Should Catholics Be Concerned About The New Forms Of The Sacraments?editor
Yesterday, I found myself in conversation with a reader (we’ll call her Jo, because that’s not her name but it’s short and sweet) who has started attending the SSPX Masses in Glasgow. We were discussing the hostility which I have personally witnessed at a number of Fatima meetings recently, when novus-attending Catholics became furiously hostile, especially at the very idea that the traditional Latin Mass needs to be restored as soon as possible. Even put a million times more tactfully than that, hostility spilled out like fresh cream in a gorgeous Dairy Sponge cake. Except there was nothing “gorgeous” about it. Anyway, when I asked Jo if, after attending the Society Masses for several weeks now she planned to continue, she replied, without a second’s hesitation: “yes”, because she just could not return to the novus-ordo – especially after reading the Open Letter to Confused Catholics, penned by Archbishop Lefebvre. Got me thinking that, although we have discussed various chapters from that excellent book from time to time, we’ve never examined the chapter on the new forms of the Sacraments, so let’s check the Archbishop’s writings on that topic: do we need new forms of the sacraments? If so, why? Or, should Catholics be concerned about these new forms of the Sacraments?
Archbishop Lefebvre writes….
The Catholic, whether he be regularly practising or one who goes to church for the great moments of life, finds himself asking such basic questions as, “What is baptism?”
It is a new phenomenon, for not so long ago anyone could answer that, and anyway, nobody asked the question. The first effect of baptism is the redemption from original sin; that was known from father to son and mother to daughter.
But now nobody any longer talks about it anywhere. The simplified ceremony which takes place in the church speaks of sin in a context which seems to refer to that which the person being baptized will commit during his or her life, and not the original fault that we are all born with.
Baptism from then on simply appears as a sacrament which unites us to God, or rather makes us members of the community. This is the explanation of the “rite of welcome” that is imposed in some places as an initial step, in a first ceremony. It is not due to any private initiative since we discover plenty of variations upon baptism by stages in the leaflets of the National Center of Pastoral Liturgy. It is called “deferred baptism.” After the welcome comes the “progression,” the “seeking.” The sacrament will be administered, or not administered, when the child is able, according to the terms used, to choose freely, which may occur at quite an advanced age, eighteen years or more. A professor of dogmatic theology, highly esteemed in the new Church, has established a distinction between those Christians whose faith and religious culture he is confident he can verify, and the others–more than three-quarters of the total–to whom he attributes only a supposed faith when they request baptism for their children. These Christians “of the popular religion” are detected during the preparatory meetings and dissuaded from proceeding any farther than the “ceremony of welcome.” This method of going on is “more appropriate to the cultural situation of our civilization.”
Recently a parish priest in the Somme department who had to enroll two children for their First Communion asked for their baptismal certificates, which were sent to him from the family’s parish of origin. He then found that one of the children had been baptized but not the other, contrary to what the parents believed. This is the sort of situation that results from such practices. What they give is in effect only a semblance of baptism which those present take in good faith to be the true sacrament.
That you should find this disconcerting is quite understandable. You have also to face up to a specious argument which even appears in parish bulletins, generally in the way of suggestions or testimonies signed with Christian names, that is to say anonymously. We read in one of them that Alan and Evelyn state, “Baptism is not a magic rite which will efface by miracle any original sin. We believe that salvation is total, free, and for all: God has elected all men in His love, on any condition, or rather without condition. For us, to be baptized is to decide to change our life, it is a personal commitment that no one can make for you. It is a conscious decision which implies preliminary instruction, etc.” What frightful errors are contained in those few lines! They lead to the justifying of another method; the suppression of infant baptism. It is another alignment with the Protestants, in defiance of the teachings of the Church right from its beginnings, as St. Augustine wrote in the fourth century: “The custom of baptizing children is not a recent innovation but the faithful repetition of apostolic tradition. This custom by itself alone and without any written document, constitutes the certain rule of truth.” The Council of Carthage, in the year 251, prescribed that baptism should be conferred on infants “even before they are eight days old,” and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a reminder of the obligation in its Instruction Pastoralis actio, on November 21, 1980, basing it upon “a norm of immemorial tradition.”
That is a thing you should know so as to be able to insist upon a sacred right when someone attempts to refuse your newborn children their share in the life of grace. Parents do not wait until their child is eighteen years old before deciding for him his diet, or to have a necessary surgical operation. Within the supernatural order their duty is even greater, and the faith which presides at the sacrament when the child is not capable of taking on for himself a personal engagement is the responsibility you would have in depriving your child of eternal life in Paradise. Our Lord Himself has said in a most clear manner, “No one, unless he be born again of water and the Holy Ghost can enter into the Kingdom of God.”
The results of this peculiar pastoral practice were quick to appear. In the diocese of Paris, whereas one child out of two was baptized in 1965, only one child in four was baptized in 1976. The clergy of one suburban parish observed, without appearing concerned about it, that there were 450 baptisms in 1965 and 150 in 1976. From the whole of France, the fall continues. From 1970 to 1981, the overall figure dropped from 596,673 to 530,385, while the population increased by more than three million during the same period.
All this is the outcome of having falsified the definition of baptism. As soon as they stopped saying that baptism wipes out original sin, people have been asking, “What is baptism?” and straightaway after, “What is the good of baptism?” If they have not got as far as that, they have at least thought about the arguments that have been put to them and accepted that there was no urgency, and after all, at the age of adolescence the child could decide for himself and join the Christian community in the same way as joining a political party or a union.
The question is raised in the same way regarding marriage. Marriage has always been defined by its first aim which is procreation and its secondary aim which is married love. Now, at the Council they sought to alter this definition and say there was no longer a primary aim, but that the two aims of which I speak were equivalent. It was Cardinal Suenens who proposed this change and I still remem- ber Cardinal Brown, the Master General of the Dominicans, getting up to say, “Caveatis! Caveatis!–Beware! Beware! If we accept this definition we go against all the tradition of the Church and we pervert the meaning of marriage. We do not have the right to modify the Church’s traditional definitions.”
He quoted texts in support of his warning and there was great agitation in the nave of St. Peter’s. Cardinal Suenens was pressed by the Holy Father to moderate the terms he had used and even to change them. The Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes, contains nevertheless an ambiguous passage, where emphasis is laid on procreation “without nevertheless minimizing the other aims of marriage.” The Latin verb, post habere, permits the translation “without putting in second place the other aims of marriage,” which would mean “to place them all on the same level.” This is what is wanted nowadays; all that is said about marriage comes back to the false idea expressed by Cardinal Suenens, that conjugal love–which was soon termed quite simply and much more crudely “sexuality”–comes at the head of the purposes of marriage. Consequently, under the heading of sexuality, everything is permitted–contraception, family planning and finally, abortion.
One bad definition, and we are plunged into total disorder. The Church, in her traditional liturgy, has the priest say, “Lord, in Thy goodness, assist the institutions Thou hast established for the propagation of the human race…” She has chosen the passage from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, which points out the duties of the married couple, making of their joint relationship an image of the relationship uniting Christ and His Church. Very often the couple to be married are nowadays invited to make up their own Mass without even having to choose the Epistle from Holy Scripture, replacing it by a profane text, and taking a reading from the Gospel that has no connection with the sacrament to be received. The priest in his exhortation takes good care not to mention the demands to which they will have to submit, for fear of giving a forbidding impression of the Church or even of offending any divorced people present among the congregation.
Just as for baptism, experiments have been made for marriages by stages, or non-sacramental marriage, which scandalize Catholics. These experiments, tolerated by the episcopate, take place following lines laid down by the official organizations and are encouraged by diocesan officials. A form put out by the Jean Bart Center shows some of the ways of going about it. Here is one:
A reading from the text: “The essential is invisible to the eyes” (Epistle of St. Peter). There is no exchange of vows but a liturgy of the hands, symbol of labor and workers’ solidarity. Exchange of rings (without the blessing), in silence. Reference to Robert’s work: welding, soldering (he is a plumber). The kiss. The Our Father by all the believers in the congregation. Hail Mary. The newlyweds lay a bouquet of flowers at the statue of Mary.
Why would Our Lord have instituted the sacraments if they were to be replaced by this kind of ceremony devoid of everything supernatural, excepting the two prayers at the end? A few years ago, we heard a lot about liturgy in the department of Saône-et-Loire. To justify this “Liturgy of Welcome,” it was said that they wished to give young couples the desire to come back later and get married for good. Out of something like two hundred pseudo-marriages, two years later not a single couple had returned to regularize their position. Even if they had, the fact would remain that the priest of this parish had actually recognized officially, if not actually blessed, over a period of two years, something none other than concubinage. An official Church survey has revealed that in Paris, 23% of the parishes had already held non-sacramental weddings for couples, one of whom if not both were non-believers, for the purpose of gratifying the families, or the couples themselves, often out of concern for social conformity.
It goes without saying that a Catholic does not have the right to attend such goings-on. As for the so-called married couple, they can always say they have been to church and doubtless they will end up by believing their situation to be regular by dint of seeing their friends follow the same path. Misguided Catholics will wonder if it is not better than nothing. Indifference takes over; they become willing to accept any arrangement, from a simple registry-office wedding to juvenile cohabitation (in respect of which so many parents want to show themselves to be “understanding”), and finally through to free unions. Total de-christianization lies ahead; the couples each lack the graces which come from the sacrament of marriage in order to bring up their children, if at least they agree to have any. The breakdowns in these unsanctified households have increased to such an extent as to worry the Council of Economic and Social Affairs, of which a recent report shows that even a secular society is aware that it is heading for ruin as a result of the instability of these families or pseudo-families.
Then there is the sacrament of Extreme Unction. This is no longer the sacrament of the sick or the feeble. It has become the sacrament of the old: some priests administer it to persons of pensionable age who show no particular sign of approaching death. It is no longer the sacrament that prepares one for the last moment, which wipes out the sins before death and disposes the soul to final union with God. I have in front of me a notice distributed to all the faithful in a Paris church to warn them of the date of the next Extreme Unction: “For those who are still active, the sacrament of the sick is celebrated in the presence of the whole Christian community during the Eucharistic celebration. Date: Sunday, at the 11 o’clock Mass.” These anointings are invalid.
The same collectivist mentality has provoked the vogue of penitential celebrations. The sacrament of penance can only be of an individual nature.
By definition and in conformity with its essence, it is, as I have previously pointed out, a judicial act, a judgment. A judgment cannot be made without having examined a cause; each one’s case has to be heard in order to judge it and then to remit or to retain the sins. His Holiness John Paul II has insisted several times on this point, notably to the French bishops on April 1, 1982 telling them that personal confession followed by individual absolution is “a requirement of the dogmatic order.” It is consequently impossible to justify these ceremonies of reconciliation by explaining that ecclesiastical discipline has become more relaxed, that it has adapted itself to the needs of the modern world. It is not a question of discipline. There was formerly one exception: general absolution given in a case of shipwreck, war, etc.; an absolution whose value is debated by learned writers. It is not permissible to make a rule out of the exception. If we consult the Acts of the Apostolic See we find the following expressions uttered both by Paul VI and John Paul II on various occasions: “the exceptional character of collective absolution,” “in case of grave necessity,” “in extraordinary situations of grave necessity,” “quite exceptional character,” “exceptional circumstances.”
Celebrations of this type have, however, become habitual though without becoming frequent in any one parish, due to the scarcity of faithful who are disposed to put themselves right with God more than two or three times a year. They no longer feel the need, as was quite foreseeable since the idea of sin has been wiped out of their minds. How many priests still remind people of the need for the sacrament of penance? One member of the faithful has told me that in going to confession in one or another of several Paris churches where he knows he will be able to find a “priest on duty” he often receives the congratulations or thanks of the priest, surprised to have a penitent.
These celebrations subjected to the creativity of the “animators” include singing, or else a record is played. Then comes the turn of the Liturgy of the Word, followed by a litany type of prayer to which the assembly responds, “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner,” or else by a sort of general examination of conscience. The “I confess to Almighty God” precedes the absolution given once and for all to the whole congregation, which only leaves one problem: would a person present who did not want absolution receive it just the same? I see on a duplicated sheet distributed to those taking part in these ceremonies at Lourdes that the organizer has asked himself this question: “If we wish to receive absolution, let us dip our hands in the water and make the sign of the cross upon ourselves,” and at the end, “Upon those who are marked by the sign of the cross with the water of the spring the priest lays his hands. Let us unite ourselves to his prayer and accept pardon from God.”
The British Catholic paper, The Universe, a few years ago lent its support to a movement launched by two bishops which consisted of bringing back to the Church those of the faithful who had long since given up the practice of religion. The appeal made by the bishops resembled the public notices put out by families of runaway adolescents: “Little X, please come home. No one will grumble at you.” It was then said to the future prodigal sons, “Your bishops invite you during this Lent to rejoice and celebrate. The Church offers to all her children, in the imitation of Christ, pardon for their sins, freely and without restriction, without their meriting it, and without their requesting it. She urges them to accept and begs them to return home. There are many who wish to return to the Church after years of separation but are unable to make up their minds to go to confession. At any rate, not straightaway…”
They could then accept the following offer: “At the Mission Mass which will be attended by the bishop in your deanery (here is given the time and the date) all those who are present are invited to accept the pardon of all their past sins. It is not necessary for them to go to confession at that moment. It will be sufficient for them to repent their sins and desire to return to God, and to confess their sins later, after having been again welcomed into the fold. Meanwhile they have only to let Our Father in heaven take them into His arms and embrace them tenderly. Subject to a generous act of repentance the bishop will grant to all those present and desiring it pardon for their sins. They may then immediately receive holy communion…”
The Journal of the Grotto, the bi-monthly magazine from Lourdes, reproducing this curious pastoral letter under the heading “General Absolution: Communion now, confession later,” made the following comment: “Our readers will be fully aware of the deeply evangelical spirit which has inspired it, likewise the pastoral understanding of people’s actual situation.”
I do not know what results were obtained, but that is not the issue. Can pastoral needs take precedence over doctrine to the point of undertaking to give Communion in the Body of Christ indiscriminately to people who are probably in many cases in a state of mortal sin, after so many years without the practice of religion? Certainly not. How can we so lightly consider paying for the conversion with a sacrilege, and how much chance has this conversion of being followed by perseverance? We can observe, in any case, that before the council and before this “welcoming” pastoral method there were between fourteen and fifteen thousand conversions annually in England. They have dropped off to about five thousand. We recognize the tree by its fruit.
Catholics are just as confused in Great Britain as in France. If a sinner or an apostate, following his bishop’s advice, presents himself for collective absolution and at the holy table in these conditions, does he not risk losing his confidence in the validity of sacraments so lightly accorded, when he has every reason to consider himself unworthy of them? What is going to happen if later on he neglects to “regularize” himself by going to confession? An unsuccessful return to the house of the Father will only make more difficult a final conversion.
That is what dogmatic laxity leads to. In the penitential ceremonies which take place, in a less extravagant manner, in our parishes, what certainty has the Catholic of being truly pardoned? He is given over to the same anxieties as Protestants, to interior torments provoked by doubt. He has certainly gained nothing by the change.
If it is a bad thing from the point of view of validity, it is also bad psychologically.
For instance, how absurd to give collective absolution with the reservation that people with grave sins have to confess them personally immediately afterwards! People are not going to draw attention to themselves by showing that they have grave sins on their consciences, that is obvious! It is as though the secret of the confessional were violated.
We should add that the faithful who communicate after collective absolution will no longer see the need to present themselves before the judgment of penance, and that one can understand. The ceremonies of reconciliation are not complementary to auricular confession, they eliminate and supplant it. We are proceeding towards the disappearance of the Sacrament of Penance, established like the six others by Our Lord Himself. No pastoral concern can justify this.
For a sacrament to be valid, the matter, the form and the intention are all needed. The Pope himself cannot change that. The matter is of divine institution; the Pope cannot say “tomorrow we will use alcohol for the baptism of infants, or milk.” Neither can he change the essential of the form. There are essential words. For example, one cannot say, “I baptize thee in the name of God,” because God Himself has settled this form: “Thou shalt baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”
The Sacrament of Confirmation has been equally maltreated. One formula current today is, “I sign thee with the Cross, and receive the Holy Spirit.” But the minister does not then specify what is the special grace of the sacrament by which the Holy Ghost gives Himself, and the sacrament is invalid.
That is why I always respond to the requests of parents who have doubts regarding the validity of the confirmation received by their children or who fear it will be administered invalidly, seeing what goes on around them. The cardinals to whom I had to explain myself in 1975 reproached me on this and since then similar reproaches are repeated through the press on all my journeys. I explained why I carried on in this way. I meet the wishes of the faithful who ask me for valid confirmation, even if it is not licit, because we are in a period when divine law, natural and supernatural, has precedence over positive ecclesiastical law when the latter opposes the former instead of being a channel to transmit it. We are passing through an extraordinary crisis and there need be no surprise if I sometimes adopt an attitude that is out of the ordinary.
The third condition of a valid sacrament is a right intention. The bishop or priest must have the intention of doing what the Church wills to be done. Not even the Pope can change that.
The priest’s faith is not among the necessary elements. A priest or bishop may no longer have the faith; another may have it less; and another a faith that is not quite complete. That has no direct effect on the validity of the sacraments they administer, but may have an indirect one. One remembers Pope Leo XIII’s decision that Anglican ordinations are invalid through a defect in the intention. Now it was because they had lost the faith, which is not only faith in God, but in all the truths contained in the Creed, including, “I believe in one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church,” that the Anglicans have not been able to do what the Church wills.
Are not priests who lose the faith in the same case? There are already priests who no longer wish to confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist according to the Council of Trent’s definition. “No,” they say, “the Council of Trent was a long time ago. Since then we have had Vatican II. Now it’s trans-signification, or trans-finalization. Transubstantiation? The Real Presence of the Son of God under the appearances of bread and wine? Not in these days!”
When a priest talks like this, he makes no valid consecration. There is no Mass or Communion. For Christians are obliged to believe what the Council of Trent has defined about the Eucharist until the end of time. One can make the terms of a dogma clearer, but not change them; that is impossible. Vatican II did not add anything or retract anything; and it could not have done so. Anyone who declares that he does not accept transubstantiation is, in the terms of the Council of Trent, anathema, that is, cut off from the Church.
This is why Catholics in this latter part of the twentieth century have a duty to be more vigilant than their fathers were. They must not let just any idea be imposed upon them, in the name of the new theology or the new religion: for what this new religion wants is not what the Church wills. [Emphases added]
Source – The New Forms of Sacraments Baptism, Marriage, Penance & Extreme Unction
Should Catholics be concerned about the new forms of the Sacraments?