Validity of new rite of episcopal consecrations: 1

The difficulties (objections favoring invalidity)

Analyzed according to the four causes, a sacrament is a compound of matter (material cause) and form (formal cause); it is administered by a minister (efficient cause) who must have the intention of doing what the Church does (final cause). For a sacrament to be valid, the four causes must be respected. It is enough for only one of them to be deficient to render a sacrament invalid.

Defect of form

1 The form of consecration in the 1968 Pontifical is completely different from the former rite.[2]

Here are the two formulas:

The form according to the traditional rite: The new form:

Fulfill in Thy priest the completion of Thy ministry, and adorned in the ornaments of all glorification sanctify him with the moisture of heavenly unguent.[3]

So now pour out upon this chosen one that power which is from you, the governing Spirit whom you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Spirit given by him to the holy apostles, who founded the Church in every place to be your temple for the unceasing glory and praise of your name.[4]

It is easy to see that the two formulas have nothing in common.

Now, it seems that the new form is insufficient. Indeed, the grace that is asked, the “Spiritus principalis” (“the governing Spirit,” the Spirit that makes rulers) certainly is here the Holy Spirit, from the fact that the word is capitalized.

The formula is much too vague, for all the sacraments give the Holy Spirit [not holy orders alone—Ed.].

In order for the sacrament to be valid, it would be necessary to signify the specific grace given by the sacrament. In the old form, the “ministerii tui summum” (the completion of Thy ministry) was asked, which, in the context, clearly means the highest degree of priesthood, namely, the episcopacy. Consequently, it does seem that the new form is invalid because it does not signify precisely enough the grace of the episcopacy.

As a confirmation of the insufficiency of the new form, Pope Leo XIII’s declaration of the nullity of the Anglicans’ priestly ordinations can be cited. Among the arguments he made was that of insufficiency of form:

All know that the sacraments of the New Law, as sensible and efficient signs of invisible grace, ought both to signify the grace which they effect, and effect the grace which they signify. Although the signification ought to be found in the whole essential rite—that is to say, in the matter and form—it still pertains chiefly to the form; since the matter is the part which is not determined by itself, but which is determined by the form.... But the words which until recently were commonly held by Anglicans to constitute the proper form of priestly Ordination–namely, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” certainly do not in the least definitely express the Sacred Order of Priesthood, or its grace and power....

This form had indeed afterwards added to it the words “for the office and work of a priest,” etc.;—but this rather shows that the Anglicans themselves perceived the first form was defective and inadequate. But even if this addition could give to the form its due signification, it was introduced too late, as a century had already elapsed since the adoption of the Edwardian Ordinal, for, as the hierarchy had become extinct, there remained no power of ordaining."[5]

2) To justify the adoption of a new form of episcopal consecration, Pope Paul VI explained in his Apostolic Constitution Pontificalis Romani, which accompanied the promulgation of the new rites of ordination:

...[I]t was judged appropriate to take from ancient sources the consecratory prayer that is found in the document called the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome, written in the beginning of the third century. This consecratory prayer is still used, in large part, in the ordination rites of the Coptic and West Syrian liturgies."[6]

Now, Dr. Coomaraswamy tells us:

While [Paul VI] is correct in pointing to the “Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus” as the source of his new rite, he stretches the truth to the limit in stating that this highly questionable document is “still used in large part in the ordination rites of the Coptic and Western Syrian liturgies.” In fact the Hippolytus text has almost nothing in common with the eastern rites, and the crucial words–especially the critical phrase of “governing spirit”—is nowhere to be found within these Eastern Rites."[7]

As proof of his affirmation, Dr. Coomaraswamy gives the text of the consecratory prayer from the Pontifical of the Antiochean Syrians, in which one finds nothing in common with Pope Paul VI’s form. It thus seems that they wanted to mask the insufficiency of the new form by a trick. Or, at the very least, they gave proof of remarkable incompetence.

3) The essential words of the form according to the new rite (“So now pour out... praise of your name”) reflect the theology of the episcopacy as a power of governing only: either as a power of jurisdiction, or as an aptitude infused into the soul to receive jurisdiction; and these essential words omit the idea of the episcopacy as the supreme degree of the priesthood.

It is only in the words following the essential part that mention is made of the function of “high priest.”

On the contrary, in the traditional Roman rite, the designation of the supreme degree of priesthood is contained in the essential part of the form by the words “Fulfill in Thy priest the completion of Thy ministry.”[8]

Consequently, in the essential part of the form, the sacerdotal power of the bishop is rejected, and only his pastoral power is kept. Thus there is exclusion, or suggestion of exclusion, of what is, according to traditional theology, the essential power of the bishop: the completion or plenitude of the power of Order by the plenitude of the sacramental character of Order.

4) The new form, while taking its inspiration from it, does not reproduce that of the Apostolic Tradition.

Let us compare the two.

A genitive has been transformed into an accusative[9]: principalis Spiritus becomes Spiritum principalem; super hunc electum was added, without mentioning other minor modifications.[10]

In short, the consecratory prayer of Pope Paul VI is inspired by, but does not reproduce that of the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus; it constitutes an artificial creation of Dom Bernard Botte in 1968.

Consequently, this form is invalid.[11]

Defect of matter

This is a relatively recent argument, since it is not found in the writing of Fr. Kroger or Dr. Coomaraswamy, even in his posting of 2002. In the traditional rite, the bishop-elect receives the imposition of the Gospels book upon his neck. Then the imposition of the hands (the matter of the sacrament) takes place, followed by the consecratory preface which contains the form of the sacrament (the words of consecration).

In the new rite, the imposition of the Gospels book has been modified and displaced: it is placed upon the bishop-elect’s head (and no longer upon his bowed neck), between the imposition of the hands and the consecratory preface (and no longer before the imposition of the hands).

The result, it seem, is a dissociation between the matter and the form, a dissociation that can render the sacrament invalid. In the sacrament of baptism, for example, if the priest were to pour the water in silence, then add another rite (for example, the imposition of salt on the tongue), and finally pronounce the words (“I baptize thee in the name of the Father, etc.”), the baptism would be invalid.

A further difficulty (which does not seem to have been remarked before) is that, in the new rite, the consecrator speaks the words of the sacramental form with hands joined. In the old rite, he spoke them with his hands extended in front of his breast, which prolonged the rite of the imposition of the hands and manifested the union of matter and form.

In order to show clearly the difference in the course of the ceremony in the two rituals, they are reproduced here (see Table 2: Comparisons of the rite of episcopal ordination),

Defect of intention

1) One could raise one other difficulty against the validity of the new ritual: intention.

It has been declared that this ritual was adopted with an ecumenical intention. The Copts and the western Syrians are mentioned. The Anglicans could have been mentioned, too, since they have also adopted a similar rite, derived from the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus.

Now, such an intention can corrupt the validity of a rite. Indeed, among the reasons Pope Leo XIII gave for the invalidity of the Anglican ordination rite is defect of intention:

With this inherent defect of form is joined the defect of intention, which is equally essential to the sacrament. The Church does not judge about the mind and intention in so far as it is something by its nature internal; but in so far as it is manifested externally she is bound to judge concerning it.

When any one has rightly and seriously made use of the due form and the matter requisite for effecting or conferring the sacrament he is considered by the very fact to do what the Church does. On this principle rests the doctrine that a sacrament is truly conferred by the ministry of one who is a heretic or unbaptized, provided the Catholic rite be employed. On the other hand, if the rite be changed, with the manifest intention of introducing another rite not approved by the Church and of rejecting what the Church does, and what by the institution of Christ belongs to the nature of the sacrament, then it is clear that not only is the necessary intention wanting to the sacrament, but that the intention is adverse to and destructive of the sacrament.[12]

2) As regards intention, a final difficulty arises from the fact that the new rite was introduced for the purpose of applying the new conciliar theology concerning the episcopacy. Here is the comment of Canon Andre Rose expressed in an article published in La Maison Dieu, No.98 (the journal of pastoral liturgy edited by Cerf Publishing)[13]:

On June 18, 1968, the Apostolic Constitution Pontificalis Romani recognitio was promulgated, approving the new ceremonial for the ordination of deacons, priests, and bishops. The most striking change introduced by this document is undoubtedly the introduction of a new consecratory prayer for ordination to the episcopacy.

The Roman document cites the doctrine of the Constitution Lumen Gentium on the episcopacy as the supreme degree of the sacrament of Holy Orders.... It is to better emphasize the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council that the formula of the consecration prayer for episcopal ordination is now replaced by a new prayer, extracted from the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, a document from the early 3rd century.[14] Nonetheless, this ancient text has always been in usage to the present day, in a more developed form, in the liturgy of the Copts and western Syrians."[15]

This intention to apply the conciliar doctrine could be disquieting when one knows that the Council gave a heterodox teaching on collegiality, a doctrine that it was necessary to correct by a nota praevia which is hardly mentioned in our day.

This disquietude could increase from the fact that the ritual in use at the time was reproached for having been modified in the 12th century in such a way as “to veil somewhat the universal collegial power of the bishops over the entire People of God.”[16]

Part 2>


1 Studies of Comparative Religion, Vol.16, Nos. 2,3; republished by The Roman Catholic (New York: Oyster Bay Cove) as a brochure. Dr. Coomaraswamy is a former surgeon. He has since become a sedevacantist and was recently ordained a priest by Bishop Jose Lopez-Gaston, a Thuc-line bishop.

2 The ordination prayer in the Roman Pontifical before the Council is very ancient: “The most important part dates back to the Leonine Sacramentary.” (Joseph  Lecuyer, C.S.Sp., “La priere d’ordination de l’eveque,” Nouvelle Revue Theologique, June 1967, p.601, which refers the reader to L. C. Mohlberg, Sacramentarium Veronense [Rome, 1956], pp.119-20.) Now, the Leonine Sacramentary dates from the 5th or 6th century (not to exclude the possibility that it encompasses prayers more ancient still: Dom Martene has reported on a pontifical from the Church of Tarentaise [in the region of Savoy] that he dates to before 300 AD and which includes the essential of the traditional form: De Antiquis Ecclesiae ritibus [Anvers, 1736], p.250 ff.)

3 Apostolic Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis of Nov. 30, 1947, DS 3860: "Comple in Sacerdote tuo ministerii tui, et ornamentis totius glorificationis instructum caelestis unguenti rore sanctifica....” [English version: Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, tr. by Roy J. Deferrari, 30th ed. (1955; Loreto Publications reprint), 2301. Hereafter, abbreviated Dz.]

4 [English version: ICEL, 1978.] The Latin formula

Et nunc effunde super hunc electum eam virtutem, quae a te est, Spiritum principalem, quem dedisti dilecto Filio tuo Jesu Christo, quem ipse donavit sanctis Apostolis, qui constituerunt Ecclesiam per singula loca ut sanctuarium tuum, in gloriam et laudem indeficientem nominis tui."

5 Letter Apostolicae Curae, Sept. 13, 1896 (DS 3315-3316). [English version: A Light in the Heavens: The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII (reprint: TAN Books & Publishers, 1995), pp.400-401.]

6 Apostolic Constitution Pontificalis Romani recognitio, approving new rites for the ordination of deacons, priests, and bishops, June 18, 1968: AAS (1968) 369-73. [English version: ICEL, Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts (Liturgical Press, 1982), 2606-12.]

7 Coomaraswamy, “The Post-Conciliar Rite of Order,” Internet.

8 Before the Middle Ages, the expression was “mysterii summam,” which amounts to the same thing, for the completion (or perfection, or plenitude) of the sacrament is the same thing as the completion of the ministry.

9 In Latin, the genitive case is used when a noun modifies another noun and frequently demonstrates possession. The accusative case is used to show the direct object of the verb. (“Principalis spiritus” may appear to be nominative at first, but in context and in reference to the original Greek, it is clearly genitive.)

10 The work Rore Sanctifica [a study written in French alleging to “prove” the invalidity of the new rite of consecration for bishops—Ed.] (St. Remi Publishing, 2005), from which we have drawn this objection, makes the reproach that the word puero was replaced with Filio. Rore Sanctifica uses an Ethiopian (?) version of the Apostolic Tradition which has the word puer instead of Filius. (which is found in the Latin version of the Apostolic Tradition we have used.)

11 This argument may seem ridiculous to more than one reader, but we have presented it, for it is one of the “strong points” of the work Rore Sanctifica.

12 Apostolicae Curae (DS 3318).

13 The article appeared in Au Service de la Parole de Dieu (Gembloux: Ed. J. Duculot, 1968), pp.129-45, and reprinted in La Maison Dieu, 98, pp.127ff.

14 The ancient formulary came from the 7th-century Gelasian Sacramentary, augmented by a part coming from the Frankish liturgy. The original part, of Roman origin, presented the ordination of a bishop under the form of the “spiritual” vesture of a new Aaron. The non-Roman supplement was formed of a mosaic of extracts from the epistles, underscoring the relations between the mission of the bishop and that of the apostle. On the superiority of the prayer of Hippolytus in relation to this prayer, see J. Lecuyer, “The Prayer for the Ordination of a Bishop” in Nouvelle Revue Theologique, Vol.89, June 1967, pp.601-6. The author underlines the profound parallelism between certain passages of the Constitution Lumen Gentium and this prayer. See also, “L’Eveque d’apres les Prieres d’ordination” (article written in collaboration by several Canons Regular of Mondaye), in L’Episcopat et l’Eglise universelle (Paris, 1962), pp.739-68.

15 The complete text of this prayer is to be found in H. Denzinger, Ritus Orientalium, (Graz, 1961) pp.23-24.


From the 12th century a slightly different formula was introduced at Rome, undoubtedly for fear of overshadowing the exclusive power of the pope over the whole Church: instead of saying 'ad regendam ecclesiam tuam et plebem universam,' henceforth was said 'ecclesiam tuam et plebem sibi commissam,' which results in veiling somewhat the universal collegial power of the bishops over the whole People of God.” (Joseph Lecuyer, C.S.Sp., “La priere d’ordination de l’eveque,” Nouvelle Revue Theologique, Vol.89, June 1967, pp.602-3.)

What Fr. Lecuyer regrets as a loss seems to us rather a clarification: a simple bishop does not rule “the whole people,” even if he must have a solicitude for the universal Church.