Monday, June 26, 2023

Why the Omission of “Mysterium Fidei” Does Not Invalidate the Consecration of the Wine

I have argued (especially in my book The Once and Future Roman Rite) that the Novus Ordo is a striking and scandalous departure from our liturgical tradition, and deserves finally to be retired and replaced with the Roman Rite—the only Roman Rite there is. Such a thesis is hardly unfamiliar to readers of this blog.

However, critics of the Novus Ordo sometimes make mistaken critiques, insufficiently grounded in a correct grasp of the principles of theology. For example, in the free market of unregulated traditionalist literature, one will sometimes find people claiming that the removal of the words “mysterium fidei” from the formula of the consecration of the wine invalidates the form. While the removal of this phrase is certainly objectionable, it does not in any way invalidate the form.

The reason is specified by St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa theologiae III, question 60, article 8:
Since in the sacraments, the words produce an effect according to the sense which they convey … we must see whether the change of words destroys the essential sense of the words: because then the sacrament is clearly rendered invalid. Now it is clear, if any substantial part of the sacramental form be suppressed, that the essential sense of the words is destroyed; and consequently the sacrament is invalid. Wherefore Didymus says (De Spir. Sanct. ii): “If anyone attempt to baptize in such a way as to omit one of the aforesaid names,” i.e. of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, “his baptism will be invalid.” But if that which is omitted be not a substantial part of the form, such an omission does not destroy the essential sense of the words, nor consequently the validity of the sacrament. Thus in the form of the Eucharist—“For this is My Body,” the omission of the word “for” does not destroy the essential sense of the words, nor consequently cause the sacrament to be invalid; although perhaps he who makes the omission may sin from negligence or contempt.
In the case of the chalice, the words that are necessary for accomplishing transubstantiation are: “This is the chalice of my Blood.” If these words are said by a validly ordained priest with the intention of doing what the Church does, then consecration will happen, since there is nothing ambiguous about the formula whatsoever—there is no doubt as to what is being said, namely, that the chalice is filled with the Blood of Our Lord. But if a minister left it at that and did not continue with the rest of the words according to the rite established by the church, he would then sin against the virtue of religion by failing to offer due worship. Such an incomplete statement, as it is contrary to the given rite, would be illicit; but it would not lead to invalidity, for the reasons given by the Angelic Doctor.

The fact that many authors refer to the entire traditional formula as the form of the sacrament cannot be taken as proof against the foregoing argument, since even Aquinas makes a distinction between the correct form and an incorrect, but not invalid form. If we do not take this (frankly common-sense) view, we will quickly run into trouble when trying to explain how the Eastern rites accomplish transubstantiation, since not a single one of those rites has “mysterium fidei” in the formula for the chalice. (Incidentally, this is also the reason it is doubtful that that phrase originated with the Lord, although it is possible that it originated with one of the Apostles, e.g., St. Peter in Rome, which would explain why it is found only in the Roman rite and the uses that stem from it or belong to its sphere of influence.)

On an ecclesiological and canonical level, we must also say that the supreme authority in the Church has the right to specify/clarify what is and is not the form, or, at least, what is adequate for accomplishing a given sacrament. Canon law has always granted this point, and there is not a single theologian who disputes it. Although we can and should lament the harm done to the Order of Mass by Paul VI, we cannot accuse him of promulgating an invalid sacrament or sacramental form.

In conclusion, I agree there is a mutilation in the repurposing of the phrase mysterium fidei, as I have argued at length. Here, I am simply saying that it does not undermine the efficacy of the statement found in the new missal, because this statement contains the essence of the form—namely, that this [1] is the blood of Christ. That, all by itself, is sufficient, all the other usual conditions being met (correct matter, minister, and intention). As Pius XII teaches in his encyclical Mediator Dei, the sacrifice consists in the separate consecration of bread and wine; and again, St. Thomas is clear that, however illicit it is to omit part of the form, nevertheless as long as the notion of a conversion of bread/wine to body/blood is signified, the words will be efficacious.

For more reflections along these lines, see my article “The Four Qualities of Liturgy: Validity, Licitness, Fittingness, and Authenticity.”

Visit Dr. Kwasniewski's Substack "Tradition & Sanity."

[Note 1] (Added subsequent to initial publication) St. Thomas takes up a particular objection to the words of Our Lord at the Last Supper (Commentary on Matthew, Chapter 26, verse 26). He is trying to identify the exact sense of the pronoun "this" in the phrases "this is my Body" and "this is my Blood". He points out the various ways one might interpret the significance of "this" and he positively rules out that the "this" means "this bread" or "this wine," because, if that is what is signified, it would result in a contradiction: "This [bread] is my Body," or "This [wine] is my Blood." So, after some grammatical analysis, St. Thomas concludes that the pronoun "this" signifies "whatever stands under these accidents." The statement "This is my body" is therefore not false, since its meaning is: "that which stands under these accidents is my Body."

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