baptism can be presumed to be valid; hence, it was absolutely unnecessary for him to repeat his baptism, confirmation, and ordination.  Unfortunately, however, his bishop was poorly informed, and he endorsed Hood’s repetition of all three sacraments.  This has set off a  totally unnecessary whirlwind of sacramental distrust.

What are your thoughts on this?  Go to the comment box below and begin by typing in #3 so that everyone will know what issue you are addressing.

#4 Adam Rasmussen offers an argument that is the briefest and to the point.  Here it is, in a nutshell (source):

Someone else’s mistake is by definition involuntary. To say that God would deny someone his grace [because of a word-change]—let alone damn them—for someone else’s fault borders on blasphemy since it contradicts God’s essential goodness. Theologian Greg Hillis put it well in this tweet:

This is fundamentally a theological argument.  A minister may be careless when administering baptism, but God is not careless!  What are your thoughts on this?  Go to the comment box below and begin by typing in #4 so that everyone will know what issue you are addressing.

#5 I want to give the last word to Fr. Matthew Hood.  He is a very relaxed and very thoughtful fellow who was interviewed on the phone by a free-lance writer.  Here are a few of his best words:

Most people still wonder about where God is in all of this. We cannot play God. God can work outside of the sacraments, but it was God himself who gave us the sacraments. If God has given them to us then we are limited by the sacraments. It is part of the nature of reality that we find meaning and purpose for the deep and most meaningful parts of life in the smallest and seemingly insignificant details—the smile of a small child or the beauty of a horizon. God calls us to love through the finite and limited. It is only through the finite that we can work as human beings. The finite reality of mistaken words needs to be remedied through the use of the correct words. . . .

I don’t want my story to be a cause of anxiety. If there’s something clear that hasn’t been made known to you, you can act on it; but if it’s unknown, Jesus says, “Have no anxiety.” You can’t change anything beyond your control or that you have no knowledge of. Anxiety about that, that’s not from God.  (Source)

What are your thoughts on this?  Go to the comment box below and begin by typing in #5 so that everyone will know what issue you are addressing.

The invalid ordination of Fr. Matthew Hood

Fr. Matthew Hood in the Archdiocese of Detroit has admitted that he discovered, upon seeing a family video of his baptism, that his own baptism was invalid.  So he was rebaptized, reconfirmed, reordained.  Now he is anxious because he is aware of the fact that he administered hundreds of Sacraments without recognizing that most of them were “invalid” because he himself was “invalidly” ordained to begin with.

Yipes!  Do we have here another overly zealous and marginally incompetent priest who is needlessly spreading uncertainty and fear?  How many more will come after him?

Fr. Matthew Hood in the Archdiocese of Detroit created a youtube video in 23 Aug 2020. He carefully details how he came to discover that he had never been validly baptized. It appears that, due to the “stay at home and be safe from Covid-19” movement, his dad had time to sort through family videos. He found Matt’s baptism video and, in due course, gave it to his son as part of the family history. Fr. Matt viewed the video and, as soon as he heard the deacon say, “We baptize you….,” he knew that he was in trouble. He had read the CDF ruling [made on 06 Aug 2020; released on the Vatican website, 06 Aug 2021]. Then he explains how he went about repeating his baptism, confirmation, holy orders.

Fr. Matthew Hood

At the end of his video, Fr. Hood explains how this entire process unfolded as a providential blessing. Fr. Hood no longer sees what happened as an unfortunate string of bad events. In the end, he sees the original error as providential. Had it not happened, then the evil would have remained unrecognized and great harm would be done. Now that we know the problem, we can bring a cure.

Note the great contrast here. In the diocese of Phoenix, Fr. Arango’s reputation has been entirely ruined. He was forced to resign from being a pastor and to devote his life to making reparation by systematically tracking down the thousands of persons who have been “invalidly baptized.” In the archdiocese of Detroit, however, Fr. Hood is the hero! He is the truth teller who is saving the souls of those who are in limbo because they never had a valid baptism. Lister to the voices of admiration for yourself:

#1 The Caldera siblings

God bless your Fr.Hood I’m glad that God reveled to you that your baptism was invalid so you could be baptized correctly God bless [Notice the big jump here. For Caldera, it was not the role of Covid-19 and of Matt’s father in passing on the baptism video that is important; rather the new claim is that “God revealed to you . . . .”]

#2 dolores grandes

God Bless you Father Hood: you have a great voice, and you explain matters easy, can you do more video clips on our Roman Catholic Church? Thank you. [Note that Dolores is saying, “I trust you. I like your way of explaining matters. Please make more videos.”]

#3 Nelida Rivera

God bless you Father Hood. Thank you for your honesty, your courage, and fidelity to the Truth.

#4 gadiel rivera

Thank you for sharing this video! Just found out I was baptized with this modified formula too.

#5 Mya

GOD BLESS YOU Fr. Matthew Hood Thank you for your pure heart. This shows that although you were wrongly given an invalid Catholic Baptism, you kept the Holy Spirit in your heart and actions and the fruits still flourished because Father God knows your desires of your heart. This is an example of the unfathomable Mercy our Lord Jesus has for us. Im happy you sought out help and direction to receive the Valid Sacraments that you innocently thought you were receiving.


Needless to say, not everyone was happy with the positive spin that Fr. Hood brings to his revelations. Here are three critical voices to consider:

#6 James R

If I was married, thank god I’m not, and, this dude officiated it, I would sue the fuck out of him if he came at me trying to say my marriage wasn’t valid. [I hesitated to reproduce the vulgar language of James. In the end, however, I decided to pass it on because it indicates the rage that one man feels at the fiasco surrounding invalid baptisms.]

#7 zarnofad

Give me a break.

#8 John Boy Sr.

I totally disagree with you Father. It was through NO fault of your own. If you didn’t have the video you would have still been saved by virtue of your Baptism. The intent was there. This story is SILLY! [Alas, this is an approximation of what I wrote (section #4). Unhappily, John Boy received nine remarks critical of his comment. No one stepped forward to support him. No one knew how to support him.]


So, my dear reader, what do you make of all this? Please post a brief comment below.


If you have never visited an Orthodox Church, then I would invite you to get an interesting overview of just how different Orthodox Churches are.   Click here to open up a 4-minute video now.

Russian Orthodox baptism by immersion in the River Jordan

The Second Vatican Council was a watershed in terms of readjusting the Catholic Church’s pastoral approach toward. Over two thousand bishops were called to Rome between 1962 and 1965 to discuss how the Church would face the challenges of the modern world. The Church, according to Peter A. Huff, largely redirected its concern from internal stability to external dialogue.  Seventeen Orthodox Churches sent observers to the council who participated in discussions, specifically on ecumenism between the two churches. One of the council’s primary concerns was to bring about the unity of all Christians.  Significantly, at the close of the council Pope Paul VI and Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras mutually lifted their respective excommunications in the Catholic–Orthodox Joint Declaration of 1965. This removal of excommunications was the first step toward restoring full communion between their churches.

Dialogue and ecumenism

The Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism has driven Catholic efforts to reach out to the Orthodox over the last 60 years.[Notes 2] The dialogue that took place between 1963 and 1979 has been described as a “dialogue of charity”.  This transitioned into a “dialogue of doctrine” with reference to the history and tradition of the early Church.  Here is the mutually agreed statement of 1999:

The Orthodox and Catholic members of our Consultation acknowledge, in both of our traditions, a common teaching and a common faith in one baptism, despite some variations in practice which, we believe, do not affect the substance of the mystery. We are therefore moved to declare that we also recognize each other’s baptism as one and the same.  [source]

For more information regarding the diversity within the Orthodox Churches, click here.




Q1 In the Acts of the Apostles, thousands of baptisms are described.  At no time does the sacred text indicate what words (if any) were used to administer the rite.  Must we then doubt the validity of these baptisms (as the CDF proposes)? 


A1 By no means. The CDF cannot responsibly make a ruling that has the effect of invalidating the baptisms described in the Acts of the Apostles.


Q2 In the Acts of the Apostles, baptism was being administered by immersion in water.  The repeated use of the Greek term, baptizein, means “to immerse in water.”  What does this illustrate?

A2 This demonstrates that, in the primitive church, immersion in water was the normative mode of administrating baptism.   Today, however, we have become accustomed to forget this because 98% of Catholic baptisms involve pouring small amounts of water over the head.   Baptist and Orthodox Churches, for example, have maintained this requirement even today.  That is why it is not uncommon to see YouTube sites that argue that their faith is more authentic because they are actual in harmony with what the primitive church practiced.  Chick here, to see an example of this.

Q3 When did the early churches begin to baptize without full immersion in water?

A3. There is no evidence of this in the New Testament texts.  In the Didache, however, we find the first evidence that there were valid baptisms without full immersion.   Here is how the text reads:

7:1       (And) concerning baptism, bäptize thus:

            Having said all these things beforehand,

            ïmmerse in the name of the Father

                             and of the Son

                             and of the holy Spirit

            in flowing water‑‑

7:2       [1] if, on_the_other_hand, you should not have flowing water,

                 immerse in other water [that is available];

            [2] (and) if you are not able in cold,

                 [immerse] in warm [water];

7:3       [3] (and) if you should not have either,

                 pour out water onto the head three times

                        in the name of [the] Father

                                    and [the] Son

                                    and [the] holy Spirit.

The Didache puts forward the general rule that the immersion should take place “in living water” (en hydati zônti)–an expression that means  “in flowing/moving water.”  The preference for flowing water most probably hearkens back to an early period when natural rivers were used for baptizing.  Recall that John the Baptist made use of the Jordan River for his baptisms (Matt 3:6 and par.).

Q4 Do the Gospels then recognize that Jesus himself was baptized with full immersion?

A4 Absolutely!  There can be no doubt of this.

Immersion baptism today in living water

Q5 Does the Catholic Church allow baptisms by immersion?

A5 It not only allows them, it encourages them as the preferred form for administering baptism.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the triple immersion in water “as the most expressive way” to perform a baptism:

1239 The essential rite of the sacrament follows: Baptism properly speaking. It signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal mystery of Christ. Baptism is performed in the most expressive way by triple immersion in the baptismal water. However, from ancient times it has also been able to be conferred by pouring the water three times over the candidate’s head.

The last line makes reference to the Didache.

Q6 What do we learn about early baptisms from the Didache?

A6 When read as a whole, the overriding norm was to give preference to “living” water (Did. 7:1)‑-flowing and cold in natural rivers.  When this was lacking, then non-flowing cold water (Did. 7:2)‑-as in a pond or lake‑-was permitted.  Such cold water had the natural temperature of “living” water but was inferior since it was not flowing (Niederwimmer 1998:127).  Finally, when cold water was lacking, warm water was permitted.  Vööbus surmises that “warm water” refers to “the kind to be found in cisterns, pools and reservoirs” exposed to the Mediterranean sun (Vööbus 1968:24). 

If none of these kinds of water were available, then it was permitted to pour water over the head of the one being baptized.   One can imagine that three ceramic jars filled with water were used.  Pouring “three times” was by way of insuring a complete soaking.  Parts of the body still dry would become the natural target of the second and third jars of water.  Dousing the person in water would have been a near equivalent to immersion.

Q7 When was the Didache composed?  And by whom?

A7 The Didache bears the title, The Training of the Twelve Apostles.  Based on the content of this document, however, we can be certain that the twelve apostles did not actually write this text.  However, those who did use the Didache regarded it as  containing the way of training used by the twelve apostles.  Scholars are not in agreement as to the date when this text was composed.  Since I am a specialist in this text, I have concluded, on the basis of internal evidence, that the Didache was composed between 50 and 70 CE.  Not everyone agrees with me, however.  The majority place the time of composition late in the first century.

Q8 Does the Didache use the formula, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

A8 No, it does not.   In fact, however, the Didache presents us with very different words that were to be recited prior to the baptism.  These words summarize the intensive training that was given prior to the baptism.  It takes about ten minutes to recite this summary of “the Way of Life” (Did 1:1-4:14). Then the candidate was warned to keep far away from “the Way of Death”  which also gets spelled out in clear details (Did 5:1).  It takes a little more than one minute to recite this.   

Q8 Does the decision of the CDF and of Bishop O to declare all baptisms that do not use the standard formula as invalid run into some trouble here?

A8 Assuredly.  By affirming that only one formula must be used, the CDF not only invalidates early baptisms reported in the Acts of the Apostles, it invalidates all other baptisms (as in the Didache) where this one formula is not used.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this:

1240 In the Latin Church this triple infusion is accompanied by the minister’s words: “N., I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In the Eastern liturgies the catechumen turns toward the East and the priest says: “The servant of God, N., is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” At the invocation of each person of the Most Holy Trinity, the priest immerses the candidate in the water and raises him up again.

By presenting the usual form used in the Latin Church next to the usual form used in the Eastern Liturgies, the intent of the Catechism is to demonstrate that valid baptisms have been celebrated using two different forms.  This has the effect of demonstrating that the inability to honor the form used in the Catholic Easter Liturgies has the effect of calling into question the clear intention of the Catholic Church to honor various formulations of the words used.  In 1999, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches agreed to  honor the legitimacy of their respective rites:

The Orthodox and Catholic members of our Consultation acknowledge, in both of our traditions, a common teaching and a common faith in one baptism, despite some variations in practice which, we believe, do not affect the substance of the mystery.

This agreement is very important.  There is one common teaching and one baptism even when the rites used for administrating baptism are not uniform.  This is what the CDF and Bishop Olmsted should have said: “The Catholic Church has always acknowledged a legitimate diversity in the words used to administer baptism.  Hence, the variation used by Fr. R can be understood as valid even when it deviated from the usual sacramental form used by Catholics.”

Q9 Is there any reason to believe that the Catholic Church always and everywhere administered baptisms using the formula, “I baptize you in the name of the Father . . .”?

A9 None whatsoever.  No where in the Christian Scriptures does one find “the exact words” that must be used in every valid baptism.  If there were such words and there was also an absolute command to use these and no other words, then the CDF would have made its point. 

Even when it comes to the gestures and words used by Jesus at the Last Supper, each of the three Synoptic Gospels has a variant telling.  Here again, we would have to insist that “absolute uniformity” is not requirement for a valid Eucharist.  The Didache, for example, offers us a very rich Eucharist without needing to repeat what Jesus did.  John’s Gospel, in like fashion, presents us with Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as a symbolic metaphor of the hidden message of the Last Supper. 

Relative to the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew provides one variation; Luke provides another; and the Didache provides a third variant.  No one in the church sought to remove these variants and to mandate a single formulation to be used to edit out of existence the variants.

When I was attending Holy Cross Grade School in Euclid, Ohio, as an impressionable youth, Sister Margaret told us children that the Our Father printed in our Catechism was the only valid version that we, as Catholics, were permitted to use.  More especially, Sister Margaret told us that the Protestant version was an “invalid prayer” and should “never be used.”   The implication here was that God heard our prayers because they were approved.   Protestants, on the other hand, used unapproved versions of the Our Father and it was very unlikely that God would smile upon them when this did so.

If you go to the internet, you will find some Christians saying that “God gives us no warrant for infant baptism.” or “Only full immersion baptisms are valid.”  Those who do these things are misled and are misleading.  They are another version of Sister Margaret who wanted us children to take pride in our version of the Our Father and to despise anyone who uses a variation.

Q10 But is that not what the CDF is doing today–namely trying to impose on all Catholics one version while, at the same time, invalidating all variations?

A10 Some might think so.  In any case, to the degree that the CDF is doing what Sister Margaret did when I was in the fifth grade, they are to be opposed “in the name of Jesus.” 




Invalid Baptisms?—How Bishop Olmsted Made a Mountain out of a Molehill

On 14 January 2022, Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, alerted all the faithful regarding a matter of grave importance.  In his own words:

“It is with sincere pastoral concern that I inform the faithful that baptisms performed by Reverend Arango, a priest of the Diocese of Phoenix, are invalid. This determination was made after careful study by diocesan officials and through consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [abbr: CDF] in Rome.”

Father Arango acknowledged to his bishop that, for the past fifteen years, he had been performing baptisms in four different parishes using the words, “We baptize you in the name of the Father. . . .”  Since the official rites of the Roman Catholic Church indicate that baptism is administered using the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” Bishop Olmsted judged that the use of “we” instead of “I” had the effect of invalidating thousands of baptisms.

Are we really obliged to believe that all of Father Arango’s baptisms were invalid?  Bishop Olmsted says,

“Unfortunately, we have no choice but to repair the mess made by Father Arango.”

The CDF, in an official ruling, agreed with the Bishop, “Without the right words, the Sacrament is invalid.”

Let’s step back for a moment and examine this case more closely:


In the Acts of the Apostles, thousands of baptisms are described.  At no time does the sacred text indicate what words (if any) were used to administer the rite.  Must we then doubt the validity of these baptisms (as the CDF proposes)?  Hardly.  At this historic time, baptism was being administered by immersion in water.  The repeated use of the Greek term, βαπτίζειν (baptizein), means “to immerse in water.” The only requirement for baptism was the conversion of heart.  In a typical case Peter says: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48, 19:5; 1 Cor 1:13; Gal 3:27).

Matthew alone reads, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19).  Vööbus points out, however, that Eusebius (d. 340) cites the great commission of Matthew more than two dozen times as “teach all nations in my name” (1968:36).  It is quite probable, consequently, that Eusebius’ text of Matthew’s Gospel did not have a trinitarian formula and that this was later edited into copies of Matthew’s Gospel.  All in all, most scholars are in agreement that baptism “in the name of Jesus” was the earliest norm and that this norm gradually shifted toward baptism “in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Did 7:3) in the early second century.

Moreover, theologians generally agree that Matt 28:19 gives us a rubric without in any way implying that these are “the words that must be recited to make the immersion a valid baptism.”  No one in this period imagined that, at every baptism, divine grace does not flow unless “the required words” were said.  The judgment of the CDF, “Without the right words, the Sacrament is invalid,” is thus a ruling that finds no foundation whatsoever within early church practice.   [For more details, click here.]


In the Eastern Catholic Churches of the Byzantine Rite, immersion or submersion is used, and the formula is:

“The servant of God, [insert name], is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The Eastern Churches acknowledge the validity of Roman Catholic baptisms even though they do not require full immersion or their normative words.  Roman Catholics likewise acknowledges the baptismal traditions of the Eastern Churches.  These accords  recognized that there is essentially only “one baptism” even while there is a “legitimate diversity” in how these baptisms are administered.  Is the CDF aware that insistance upon one form of baptism might effectively undercuts the “mutual recognitions” made with the Eastern Churches?   [Click here for more details.]


Dr. Vincent Ryan Ruggiero makes this linguistic observation:

The plural form “we” includes the singular “I”; in fact, it is impossible to use “we” in a way that excludes “I.”

If Bishop Olmsted had known this, would he have pounced upon Fr. Arango the way he did?  Did Bishop Olmsted destroy the reputation of Fr. Arango unjustly?  Did he grievously error in making a mountain out of a molehill?  Yes and yes.

Judith Hann assists us here in making a careful study of how Thomas Aquinas regards situations in which the minister uses alternate words.  This study was published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Ecclesiastical Law Society in 2021.  Without going into the details, here are the conclusions that Hann brings to us:

Aquinas . . . does not adhere to a radical literalism with regard to sacramental formulas. Instead he refers to the intention [of the minister] to do what the Church does and to the meaningfulness of the sacramental act for those who participate in it. In doing so, he proves that his understanding of sacramental speech is less that of spells with a magical automatism and more that of communication. Understanding sacramental speech as communication, as acts of conveying sacramental meaning to the community, demands a greater tolerance with regard to wording.  (Source)

What does this say regarding the “radical literalism” being proposed by the CDF?  Two points: (1) The CDF judged the minister using “We beptize you . . .” too harshly.  These words, in and of themselves, do not clearly reveal an intention to deviate from what the Church intends by the rite; and (2) The CDF appeals to Aquinas, but, in so doing, the CDF mistakenly assumes that Aquinas affirms the “radical literalism” that the CDF wants to impose on all ministers of baptism.


When I was taking my first course on the Sacraments some sixty years ago, it was pointed out that the “intention” of the minister decides the outcome.  Thus, if in case of an emergency, a young mother baptizes her infant son who has turned blue and has stopped breathing, and she uses the words, “I baptize you in the name of God and of Jesus,” this suffices as a valid baptism.  How so?  Because she intends to do what the Church has done, namely, to baptize her son.  The Church tacitly supplies what is missing.  This principle is called Ecclesia supplet, which in Latin means “the Church supplies.”  If Bishop Olmsted had remembered his first course in Sacraments, might he not have used this principle to dispel any fear that the case of Fr. Arango involved any invalid baptisms.  Bishop Olmsted declares,

“I do not believe Fr. Andres [Arango] had any intentions to harm the faithful or deprive them of the grace of baptism and the sacraments.”

That’s all that is needed.  Ecclesia supplet. All of the baptisms of Fr. Arango are valid.  There is no mess to clean up.  That’s the good news for everyone involved!  But the Bishop is unable to see this.


As things now stand, a grave danger is about to erupt.  An overly zealous and marginally incompetent bishop has set the wheels going in the direction of finding those who are the victims of “invalid baptisms” and making arrangements to have them repeat their baptism.  Then they will, in most instances, have to repeat their confirmations and marriages as well.  At this point, only one priest has his reputation ruined.  I would estimate that once Catholics come to understand that they too might be invalidly baptized, then more priests will be called on the carpet.  More reputations will be shattered.  Meanwhile, overworked priests will be required to give time and attention to thousands of Catholics who fear that their baptisms were invalid.  Many more thousands will come forward and ask to be conditionally rebaptized “in order to give themselves peace of mind that their spiritual welfare is secure.”

Meanwhile, Fr. Matthew Hood in the Archdiocese of Detroit has admitted that he discovered, upon seeing a family video of his baptism, that his own baptism was invalid.  So he was rebaptized, reconfirmed, reordained.  Now he is anxious because he is aware of the fact that he administered hundreds of Sacraments without recognizing that most of them were “invalid” because he himself was “invalidly” ordained to begin with.  Yipes!  So here is another overly zealous and marginally incompetent priest who is spreading uncertainty and fear.  How many more will come after him?  [Click here for further details and discussion regarding Fr. Hood.]

Parce Domine!  [Spare us, O Lord!]  Someone in authority needs to come forward soon and expose the false judgment of the CDF and the incompetent pastoral solution championed by Bishop Olmsted.  The faithful need to be reeducated as to why ALL THEIR BAPTISMS WERE VALID ALL ALONG.  Fr. Arango can then be reinstated.  He can undertake the new task of wiping away the tears of all those Catholics who were horrified by the false alarm and the sleepless nights.  The mountain can finally be seen again as just a molehill.

Peace and joy in the Love of our Lord,

Aaron Milavec

PS: Further analysis of wooden repetition and the theology of baptism.

The case of Fr. John Wijngaards–memoirs of a priest who protested the ban on women priests

Review of TEN COMMANDMENTS OF CHURCH REFORM: Memoirs of a Catholic Priest, by John Wijngaards (Acadian House Publishing: Lafayette, Louisiana USA, 2022) 261 pp. with an index, hardcover $22.95


John Wijngaards has written his memoirs detailing how he was brought to the position where “in conscience” he could no longer function as a priest within the Roman Catholic Church.  His book is entitled, Ten Commandments for Church Reform (Acadian House, 2021).  This title is misleading.  His subtitle, Memoirs of a Catholic Priest, gets closer to describing his content.  Had I been his publisher, I would have suggested, Memoirs of a Catholic Priest Bent Upon Reforming his Church.


I find a strong affinity with Wijngaards.  We are roughly the same age.  We both grew up in a pious Catholic family.  We were both immersed in Catholic devotions.  Reflecting on this early period in his life, Wijngaards writes, “Looking back at that time, I now recognize an element of unreality in my obsessive devotion [to Jesus]” (p. 47).  I would say the same thing, but, for me, it was “my obsessive devotion to Mary.”  The “unreality” in my own devotions consisted in my adamant conviction that my daily rosaries formed the “essential spiritual warfare” enabled the Blessed Virgin Mary to bring about the conversion of Russia.  Wijngaards says, “I had fallen in love with a phantom Jesus”—a Jesus who wanted me “to be wary of woman” as a danger to my spiritual life.  Here, too, this has a resonance in my own early spirituality.


As a result, Wijngaards joined the Mill Hill Missionaries. He completed his high school and college years in Mill Hill institutions.  Then, his superiors sent him to the Gregorian University in Rome to get a doctoral degree in Sacred Scripture.  My guess is that, as his studies of the Gospels began, the “phantom Jesus” of his devotional period was replaced by the Jesus of the Gospels.  Then he was ordained and sent to Hyderabad, India, where he taught Scriptural Studies to future Indian priests, 1964-1976.  These were exciting times to be a priest.  In 1962-1965, Vatican II had provided Catholics with an upbeat plan for reorienting religious and priestly life.  Religious vocations abounded everywhere.


It is significant, for me, that Wijngaards founded a formation center for Religious Sisters precisely because these women were routinely sent out to do pastoral work without having any substantial theological training.  Here I notice quite clearly that Wijngaards took measures to uplift the women in the Church of India who were prized for their unpaid labor, their humility, and their submissiveness.  This was not an assignment given to him.  John Wijngaards was clearly not a “yes” man waiting for someone to tell him what to do–when he saw something that was not quite right, he stepped up to the plate and began to do something by way of correcting it.  He exhibited a “can-do attitude.”  What I find significant is that, right from the very start, he exercised his talents in favor of women.


In the ten years following Vatican II, women were entering into all the professions that had been formerly been reserved exclusively for men.  The Women’s Rights Movement, meanwhile, was dedicated to securing for women equal access to education and employment, equality within marriage–married woman were given the right to own property, to have bank accounts, to receive wages, to have custody over her children and control over her own body.  The Society of Biblical Literature was 98% male in the early 1960s.  Year by year, this Society saw a growing influx of female theologians.  Meanwhile, Catholic Colleges and University began hiring qualified female theologians.  For a number of years, the chances of being hired by a Catholic institution was decidedly higher if you were a woman.  By the 90s, nearly 40% of the members of the Society of Biblical Literature were female.


During these same years, Wijngaards offers his readers (p. 121-126) a full-blown analysis of how, in Holland, Paul VI appointed bishops with the deliberate purpose of destroying the harmony and collaboration between the Dutch bishops. In 1972, Fr. Joannes Gijsen was named bishop of Roermond. In so doing, the pope entirely bypassed the honored Dutch tradition whereby episcopal candidates were drawn from a list generated by a diocesan synod. Cardinal Alfrink, Archbishop of Utrect, went to Rome to contest this “disregard” for a long-standing nomination procedure, but without success.  Fr. Gijsen had the reputation of having “a negative and destructive personality,” and, in quick order, he undid all the Vatican II reforms that had been joyfully and painstakingly embraced by the vast majority of Dutch Catholics in his diocese.  In addition, he created his own seminary since he did not trust the formation in the common seminary to be sufficiently orthodox.  Wijngaards tells his readers: “The reaction to his appointment was one of outrage” (p. 122).


Wijngaards gives a hint of his future decision to resign from the ministry half-way through the book.  He reports on a radio interview given by Bishop Simonis (another bad appointment by Paul VI).  The bishop was asked how he understands the CDF’s rejection of women to holy orders.  His response: “Men are active, [they] are leaders by nature. Women are passive.”


“How do you know this,” the interviewer prodded him.


“Well,” he said. “Look at what happens right at conception.  The female ovum is lying passively in the womb, the male sperm fights its way in and captures the ovum with a sting” (p. 123).


Besides his dubious portrait of the biology of conception, Simonis uses this mental picture to justify his bold generalization that “men are active by nature; women are passive.”  Clearly anyone who would say something like this has had little or no experience of a fierce women like Wijngaards’s mother.  Nor, for that matter, can we really believe that Simonis never met any “passive men.”  Not even the CDF would try to get away with this sort of shoddy thinking.  The bishop’s prejudice against women was showing through.  No doubt about it.


For Wijngaards, the 1995 attempt by John Paul II and Ratzinger to make the ban against women appear to be “infallible” was the final straw that broke his resolve to continue his official ministry.  Wijngaards specifically details how John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger–by permanently denying the priesthood to women–delivered a crushing blow.  As Housetop in London and even in the missionary field in India, Wijngaards was accustomed to working with women who were outstanding and competent.  Anyone who reads the opening chapters of his book will notice also that his own mother was a fierce tigress when it came time to keep her family together and alive during the period when they were sequestered in detention camps by the Japanese. In an era where humility and subservience were routinely prized as the virtues of women, Wijngaards was rescued from the jaws of death by a woman ready to face down ruthless soldiers who were accustomed to using acts of cruelty to intimidate the vast numbers of prisoners that were under their supervision.


Wijngaards was especially creative and visionary in the missionary field of India where he spent the better part of fourteen years.  Even after Ivan Illich (p. 115) wrote his stunning report on the failure of European priests to step aside and to give native-born priests the full responsibility for the missionary outreach in their own countries, Wijngaards immediately recognized the appropriateness of this appeal, and he began to take steps to implement the very measures that would render his own religious order as “no longer needed.”  From my reading of Wijngaards’ narrative, however, I would judge that this had little or nothing to do with his leaving the priesthood.


Wijngaards himself omits this when he announced his resignation in 1998.  At that point, he fingers exclusively his “conflict of conscience” as necessitating his leaving.  Here are his words:


Since I perceive Rome’s ban on women’s ordination (a) as not legitimately founded on Scripture or Tradition, (b) [as] not arrived at after proper consultation of the Church, (c) [as] harmful to ecumenism, and (d) [as] highly injurious to the spiritual wellbeing of the faithful, I feel bound in conscience to continue voicing my sincere opposition. . . .  Moreover, (e) I want to stand on the side of those men and women who are so casually and unjustly dismissed by the Vatican.  It is only by distancing myself now from the institutional Church that I can extract myself from the guilt of taking part in the conspiracy of silence.


Notice here how Wijngaards lists the four defects of Rome’s ban on ordination.  (a) and (b) deal with the failure of the CDF in doing its homework.  (c) and (d) name the chief harmful consequences.  (e) appears as an afterthought but, in reality, it is the “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise” statement of Martin Luther when he was asked to recant his positions.  Wijngaards puts emphasis upon the “conspiracy of silence” of bishops, theologians, priests at all levels who, instead of speaking out forcefully, have retired in silence thereby deceiving the faithful and leaving the prophets to take on the brutal and inhumane treatment of the CDF alone.  This last item is extraordinary.  Wijngaards is challenging the “guilty bystanders.”  Do recall that  John Wijngaards was never interrogated by the CDF regarding his writings.  Nor was he ever silenced and prevented from teaching or publishing on the “hot button” topics that were being defined by Rome.  It would have been very easy for him to join the “guilty bystanders” who tacitly enabled the tyranny of the CDF, but he did not.



Wijngaards makes clear that his leaving ministry within his Church was a manifest protest against the “conspiracy of silence.”  This leaving, however, did not diminish his priestly mission as he saw it: “Christ wanted me to continue as a priest for those who sought my help and as a prophetic teacher in a Church so badly in need of reform” (p. 229).  Wijngaards discovered that the professional team working with Housetop Ministries (his innovative catechetical works) wanted to follow his prophetic move by creating world-wide resources whereby the issue of women’s ordination would be thoroughly researched and discussed [URL = http://womenpriests.org].  Thus, the past twenty-four years have been filled with his continued ministry on behalf of women.


If you go to HypeStat.com, you will discover that http://womenpriests.org has an average of 435 unique daily visitors and 1131 daily page views.  Quite clearly, http://womenpriests.org is a resource center to be reckoned with.  In the past eight  years, Housetop evolved into the world-renowned Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research which coordinates leading academics to publish research projects on issues facing the international Catholic community.


For anyone who believes that the Roman Catholic Church has a future in God’s divine plan, I would strongly recommend John Wijngaards’ Memoirs.  For anyone who thinks that John Wijngaards choices are driven by pride or by the promptings of Satan, his Memoirs have much to offer you as well.  It is a positive sign that the Mission Hill Fathers published a strongly supportive review on their official website.  His hardback book can be purchased for $23 directly from Acadian House Publishing.  For a $10 Amazon Kindle version, click here.   For a review by Fr. Flannery, click here.

To sign a petition  to Pope Francis, click here.