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Baptism, Shmaptism!

Catholic News Service reports on a ruling by the Vatican holding thatbaptismsperformed by invoking"the Creator, the Liberator, and the Sustainer"--rather than the old-fashioned Father, Son & Holy Ghost--are invalid, as are all sacraments that follow thereof, such as marriage. Whoops.Apparently this formula, and a couple of variations, is used in some Catholic parishes, andperhaps more widely in Protestant churches. The aim was to take the testosterone out of the Trinity. The Vatican--with the Pope's imprimatur--says no gender-bending allowed. And those baptized with that formula--or married, or exorcised, etc--will have to go back and do them again, the right way. Whatever the merits of the Trinity language debate, I'm not sure the pastoral prescription is the best one. I suspect those told to do the sacraments again will wind up in one of those alt-Catholic categories the Pew study found this week...UPDATE: Check this CNS folo: officials: Vatican statement clarifies validity of baptisms

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Oy vey! Sounds like an invitation to jump ship. Is that the plan?

It seems like the sacraments don't always "take" even though everyone involved believes they do. Are there real but unknown consequences from receiving sacraments that, unbeknownst to anyone, are invalid?What if a man who was not validly baptized is ordained a priest and then consecrated a bishop? Is he really a priest and bishop? And are the men he ordains really priests? What are the implications for Apostolic Succession?Are there people in the priesthood who are not validly ordained (in the same way that some people are not validly married and can obtain an annulment), and if so, are the people they marry actually married, and the people they give absolution to actually absolved?When I was in high school, a boy was tricked into confessing to another student who was in a confessional pretending to be a priest. If he had confessed a mortal sin, would he have remained in the state of mortal sin after making a sincere confession, albeit with imperfect contrition? If he had died shortly thereafter, would he have been damned?

David, such questions are why the Sustainer, er, the Holy Spirit (is that dove technically gendered?) sent us Scholasticism. In all, or some, seriousness, I think it odd that the Vatican allows the Lefebvrian sacraments--epsicopal and priestly consecrations, and the like--and all that flows from them to remain valid, if illicit, while not finding a similar path for these poor souls (not that I for a second think they are destined for the Ninth Ring) who underwent baptism in good faith.

On asking questions . . .When I was in Catholic grade school, one or another of the priests used to drop into the classroom from time to time and answer questions. Once when I was in seventh or eight grade, one of the girls took the opportunity to ask the priest if he could bless an ant. He thought for a moment and then said, "Well, I suppose you could use the blessing for animals." After he left, Sister M. let it be known that she was furious about the question.

The Church recognizes "baptism by desire" although "baptism by water" is normative.It's odd that folks who were presented (or presented themselves) for baptism by water would be expected to be baptized again according to the traditional Trinitarian formula --- even though other folks who have never been baptized at all, but meet the requirements of "baptism by desire," are considered properly baptized by Rome.I have no problem with Rome insisting on use of the traditional formula, but I think the supposed remedy is (shall we say) a "bit of a stretch."I happened to notice that the monsignor (ecclesial equivalent of a KY Colonel?) who wrote a commentary on the issue for the CDF is associated with the Opus Dei university in the Eternal City. Hmmmmm...................

Joseph,Is baptism of desire sufficient for sacramental marriage or holy orders?I don't think there is "absolution of desire" for confession with imperfect contrition, or "matrimony of desire"--at least it wasn't mentioned in my education.

"What if a man who was not validly baptized is ordained a priest and then consecrated a bishop? Is he really a priest and bishop? And are the men he ordains really priests? What are the implications for Apostolic Succession?"Such a person would really be a priest and a bishop. He just wouldn't really be a Catholic. Upon looking at some other Catholic websites there are apparently quite a few priests and bishops who aren't really Catholics. I guess we now know where these people come from.

Just how pedantic will they be? (Probably, as pedantic as they can, given the upcoming changes to more literal latin trasnlations) ... what if the priest says "the Holy Spirit" rather than "Ghost"? And what does it say if someone was "exorcised" by the unlawfull words--does the Vatican want the demon to come back? And if it went away in the first place, doesn't that suggest the unlawfull versions actually have power? (assuming you actually believe in exorcisms, which this Vatican certainly does ...)

josephwhat is the opus dei university in the vatican and how do you find out about it?

Joanie, Johnny? Mommy and I have some bad news--because we went to a gender-neutral parish, I'm afraid ... well, God says we aren't really married: mom's just a whore and I'm a fornicator ... and, um, I've got some more bad news about you two being bastards ...Is that what they really want?

"Joanie, Johnny? Mommy and I have some bad newsbecause we went to a gender-neutral parish, Im afraid well, God says we arent really married: moms just a whore and Im a fornicator and, um, Ive got some more bad news about you two being bastards "Well, Daddy, at least WE'VE been baptised....

And what does it say if someone was exorcised by the unlawfull wordsdoes the Vatican want the demon to come back?

That made me laugh out loud, but actually, the ruling deals only with the formula for baptism. However, in ruling that those "baptized" using the two variant wordings are definitely not baptized, it opens up a whole can of worms, since baptism is a prerequisite for other sacraments.

We can always rely on commentators on COMMONWEAL to tell us what in their learned opinions is wrong with the Church. And to come up with really catchy phrases like 'Baptism, Schmaptism". And what is wrong with Our Lord, Who was the One Who said "go out and baptise in the name of the Father...".What is it that make me think that converts would not be terribly upset to have to baptized licitly?

If a person were baptized as an infant with the invalid formula, and then presented herself as an adult to be re-baptized, would she be forced to go through a year or more of RCIA first?

If it smells like magic, sounds like magic and looks like magic .... guess what, folks.More and more I think the Protestants are right about things of which they accuse the Catholic Church.

Still another example of the mountain begetting a liturgical mouse.While Mr/ Austin thinks any criticism is those awful Comonweal bloggers, I'd like to suggest that there is room in most folks lives for perspective.

Hi, David N., I'm going to take a crack at your questions ...<>Yes, there are. For validity, sacraments require the right form, matter and intent. A pronouncement of an invalid Trinitarian formula would lack the right form (I think - these things aren't very intuitive for me). So even though the intention would have been there, it's not enough.Sacraments provide an infusion of grace. Does that happen if the form is lacking? Who knows for sure? I guess the church can't say with certitude that it does.Same for the effects of the baptism, such as the forgiveness of sin. Baptism is, in a sense, our version of "born again". If the person in fact is not reborn in the waters of baptism, that's a problem, to say the least.This is serious stuff. If the result of this ruling is that even one minister of baptism relegates him/herself to the standard Trinitarian formula, then it's worth the kerfuffle.<>I don't know the answer, so I hesitate to guess. I saw David G.'s speculation about Lefebvrites, but presumably they have been validly baptized.<><>I don't know if there are invalidly ordained priests running around who think they were ordained, but it's at least theoretically possible for an ordination to be invalid (again, because of improper form, matter or intent). I suppose that, if an invalidly ordained priest presided at a couple's wedding, the couple could have the marriage convalidated - that's relatively painless. And maybe a subsequent valid confession would "supply" for whatever was lacking in the one with the invalid confessor.

I apologize, it seems that my method of quoting text causes the text to not be picked up by the blog. I was trying to answer the questions David Nickol posed in the 2nd comment in this topic.

Jim, I agree that form is important, but I guess the Vatican's extension of the problem to a poisoning of the sacramental well associated with the bum baptismal formulation does make the sacraments seem like so much hocus pocus. It's like a computer virus that keeps spreading and corrupting everything in its wake. And Gabriel, thanks for the compliment on the post title. That is, indeed, where most of my "learning," such as it is, goes...

Does anyone wish to defend the masculinity of God? As a male, I guess I wouldn't mind. It seems to me that if it is ontologically more proper to refer to God in masculine terms, and God is the measure of all perfection, then, it follows analytically that my maleness places me closer to perfection than femaleness ever could. Even though my wife's paycheck makes mine lool like nothing, I have always hoped that I could seem more godlike than her. Of course, this is the same wife who, fresh from studying with Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza at Harvard, told me that I had a simplistic notion of God. Always loving a theological challenge, I knew that I had to marry her, even if it meant having to give up my better image of God.

Why reduce this question to one of feminism?Isn't the main problem the fact that the baddie-baddie formula calls God, not by a proper name (Who God is in se) but by Who God is-for-us? Or as some would say, the economic Trinity alone is mentioned and the immanent Trinity is excluded?

I thought that this to-do was limited to the Archdiocese of Boston as Cardinal Law told the Paulists about 10 years ago to stop using the formula.It ends up this had been occurring in Brisbane and Sydney, Australia as recently as three years ago.

I guess Jimmy Mac summed it up with his magic comment. Baptism is a promise to live rather than a form to be uttered. We really should take up whether infant baptism makes any sense. It is not the formula which makes baptism. It is the person promising to live through Jesus in God. What world does Cardian Navarette live in? A real laughable document which they desired to implicate Benedict in. If this document is relevant then Miters and Cardinal red must remain also.This is an important thread which begs for comedy and gets it.

Peter Steinfels tried to re-direct the discussion on the report of the Pew Forum away from anecdotes and questions raised about papal and episcopal policies. I would like him to weigh in on this Vatican policy and tell us why such things have no relevance in understanding why Catholics leave the Church for other denominations or no denomination at all.

This might have been an important thread, but hasn't been, because of the lame comedy.

"The Creator, the Liberator, and the Sustainer"--sounds like the names of entries in a monster truck rally. Or maybe I just live in that part of the country.

Fr. Komonchak,Yours is a fair criticism, but you leave us hanging. How might the thread have been "redeemed"? No pun intended

Honestly, if it weren't for Bob Imbelli and Joe Komonchak this blog would be complete shit.

Richard Smith,Thanks for your candor, but let me guess that you are not part of the Diplomatic Corps.

Richard, feel free to be honest here...It's a blog, and no need to stand on decorum. I do feel that humor, lame as it is, or sarcasm, is at times the only response to some of the comments, as well as some of the posts. Otherwise one dignifies that which does not deserve it. I would like to explore the important issues at stake here. And I'd like input as to what they are. I think Kathy was trying to get at it, but I don't think she was speaking (writing) English. These threads/issues always seem to go in two directions. One is the political/pastoral--that is, what on earth were these silly church bureaucrats thinking. Or, alternately, thank God the Vatican is drumming some sense into the liberals' heads! Or, more to my taste, exactly what effect will this have on believers? Is this important in the larger scheme of things--or of the Gospels? Isn't this just silliness, like spending time investigating Roger Clemens?And that line of inquiry can be answered--or obfuscated--by the second direction, which is to discuss the underlying theological and doctrinal issues at stake. What these things mean, and why they are important, or not. Either and both lines of inquiry--the personal and the abstract--have advantages and drawbacks. So I will take off my moderator's hat and invite comments that go deeper. UPDATE: Check this CNS folo: U.S. officials: Vatican statement clarifies validity of baptismsBy Regina LinskeyCatholic News ServiceWASHINGTON (CNS) -- Doctrinal and ecumenical officials at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the release of a Vatican statement addressing the validity of baptisms was to answer bishops' questions and to provide consistency in the church's practice."I think if you are over the age of 45 to 50 you have nothing to fear" regarding the validity of baptisms, said Father Tom Weinandy, a Capuchin Franciscan who is executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Doctrine. Those in the younger generation shouldn't "have a huge amount of fear" either, he added.According to the statement released by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Feb. 29, a baptism administered "in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer and of the Sanctifier" or formulas that do not say "in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" is not a baptism at all. If the baptism is invalid, so are the other sacraments the person may have received, such as matrimony."If you are not validly baptized," and thus not validly married, "a person needs to get rebaptized and remarried," explained Father Weinandy.However, unless a witness at the baptism knows that an incorrect formula was used, "it is assumed they used the right formula," he said. "The presumption is the obvious truth that the baptism is valid."

David,Is the statement you cite. or is it not, damage control on the part of the USCCB? And if it is does it not indicate the magnitude of the potential crisis that the CDF has generated in its statement on the formula of baptism?

Mary Bergan, if you haven't already found the url for this university, it is

I have to admit the attempts at humor in this post did not work for me at all, and I tend to usually appreciate humor, including humor about things I find important. I think in this case it failed because it so clearly misrepresented the issues at stake. "Creator, Liberator, and Sustainer/Redeemer" are problematic not because of gender issues, but because they change the Trinitarian proclamation from three persons in one God to three functions in one God. As a feminist Catholic I appreciate the problem some people have with gender assignations in the Trinity. But changing the baptismal formula without an appreciation of the ramifications is truly a case of throwing the baby out with the baptismal water. There are better ways to deal with the questions of sex and gender in the Church.[The pastoral issue of how to deal with past invalid baptisms is a different topic than the reasons for the invalidity in the first place. I don't think there's any way around the invalidity, but simply issuing a statement of invalidity seems pastorally insensitive. Is the actual Vatican document available on-line? I haven't seen it yet. CWN filtered the story through their incredible anti-feminist bias; I'd like to hear what the CDF actually said.]

Ms. Cattalini: Respectfully, I disagree with your argument (I also feel a little responsible, as I gave the gender issue a spin). It is not the case that Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer need be understood as only three functions of God. To be sure, they are functions, but one may insist that the formula is intended to identify three "persons." Parent, Child, Holy Ghost sounds goofy, yes?As best I can tell, the ecclessiological question might go something like this: Perhaps the Church may define what makes a Baptism legitimate and illegitimate, but what interest does it have in defining these baptisms as illegitimate?

David Nickol,Is baptism by desire sufficient for sacramental marriage or holy orders?Theoretically speaking, why not? Practically speaking, I don't know. If a man, for instance, was never baptized by water but has always participated in the life of the Christian community including eucharistic reception, would his inability to present a baptismal certificate render his church marriage or priestly/diaconal ordination null and void? What does this say about the validity of baptism by desire?You mentioned "imperfect contrition." If a person presents herself to a priest for the sacrament of reconciliation, should we not presume she is doing so in good faith? If she simply says, "God, I'm sorry for my sins" outside the confessional, should we not presume she is acting in good faith? In either context, does forgiveness precede repentance, or does repentance precede forgiveness?As for your reference to "matrimony of desire," we know there is no such thing in Catholic teaching. On the other hand, there is (if I remember) the so-called "good and natural marriage." If a couple does not have access to a priest or deacon to officiate at their wedding, do we expect them to stay separated or otherwise live as "brother and sister?" Of course not. If they exchange their marriage vows/promises before the village chief/elder/etc., live out a faithful and monogamous relationship, and start a family, are they "living in sin?" Not to my knowledge.

David G,What I meant to say, Gina said. In English.I wonder what the innovators' motivations have been. Is it a feminist thing? A postmodern thing, in which the narrative (what the Trinity have done) trumps being (Who the Trinity is?)Or is it yet another version of good ole Sabellian Modalism?

So, a further thought about marriage ...Suppose that the cleric who presides over the marriage weren't validly baptized, which presumably would in turn call into question his reception of holy orders.Would it have any effect on the validity of the marriage? I'd think not. After all, it is the couple themselves who are the ministers of the sacrament in the Roman Catholic understanding. The marriage is "sealed" when the couple exchange consent. In this case, they made their vows before a minister with irregular standing. My supposition is that the marriage would be valid, but perhaps illicit. That's easily solved: convalidate.Now, suppose (which seems more likely) that either bride or groom were invalidly baptized? While I would hesitate to call the victim of the invalid baptism a non-Christian, still, from a canonical perspective, weddings between a baptized and an unbaptized person happen all the time. I believe there is a paperwork shuffle that would need to be followed if it's known that one of the parties is not baptized. Such a marriage wouldn't be considered sacramental. Perhaps, because the proper permissions weren't obtained, its liceity could be called into question. But istm it would still be valid.

"Is the actual Vatican document available on-line? I havent seen it yet. CWN filtered the story through their incredible anti-feminist bias; Id like to hear what the CDF actually said.]"I've seen it posted to a list I subscribe to in a dubium/responsum format. Terse. Just a couple of sentences. Inasmuch as I can't attribute it to an official source (and couldn't find it sourced officially after a couple of seconds of poking around on Google), I don't reproduce it here.Regarding whether or not such a format is pastoral in tone: I guess it comes across more as juridical than pastoral. I suppose the expectation is that those of us who are ministering at the grass-roots need to find a pastoral way to present it.In another sense, istm that proclaiming the truth is the very essence of being pastoral. Terse or not, that's what is being done here.

Here is a link to the Vatican website, with the document in several different languageshttp://

"It is not the case that Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer need be understood as only three functions of God. To be sure, they are functions, but one may insist that the formula is intended to identify three 'persons.'"One may indeed insist that the formula is intended to identify three persons. The problem is that those three persons do not seem to be the same as the three persons of the Trinity professed by Christianity. God the Father creates, redeems, and sanctifies. Jesus Christ ("the Son") creates, redeems, and sanctifies. The Holy Spirit creates, redeems, and sanctifies. I don't see how we can switch from persons to functions (or persons named for their functions) without changing our basic understanding of God.I see some analogies here to issues about baptism between Catholics and Mormons. The Catholic Church does not recognize LDS baptism, despite the fact that it uses water and is done in the name of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, because the Mormons teaches a radically different understanding of God. I know and worship with people who prefer to use the terms Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier (although I've never heard it used in a baptism). I can't generalize to everyone who uses these terms, but my friends tend to act from a concern that gender-based language which reinforces the maleness of God is itself a kind of idolatry. I respect this concern, but have to insist that the cure is worse than the remedy. In the case of my friends, I know them well enough to accept that they share a Christian understanding of the trinitarian God. But the language itself leads in another direction.

Where does "Ex Opere Operato" come into play here? Ex opere operato, defined in CCC as "by the very fact of the action's being performed," has always been the cornerstone of Catholic sacramental thinking. The Catechism also says that "the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God." This is a quote from Thomas Aquinas. (CCC 1127-1129)Regarding Matrimony, the CCC states that the couple mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church, and the priest served as the Church's witness. (CCC 1623)

Its been said that this thread has gone far afield. This comment will take it a bit further but it will be worth it; and then we can return to the subject at hand.The discussion of baptism here got me thinking about how the word was used a bit loosely, perhaps to help explain the change that took place in Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran archbishop who, having been reserved during most of his priesthood, became so outspoken in his final years that he was murdered. It was, he said, the Salvadoran people who had everything to do with him changing. A key moment in that process came just weeks after his installation as archbishop, when a close friend, Fr. Rutilio Grande S.J., was murdered. Despite the angry opposition of the papal nuncio, Romero decreed that the following Sunday only one mass would be celebrated in the archdiocese; it would take place on the front steps of the cathedral. A priest later described what happened that day (March 23, 1980):The plaza was full to overflowing. More than 100,000 people were there, and who knows how many more were listening on their radios. The priests dispersed into the crowd, and hundreds of people were saying their confessions on the streets. Many people who had distanced themselves from the Church for years, returned to their faith that day. Rutilios assassination and the message given by that single Mass were alarms sounding, waking people up. Almost all of the priests of the archdiocese concelebrated that day about 150 of us and also priests from other dioceses who overcame all obstacles to be there.As the Mass began, I noticed that Monseor Romero was sweating, pale and nervous. And when he began the homily, it seemed slow to me, without his usual eloquence, as if he were reluctant to go through the door of history that God was opening up for him. But after about five minutes, I felt the Holy Spirit descend on him. I want to give public thanks today for the unified support that is being expressed for the only Gospel and for these our beloved priests. Many of them are in danger and, like Father Grande, they are risking the maximum sacrificeHearing the name of Rutilio, thousands exploded into applause.This applause confirms the profound joy that my heart feels upon taking possession of the archdiocese and feeling that my own weaknesses and my own inabilities can find their complement, their strength, and their courage in a united clergy. Whoever touches one of my priests, is touching me. And they will have to deal with me!Thousands of people were applauding him, and something rose within him. It was then that he crossed the threshold. He went through the door. Because, you know, there is baptism by water, and baptism by blood. But there is also baptism by the people.(From Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic, by Mara Lopez Vigil)

Posted by Richard Smith on February 29th, 2008 at 9:44 pm Honestly, if it werent for Bob Imbelli and Joe Komonchak this blog would be complete shit.--A most singular and choice epithet.

"Thousands of people were applauding him, and something rose within him. It was then that he crossed the threshold. He went through the door. Because, you know, there is baptism by water, and baptism by blood. But there is also baptism by the people."This was a sacramental event if there ever was one.

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