New Rite of Episcopal Consecration Valid(albeit deficient and problematic)
In fall 2005, Rev. Fr. Pierre Marie of the SSPX, a traditional Dominican Priest in Avrille, France, published a detailed and excellent study (which is now online here) in Sel de la Terre (Salt of the Earth, No. 54., Autumn 2005, pp. 72-129) documenting that the New Rite of Episcopal Consecration (in use in the Latin Church since 1969) is in itself valid (albeit problematic for other reasons).
Fr. Marie wrote, “This comprehensive study was compiled to settle a debate that has been circulating in traditional Catholic circles. Some writers have examined the new rite of episcopal consecration and concluded that it must be invalid. Since this would cause manifest problems if it were true and due to the heightened awareness of such a theory, we present a study of this question concluding that it is valid.”
Since many are new to the subject, and since some of the issues involved are complex, we present here below a brief summary of the study.
The main arguments for the validity of the rite are as follows:
(1) It is found in an ancient work called the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome.
(2) It appears to be largely derived from two Eastern Rites, the Coptic and West Syrian.
(3) The Indefectibility of the Catholic Church is against 50 years now of invalid consecration.
This is how Pope Paul VI explained his rationale for the change:
After citing the Council’s teaching on the Episcopate, “Now the same holy Synod teaches: “By episcopal consecration is conferred the fullness of the sacrament of Orders, that fullness which in the Church’s liturgical practice and in the language of the holy Fathers of the Church is undoubtedly called the high priesthood, the apex of the sacred ministry … For from Tradition, which is expressed especially in liturgical rites and in the practice of the Church both of the West and of the East, it is clear that, by means of the imposition of hands and the words of consecration, the grace of the Holy Spirit is so conferred, and the sacred character so impressed, that bishops in an eminent and visible way undertake Christ’s own role as Teacher, Shepherd and High Priest, and that they act in his person.”, the Pope continued,
“To these words must be added many other admirable points of doctrine concerning the apostolic succession of the bishops as well as their tasks and offices which, although they are already contained in the Order of episcopal consecration, ought to be expressed, it seems, in a better and more accurate way. For the better attainment of this end it has been judged opportune to take from the ancient sources the prayer of consecration found in what is called the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome, written at the beginning of the third century and which is still preserved, in great part, in the liturgy of Ordination of the Copts and of the Western Syrians. In this way the agreement of both Eastern and Western tradition with regard to the apostolic task of the bishops will be borne witness to in the act of Ordination itself.”
Fr. Marie documents in a clear tabular comparison that this affirmation is accurate.
As representative of the side that argues for invalidity, we will cite well-known Rev. Fr. Anthony Cekada, who recently reposed (may God rest his soul).
Fr. Cekada lays great stress on “the principle that [Pope] Pius XII laid down in Sacramentum Ordinis: That the essential sacramental form for the conferral of the episcopacy must univocally signify its sacramental effects: (1) the power of the order being conferred (the Order of episcopacy) and (2) the grace of the Holy Ghost.”
Here is the entire 1968 rite of Episcopal Consecration:
We will quote the consecratory prayer, with the essential form bolded,
“The following part of the prayer is recited by all the consecrating bishops, with hands joined:
So now pour out upon this chosen one the power that is from you, the governing Spirit whom you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Spirit given by him to his holy apostles, who founded the Church in every place to be your temple for the unceasing glory and praise of your name.
Then the principal consecrator continues alone.
Father, you know all hearts. You have chosen your servant for the office of bishop. May he be a shepherd to your holy flock, and a high priest blameless in your sight, ministering to you night and day; may he always gain the blessing of your favor and offer the gifts of your holy Church. Through the Spirit who gives the grace of high priesthood grant him the power to forgive sins as you have commanded, to assign ministries as you have decreed, and to loose every bond by the authority which you gave to your apostles. May he be pleasing to you by his gentleness and purity of heart, presenting a fragrant offering to you, through Jesus Christ, your Son, through whom glory and power and honor are yours with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church, now and for ever. R. Amen.”
Let’s look at some typical sede objections (which this author has encountered before)
Objection 1: “Governing spirit is not the Holy Spirit. It is ambiguous.”
Governing Spirit is not the Holy Spirit? So Who is the Spirit given by the Father to His Son Jesus Christ, and the Spirit given by Our Lord Jesus to His holy Apostles? An evil spirit? God forbid. Of course it is the Holy Spirit, the text following makes that clear.
Objection 2: “Governing Spirit does not sufficiently signify the Power of the Episcopacy”
This is a better objection, that gets really to the heart of the issue, but one that ultimately fails.
First, only the Episcopate is a Governing Order. The simple Priesthood or Presbyterate is a subordinate order and not the principal order of the Priesthood.
Second, this is even clearer in the Latin: “Spiritus Principalis”=Governing Spirit/Principal Spirit, the Spirit Who gives the Principal Order.
Third, it is evident from the fact that the Spirit asked for is the Spirit conferred on Our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, there is no doubt that Our Lord was High Priest, of the Order of Melchizedek, as the Bible says (cf. Heb 2:17, 3:1, 4:14-15, 6:20, 7:26 etc).
Fourth, it is evident from the mention of Apostles. Will anyone argue the Apostles were merely simple Priests? No, of course they were Bishops/High Priests.
Fifth, it is also implied in the reference to founding the Church. The Apostles founded the Church by perpetuating Bishops and Priests for Her –something they could because they were Bishops, possessing the fullness of the Priesthood themselves.
We have therefore at least five clear indications from within the essential form itself that the rite is valid, and unequivocally signifies what Pope Pius XII required.
Objection 3: “Context” doesn’t matter. Only the essential form itself does.
Yes and no. The context plays a role in understanding what the words within the essential form itself mean. Thus, when there is a reference to “Spirit Who gives the Grace of High Priesthood” in the portion immediately after the essential form, that matters not because the words surrounding the form could confect the Sacrament validly, but because the meaning of the words in the essential form itself are thereby made clear.
So, Sixth, we have clear references to the Office of Bishop. This is not a rite for anything other than the Consecration of a Bishop to an Episcopal Office. An objection is made that the rite was sometimes used for Patriarchs, but that was when Patriarchs received Consecration upon their installation into office. The true but more developed doctrine of the distinction between Orders and Jurisdiction was more fully understood later on.
Seventh, we have references to “the Spirit Who gives the Grace of High Priesthood”. This signifies unequivocally both (1) the Grace of the Holy Ghost and (2) the specific Order of the Episcopate and confirms that “the Governing Spirit Whom You gave to Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Spirit given by Him to His holy Apostles, who founded the Church” is the Spirit Who gives the Grace of High Priesthood, the Power of the Episcopate.
Eighth, not to belabour the point, but only to remove all unnecessary doubt and scruple, we have the final reference to the “authority You gave to Your Apostles”, a manifest reference to Episcopal Authority, also confirmed by reference to assigning ministries etc.
Fr. Marie points out that all this does not mean the reform –non-infallible and not irreformable – is not otherwise problematic for other reasons: “Let it be said, though, that we are only speaking of the validity of the new rite as it was published by the Vatican. We do not speak of the legitimacy of this reform (was it good to suppress the Roman rite and replace it by an Eastern rite?), nor of the validity of the different translations and adaptations of the official right in divers particular cases…”
In light of all this, traditional Catholics should try to promote the restoration of the traditional Roman Rites within the Latin Church, but without questioning the validity of the new Episcopal Consecrations. A rite that is valid can still be deficient, of course.
The Evidence of Eucharistic Miracles – A Final and Further Confirmation:
His Excellency Bishop Williamson, one of the four Bishops consecrated in the traditional Roman Rite by Archbishop Lefebvre for the SSPX, points out one final recent consideration: from Eucharistic Miracles.
There have been plenty of Eucharistic Miracles over the 2000-year glorious history of Catholic Christendom, the most well known of which is perhaps that in Lanciano: “This wondrous Event took place in the 8th century A.D. in the little Church of St. Legontian, as a divine response to a Basilian monk’s doubt about Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist.”
Fr. Michael Mueller, in the 19th century, wrote a wonderful book (online at Catholic Tradition) called the Blessed Eucharist: Our Greatest Treasure. In it, Father explains Eucharistic Miracles are a reason for Atheists/Non-Christians to become Catholic, and also for all non-Catholic Christians to join the Church.
Father bases his Eucharistic Miracles mostly on historical eyewitness testimony.
What is new is the DNA/Scientific evidence made possible by recent discoveries.
- “The Flesh is a “HEART” complete in its essential structure.
- The Flesh and the Blood have the same blood-type: AB (Blood-type identical to that which Prof. Baima Bollone uncovered in the Holy Shroud of Turin).”
“It is not possible to manipulate an event of this type. No one, absolutely no one, would have been able to do it. “Even the scientists of NASA, who have at their disposal the most modern analytical techniques, would not be able to artificially recreate such a thing” affirmed Professor Sobaniec-Łotowska.”
And so Our Lord, by miracles that could only come from Him, finally settles the question. The new rite is unquestionably valid, though deficient for other reasons.