Sacraments by New Advent Encyclopedia Part 2

Number of the sacraments

Catholic doctrine: Eastern and Western Churches

The Council of Trent solemnly defined that there are seven sacraments of the New Law, truly and properly so called, viz., Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist,Penance, Extreme Unction, Orders, and Matrimony. The same enumeration had been made in the Decree for the Armenians by the Council of Florence (1439), in theProfession of Faith of Michael Palaelogus, offered to Gregory X in the Council of Lyons (1274) and in the council held at London, in 1237, under Otto, legate of theHoly See. According to some writers Otto of Bamberg (1139), the Apostle ofPomerania, was the first who clearly adopted the number seven (see Tanquerey, "De sacr."). Most probably this honour belongs to Peter Lombard (d. 1164) who in his fourth Book of Sentences (d. i, n.2) defines a sacrament as a sacred sign which not only signifies but also causes grace, and then (d.ii, n.1) enumerates the sevensacraments. It is worthy of note that, although the great Scholastics rejected many of his theological opinions (list given in app. to Migne edition, Paris, 1841), this definition and enumeration were at once universally accepted, proof positive that he did not introduce a new doctrine, but merely expressed in a convenient and precise formula what had always been held in the Church. Just as many doctrineswere believed, but not always accurately expressed, until the condemnation ofheresies or the development of religious knowledge called forth a neat and precise formula, so also the sacraments were accepted and used by the Church for centuries before Aristotelian philosophy, applied to the systematic explanation ofChristian doctrine, furnished the accurate definition and enumeration of Peter Lombard. The earlier Christians were more concerned with the use of sacred ritesthan with scientific formulae, being like the pious author of the "Imitation of Christ", who wrote: "I had rather feel compunction than know its definition" (I, i).

Thus time was required, not for the development of the sacraments - except in so far as the Church may have determined what was left under her control by Jesus Christ -- but for the growth and knowledge of the sacraments. For many centuries all signs of sacred things were called sacraments, and the enumeration of thesesigns was somewhat arbitrary. Our seven sacraments were all mentioned in theSacred Scriptures, and we find them all mentioned here and there by the Fathers(see THEOLOGY; and articles on each sacrament). After the ninth century, writers began to draw a distinction between sacraments in a general sense and sacraments properly so called. The ill-fated Abelard ("Intro. ad Theol.", I, i, and in the "Sic et Non") and Hugh of St. Victor (De sacr., I, part 9, chap. viii; cf. Pourrat, op. cit., pp.34, 35) prepared the way for Peter Lombard, who proposed the precise formula which the Church accepted. Thenceforward until the time of the so-calledReformation the Eastern Church joined with the Latin Church in saying: bysacraments proper we understand efficacious sacred signs, i.e. ceremonies which by Divine ordinance signify, contain and confer grace; and they are seven in number. In the history of conferences and councils held to effect the reunion of theGreek with the Latin Church, we find no record of objections made to the doctrineof seven sacraments. On the contrary, about 1576, when the Reformers ofWittenberg, anxious to draw the Eastern Churches into their errors, sent a Greek translation of the Augsburg Confession to Jeremias, Patriarch of Constantinople, he replied: "The mysteries received in this same Catholic Church of orthodoxChristians, and the sacred ceremonies, are seven in number -- just seven and no more" (Pourrat, op. cit., p. 289). The consensus of the Greek and Latin Churcheson this subject is clearly shown by Arcadius, "De con. ecc. occident. et orient. in sept. sacr. administr." (1619); Goar in his "Euchologion" by Martene in his work "De antiquis ecclesiae ritibus", by Renaudot in his "Perpetuite de la foi sur sacrements" (1711), and this agreement of the two Churches furnishes recent writers (Episcopalians) with a strong argument in support of their appeal for the acceptance of seven sacraments.

Protestant errors

Luther's capital errors, viz. private interpretation of the Scriptures, and justificationby faith alone, logically led to a rejection of the Catholic doctrine on thesacraments (see LUTHER; GRACE). Gladly would he have swept them all away, but the words of Scripture were too convincing and the Augsburg Confession retained three as "having the command of God and the promise of the grace of the New Testament". These three, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Penance were admitted by Luther and also by Cranmer in his "Catechism" (see Dix, "op. cit.", p. 79). Henry VIII protested against Luther's innovations and received the title "Defender of the Faith" as a reward for publishing the "Assertio septem sacramentorum" (re-edited by Rev. Louis O'Donovan, New York, 1908). Followers of Luther's principles surpassed their leader in opposition to the sacraments. Once granted that they were merely "signs and testimonies of God's good will towards us", the reason for greatreverence was gone. Some rejected all sacraments, since God's good will could be manifested without these external signs. Confession (Penance) was soon dropped from the list of those retained. The Anabaptists rejected infant Baptism, since theceremony could not excite faith in children. Protestants generally retained twosacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, the latter being reduced by the denial of the Real Presence to a mere commemorative service. After the first fervour of destruction there was a reaction. Lutherans retained a ceremony of Confirmationand ordination. Cranmer retained three sacraments, yet we find in the Westminster Confession: "There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ Our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord. Those five commonly calledsacraments, that is to say Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures but yet have not like nature of sacraments with Baptismand the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible signs or ceremonyordained by God (art. XXV). The Wittenberg theologians, by way of compromise, had shown a willingness to make such a distinction, in a second letter to thePatriarch of Constantinople, but the Greeks would have no compromise (Pourrat, loc. cit., 290).

For more than two centuries the Church of England theoretically recognized only two "sacraments of the Gospel" yet permitted, or tolerated other five rites. In practice these five "lesser sacraments" were neglected, especially Penance andExtreme Unction. Anglicans of the nineteenth century would have gladly altered or abolished the twenty-fifth article. There has been a strong desire, dating chiefly from the Tractarian Movement, and the days of Pusey, Newman, Lyddon, etc. to reintroduce all of the sacraments. Many Episcopalians and Anglicans today make heroic efforts to show that the twenty-fifth article repudiated the lessersacraments only in so far as they had "grown of the corrupt following of theApostles, and were administered 'more Romamensium'", after the Roman fashion. Thus Morgan Dix reminded his contemporaries that the first book of Edward VI allowed "auricular and secret confession to the priest", who could give absolution as well as "ghostly counsel, advice, and comfort", but did not make the practiceobligatory: therefore the sacrament of Absolution is not to be "obtruded upon men'sconsciences as a matter necessary to salvation" (op. cit., pp.99, 101, 102, 103). He cites authorities who state that "one cannot doubt that a sacramental use ofanointing the sick has been from the beginning", and adds, "There are not wanting, among the bishops of the American Church, some who concur in deploring the loss of this primitive ordinance and predicting its restoration among us at some propitious time" (ibid., p. 105). At a convention of Episcopalians held at Cincinnati, in 1910, unsuccessful effort was made to obtain approbation for the practice ofanointing the sick. High Church pastors and curates, especially in England, frequently are in conflict with their bishops because the former use all the ancientrites. Add to this the assertion made by Mortimer (op. cit., I, 122) that all thesacraments cause grace ex opere operato, and we see that "advanced" Anglicansare returning to the doctrine and the practices of the Old Church. Whether and in how far their position can be reconciled with the twenty-fifth article, is a question which they must settle. Assuredly their wanderings and gropings after the truthprove the necessity of having on earth an infallible interpreter of God's word.

Division and comparison of the sacraments

(a) All sacraments were instituted for the spiritual good of the recipients; but five, viz. Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, the Eucharist, and Extreme Unction, primarily benefit the individual in his private character, whilst the other two, Orders andMatrimony, primarily affect man as a social being, and sanctify him in the fulfillment of his duties towards the Church and society. By Baptism we are born again,Confirmation makes us strong, perfect Christians and soldiers. The Eucharistfurnishes our daily spiritual food. Penance heals the soul wounded by sin. Extreme Unction removes the last remnant of human frailty, and prepares the soul foreternal life, Orders supplies ministers to the Church of God. Matrimony gives thegraces necessary for those who are to rear children in the love and fear of God, members of the Church militant, future citizens of heaven. This is St. Thomas'sexplanation of the fitness of the number seven (III:55:1). He gives other explanations offered by the Schoolmen, but does not bind himself to any of them. In fact the only sufficient reason for the existence of seven sacraments, and no more, is the will of Christ: there are seven because He instituted seven. The explanations and adaptations of theologians serve only to excite our admiration and gratitude, by showing how wisely and beneficently God has provided for our spiritual needs in these seven efficacious signs of grace.

(b) Baptism and Penance are called "sacraments of the dead", because they give life, through sanctifying grace then called "first grace", to those who are spiritually dead by reason of original or actual sin. The other five are "sacraments of the living", because their reception presupposes, at least ordinarily, that the recipient is in the state of grace, and they give "second grace", i.e. increase of sanctifying grace. Nevertheless, since the sacraments always give some grace when there is no obstacle in the recipient, it may happen in cases explained by theologians that "second grace" is conferred by a sacrament of the dead, e.g. when one has only venial sins to confess receives absolution and that "first grace" is conferred by asacrament of the living (see Summa Theologiæ III:72:7 ad 2; III:79:3). ConcerningExtreme Unction St. James explicitly states that through it the recipient may be freed from his sins: "If he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him" (James 5:15).

(c) Comparison in dignity and necessity. The Council of Trent declared that thesacraments are not all equal in dignity; also that none are superfluous, although all are not necessary for each individual (Sess. VII, can.3, 4). The Eucharist is the first in dignity, because it contains Christ in person, whilst in the other sacramentsgrace is conferred by an instrumental virtue derived from Christ (Summa TheologiæIII.56.3) To this reason St. Thomas adds another, namely, that the Eucharist is as the end to which the other sacraments tend, a centre around which they revolve (Summa Theologiæ III:56:3). Baptism is always first in necessity; Holy Orderscomes next after the Eucharist in the order of dignity, Confirmation being between these two. Penance and Extreme Unction could not have a first place because they presuppose defects (sins). Of the two Penance is the first in necessity: Extreme Unction completes the work of Penance and prepares souls for heaven. Matrimonyhas not such an important social work as Orders (Summa Theologiæ III:56:3, ad 1). If we consider necessity alone -- the Eucharist being left out as our daily bread, and God's greatest gift -- three are simply and strictly necessary, Baptism for all,Penance for those who fall into mortal sin after receiving Baptism, Orders for theChurch. The others are not so strictly necessary. Confirmation completes the work of Baptism; Extreme Unction completes the work of Penance; Matrimony sanctifies the procreation and education of children, which is not so important nor sonecessary as the sanctification of ministers of the Church (Summa TheologiæIII:56:3, ad 4).

(d) Episcopalians and Anglicans distinguish two great sacraments and five lessersacraments because the latter "have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained byGod" (art. XXXV). Then they should be classed among the sacramentals since Godalone can be the author of a sacrament (see above III). On this point the language of the twenty-fifth article ("commonly called sacraments") is more logical and straightforward than the terminology of recent Anglican writers. The AnglicanCatechism calls Baptism and Eucharist sacraments "generally (i.e. universally)necessary for salvation". Mortimer justly remarks that this expression is not "entirely accurate", because the Eucharist is not generally necessary to salvation in the same way as Baptism (op. cit., I, 127). The other five he adds are placed in a lower class because, "they are not necessary to salvation in the same sense as the two other sacraments, since they are not necessary for everyone" (loc. cit., 128). Verily this is interpretation extraordinary; yet we should be grateful since it is more respectful than saying that those five are "such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures" (art. XXV). Confusion and uncertainty will be avoided by accepting the declaration of the Council of Trent (above).

Effects of the sacraments

Catholic doctrine

(a) The principal effect of the sacrament is a two-fold grace: (1) the grace of thesacrament which is "first grace", produced by the sacraments of the dead, or "second grace", produced by the sacraments of the living (supra, IV, 3, b); (2) Thesacramental grace, i.e., the special grace needed to attain the end of eachsacrament. Most probably it is not a new habitual gift, but a special vigour or efficacy in the sanctifying grace conferred, including on the part of God, a promise, and on the part of man a permanent right to the assistance needed in order to actin accordance with the obligations incurred, e.g., to live as a good Christian, a goodpriest, a good husband or wife (cf. Summa Theologiæ III:62:2).

(b) Three sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation and Orders, besides grace, produce in the soul a character, i.e., an indelible spiritual mark by which some are consecratedas servants of God, some as soldiers, some as ministers. Since it is an indelible mark, the sacraments which impress a character cannot be received more than once (Conc. Trid., sess. VII, can. 9; see CHARACTER).

How the sacraments cause grace: theological controversies

Few questions have been so hotly controverted as this one relative to the manner in which the sacraments cause grace (ST IV, Sent., d.1, Q.4, a.1.).

(a) All admit that the sacraments of the New Law cause grace ex opere operato, not ex opere operantis (above, II, 2, 3).

(b) All admit that God alone can be the principal cause of grace (above 3, 1).

(c) All admit that Christ as man, had a special power over the sacraments (above, 3, 2).

(d) All admit that the sacraments are, in some sense, the instrumental causeseither of grace itself or of something else which will be a "title exigent of grace" (infra e). The principal cause is one which produces an effect by a power which it has by reason of its own nature or by an inherent faculty. An instrumental causeproduces an effect, not by its own power, but by a power which it receives from the principal agent. When a carpenter makes a table, he is the principal cause, his tools are the instrumental causes. God alone can cause grace as the principalcause; sacraments can be no more than his instruments "for they are applied tomen by Divine ordinance to cause grace in them" (Summa Theologiæ III:62:1). Notheologian today defends Occasionalism (see CAUSE) i.e. the system which taught that the sacraments caused grace by a kind of concomitance, they being not realcauses but the causae sine quibus non: their reception being merely the occasion of conferring grace. This opinion, according to Pourrat (op. cit., 167), was defended by St. Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, Durandus, Occam, and all theNominalists, and "enjoyed a real success until the time of the Council of Trent, when it was transformed into the modern system of moral causality". St. Thomas(III:62:1, III:62:4; and "Quodlibeta", 12, a, 14), and others rejected it on the ground that it reduced the sacraments to the condition of mere signs.

(e) In solving the problem the next step was the introduction of the system of dispositive instrumental causality, explained by Alexander of Hales (Summa theol., IV, Q. v, membr. 4), adopted and perfected by St. Thomas (IV Sent., d. 1, Q. i, a. 4), defended by many theologians down to the sixteenth century, and revived later by Father Billot, S.J. ("De eccl. sacram.", I, Rome, 1900). According to this theory the sacraments do not efficiently and immediately cause grace itself, but theycause ex opere operato and instrumentally, a something else -- the character (in some cases) or a spiritual ornament or form -- which will be a "disposition" entitling the soul to grace ("dispositio exigitiva gratiae"; "titulus exigitivus gratiae", Billot, loc. cit.). It must be admitted that this theory would be most convenient in explaining "reviviscence" of the sacraments (infra, VII, c). Against it the following objections are made:

  • From the time of the Council of Trent down to recent times little was heard of this system.
  • The "ornament", or "disposition", entitling the soul to grace is not well explained, hence explains very little.
  • Since this "disposition" must be something spiritual and of the supernatural order, and the sacraments can cause it, why can they not cause the graceitself?
  • In his "Summa theologica" St. Thomas does not mention this dispositivecausality: hence we may reasonably believe that he abandoned it.

(f) Since the time of the Council of Trent theologians almost unanimously have taught that the sacraments are the efficient instrumental cause of grace itself. Thedefinition of the Council of Trent, that the sacraments "contain the grace which they signify", that they "confer grace ex opere operato" (Sess. VII, can.6, 8), seemed to justify the assertion, which was not contested until quite recently. Yet the end of the controversy had not come. What was the nature of that causality? Did it belong to the physical or to the moral order? A physical cause really and immediately produces its effects, either as the principal agent or as the instrument used, as when a sculptor uses a chisel to carve a statue. A moral cause is one which moves or entreats a physical cause to act. It also can be principal or instrumental, e.g., a bishop who in person successfully pleads for the liberation of aprisoner is the principal moral cause, a letter sent by him would be the instrumentalmoral cause, of the freedom granted. The expressions used by St. Thomas seem clearly to indicate that the sacraments act after the manner of physical causes. He says that there is in the sacraments a virtue productive of grace (III:62:4) and he answers objections against attributing such power to a corporeal instrument by simply stating that such power is not inherent in them and does not reside in them permanently, but is in them only so far and so long as they are instruments in the hands of Almighty God (loc. cit., ad um and 3 um). Cajetan, Francisco Suárez, and a host of other great theologians defend this system, which is usually termedThomistic. The language of the Scripture, the expressions of the Fathers, theDecrees of the councils, they say, are so strong that nothing short of an impossibility will justify a denial of this dignity to the sacraments of the New Law. Many facts must be admitted which we cannot fully explain. The body of man acts on his spiritual soul; fire acts, in some way, on souls and on angels. The strings of a harp, remarks Cajetan (In III, Q. lxii) touched by an unskilled hand, produce nothing but sounds: touched by the hands of a skilful musician they give forth beautiful melodies. Why cannot the sacraments, as instruments in the hands of God, producegrace?

Many grave theologians were not convinced by these arguments, and anotherschool, improperly called the Scotistic, headed by Melchior Cano, De Lugo, andVasquez, embracing later Henno, Tournély, Franzelin, and others, adopted the system of instrumental moral causality. The principal moral cause of grace is thePassion of Christ. The sacraments are instruments which move or entreat Godeffectively and infallibly to give his grace to those who receive them with proper dispositions, because, says Melchior Cano, "the price of the blood of Jesus Christ is communicated to them" (see Pourrat, op. cit., 192, 193). This system was further developed by Franzelin, who looks upon the sacraments as being morally an act ofChrist (loc. cit., p. 194). The Thomists and Francisco Suárez object to this system:

  • Since the sacraments (i.e. the external rites) have no intrinsic value, they do not, according to this explanation, exert any genuine causality; they do not really cause grace, God alone causes the grace: the sacrament do not operate to produce it; they are only signs or occasions of conferring it.
  • The Fathers saw something mysterious and inexplicable in the sacraments. In this system wonders cease or are, at least, so much reduced that the expressions used by the Fathers seem altogether out of place.
  • This theory does not sufficiently distinguish, in efficacy, the sacraments of the Gospel from the sacraments of the Old Law. Nevertheless, because it avoids certain difficulties and obscurities of the physical causality theory, the system of moral causality has found many defenders, and today if we consider numbers alone, it has authority in its favour.

Recently both of these systems have been vigorously attacked by Father Billot (op. cit., 107 sq.), who proposes a new explanation. He revives the old theory that thesacraments do not immediately cause grace itself, but a disposition or title to grace(above e). This disposition is produced by the sacraments, neither physically nor morally, but imperatively. Sacraments are practical signs of an intentional order: they manifest God's intention to give spiritual benefits; this manifestation of the Divine intention is a title exigent of grace (op. cit., 59 sq., 123 sq.; Pourrat, op. cit., 194; Cronin in reviews, sup. cit.). Father Billot defends his opinions with remarkable acumen. Patrons of the physical causality gratefully note his attack against the moral causality, but object to the new explanation, that the imperative or the intentional causality, as distinct from the action of signs, occasions, moral or physical instruments (a) is conceived with difficulty and (b) does not make thesacraments (i.e. the external, Divinely appointed ceremonies) the real cause ofgrace. Theologians are perfectly free to dispute and differ as to the manner of instrumental causality. Lis est adhuc sub judice.

Minister of the sacraments

Men, not angels

It was altogether fitting that the ministration of the sacraments be given, not to the angels, but to men. The efficacy of the sacraments comes from the Passion of Christ, hence from Christ as a man; men, not angels, are like unto Christ in Hishuman nature. Miraculously God might send a good angel to administer a sacrament (Summa Theologiæ III:64:7).

Ordination requirements for the ministers of particular sacraments

For administering Baptism validly no special ordination is required. Any one, even apagan, can baptize, provided that he use the proper matter and pronounce the words of the essential form, with the intention of doing what the Church does (Decr. pro Armen., Denzinger-Bannwart, 696). Only bishops, priests, and in some cases, deacons may confer Baptism solemnly (see BAPTISM). It is now held ascertain that in Matrimony the contracting parties are the ministers of thesacrament, because they make the contract and the sacrament is a contractraised by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament (cf. Leo XIII, Encyclical "Arcanum", 10 Febr., 1880; see MATRIMONY). For the validity of the other five sacraments theminister must be duly ordained. The Council of Trent anathematized those who said that all Christians could administer all the sacraments (Sess. VII, can.10). Onlybishops can confer Sacred Orders (Council of Trent, sess. XXIII, can.7). Ordinarily only a bishop can give Confirmation (see CONFIRMATION). The priestly Order is required for the valid administration of Penance and Extreme Unction (Conc. Trid., sess. XIV, can.10, can.4). As to the Eucharist, those only who have priestly Orderscan consecrate, i.e. change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.Consecration presupposed, any one can distribute the Eucharistic species but, outside of very extraordinary circumstances this can be lawfully done only bybishops, priests, or (in some cases) deacons.

Heretical or schismatic ministers

The care of all those sacred rites has been given to the Church of Christ. Hereticalor schismatical ministers can administer the sacraments validly if they have validOrders, but their ministrations are sinful (see Billot, op. cit., thesis 16). Good faithwould excuse the recipients from sin, and in cases of necessity the Church grantsjurisdiction necessary for Penance and Extreme Unction (see EXCOMMUNICATION: V, Effects of Excommunication).

State of soul of the minister

Due reverence for the sacraments requires the minister to be in a state of grace: one who solemnly and officially administers a sacrament, being himself in a state of mortal sin, would certainly be guilty of a sacrilege (cf. Summa Theologiæ III.64.6). Some hold that this sacrilege is committed even when the minister does not actofficially or confer the sacrament solemnly. But from the controversy between St. Augustine and the Donatists in the fourth century and especially from the controversy between St. Stephen and St. Cyprian in the third century, we knowthat personal holiness or the state of grace in the minister is not a prerequisite for the valid administration of the sacrament. This has been solemnly defined in severalgeneral councils including the Council of Trent (Sess VII, can.12, ibid., de bapt., can. 4). The reason is that the sacraments have their efficacy by Divine institution and through the merits of Christ. Unworthy ministers, validly conferring thesacraments, cannot impede the efficacy of signs ordained by Christ to producegrace ex opere operato (cf. St. Thomas, III:64:5, III:64:9). The knowledge of thistruth, which follows logically from the true conception of a sacrament, gives comfort to the faithful, and it should increase, rather than diminish, reverence for those sacred rites and confidence in their efficacy. No one can give, in his own name, that which he does not possess; but a bank cashier, not possessing 2000 dollars in his own name, could write a draft worth 2,000,000 dollars by reason of the wealth of the bank which he is authorized to represent. Christ left to HisChurch a vast treasure purchased by His merits and sufferings: the sacraments are as credentials entitling their holders to a share in this treasure. On this subject, theAnglican Church has retained the true doctrine, which is neatly proved in article XXVI of the Westminster Confession: "Although in the visible church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil hath the chief authority in the ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by His commission and authority, we may use their ministry both in hearing the Word of God and in receiving theSacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by theirwickedness nor the grace of God's gifts from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because ofChrist's institution and promise, although they be administered by evil men" (cf. Billuart, de sacram., d. 5, a. 3, sol. obj.)

Intention of the minister

(a) To be a minister of the sacraments under and with Christ, a man must act as a man, i.e. as a rational being; hence it is absolutely necessary that he have theintention of doing what the Church does. This was declared by Eugene IV in 1439 (Denzinger-Bannwart, 695) and was solemnly defined in the Council of Trent(Sess.VII, can.II). The anathema of Trent was aimed at the innovators of the sixteenth century. From their fundamental error that the sacraments were signs offaith, or signs that excited faith, it followed logically that their effect in no wise depended on the intention of the minister. Men are to be "ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the mysteries of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1), and this they would not be without the intention, for it is by the intention, says St. Thomas (III:64:8, ad 1) that a man subjects and unites himself to the principal agent (Christ). Moreover, by rationally pronouncing the words of the form, the minister must determine what is not sufficiently determined or expressed by the matter applied, e.g. the significance of pouring water on the head of the child (Summa Theologiæ III.64.8). One who isdemented, drunk, asleep, or in a stupor that prevents a rational act, one who goes through the external ceremony in mockery, mimicry, or in a play, does not act as arational minister, hence cannot administer a sacrament.

(b) The necessary object and qualities of the intention required in the minister of the sacrament are explained in the article INTENTION. Pourrat (op. cit., ch. 7) gives a history of all controversies on this subject. Whatever may be said speculatively about the opinion of Ambrosius Catherinus* (see LANCELOT POLITI) who advocated the sufficiency of an external intention in the minister, it may not be followed in practice, because, outside of cases of necessity, no one may follow a probable opinion against one that is safer, when there is question of something required for the validity of a sacrament (Innocent XI, 1679; Denzinger-Bannwart, 1151).

Attention in the minister

Attention is an act of the intellect, viz. the application of the mind to what is being done. Voluntary distraction in one administering a sacrament would be sinful. Thesin would however not be brave, unless (a) there be danger of making a serious mistake, or (b) according to the common opinion, the distraction be admitted inconsecrating the Eucharistic species. Attention on the part of the minister is notnecessary for the valid administration of a sacrament, because in virtue of theintention, which is presupposed, he can act in a rational manner, notwithstanding the distraction.

Recipient of the sacraments

When all conditions required by Divine and ecclesiastical law are complied with, thesacrament is received validly and licitly. If all conditions required for the essentialrite are observed, on the part of the minister, the recipient, the matter and form, but some non-essential condition is not complied with by the recipient, thesacrament is received validly but not licitly; and if the condition wilfully neglected be grave, grace is not then conferred by the ceremony. Thus baptized personscontracting Matrimony whilst they are in the state of mortal sin would be validly (i.e. really) married, but would not then receive sanctifying grace.

Conditions for valid reception

(a) The previous reception of Baptism (by water) is an essential condition for the valid reception of any other sacrament. Only citizens and members of the Churchcan come under her influence as such; Baptism is the door by which we enter theChurch and thereby become members of a mystical body united to Christ our head (Catech. Trid., de bapt., nn. 5, 52).

(b) In adults, for the valid reception of any sacrament except the Eucharist, it isnecessary that they have the intention of receiving it. The sacraments imposeobligations and confer grace: Christ does not wish to impose those obligations or confer grace without the consent of man. The Eucharist is excepted because, in whatever state the recipient may be, it is always the body and blood of Christ (seeINTENTION; cf. Pourrat, op. cit., 392).

(c) For attention, see above, VI, 6. By the intention man submits himself to the operation of the sacraments which produce their effects ex opere operato, hence attention is not necessary for the valid reception of the sacraments. One who might be distracted, even voluntarily, during the conferring, e.g. of Baptism, would receive the sacrament validly. It must be carefully noted, however, that in the case of Matrimony the contracting parties are the ministers as well as the recipients of the sacraments; and in the sacrament of Penance, the acts of the penitent, contrition, confession, and willingness to accept a Penance in satisfaction, constitute the proximate matter of the sacraments, according to the commonly received opinion. Hence in those cases such attention is required as isnecessary for the valid application of the matter and form.

Conditions for the licit reception

(a) For the licit reception, besides the intention and the attention, in adults there is required:

  • for the sacraments of the dead, supernatural attrition, which presupposesacts of faith, hope, and repentance (see ATTRITION and JUSTIFICATION);
  • for the sacraments of the living the state of grace. Knowingly to receive asacrament of the living whilst one is in the state of mortal sin would be asacrilege.

(b) For the licit reception it is also necessary to observe all that is prescribed byDivine or ecclesiastical law, e.g. as to time, place, the minister, etc. As the Churchalone has the care of the sacraments and generally her duly appointed agents alone have the right to administer them, except Baptism in some cases, andMatrimony (supra VI, 2), it is a general law that application for the sacraments should be made to worthy and duly appointed ministers. (For exceptions seeEXCOMMUNICATION.)

Reviviscence of the sacraments

Much attention has been given by theologians to the revival of effects which were impeded at the time when a sacrament was received. The question arises whenever a sacrament is received validly but unworthily, i.e. with an obstacle which prevents the infusion of Divine grace. The obstacle (mortal sin) is positive, when it is knownand voluntary, or negative, when it is involuntary by reason of ignorance or good faith. One who thus receives a sacrament is said to receive it feignedly, or falsely(ficte), because by the very act of receiving it he pretends to be properly disposed; and the sacrament is said to be validum sed informe -- valid, but lacking its proper form, i.e. grace or charity (see LOVE). Can such a person recover or receive the effects of the sacraments? The term reviviscence (reviviscentia) is not used by St. Thomas in reference to the sacraments and it is not strictly correct because the effects in question being impeded by the obstacle, were not once "living" (cf. Billot, op. cit., 98, note). The expression which he uses (III:69:10), viz., obtaining the effects after the obstacle has been removed, is more accurate, though not so convenient as the newer term.

(a) Theologians generally hold that the question does not apply to Penance and theHoly Eucharist. If the penitent be not sufficiently disposed to receive grace at thetime he confesses his sins the sacrament is not validly received because the actsof the penitent are a necessary part of the matter of this sacrament, or anecessary condition for its reception. One who unworthily receives the Eucharistcan derive no benefit from that sacrament unless, perhaps, he repent of his sinsand sacrilege before the sacred species have been destroyed. Cases that may occur relate to the five other sacraments.

(b) It is certain and admitted by all, that if Baptism be received by an adult who is in the state of mortal sin, he can afterwards receive the graces of the sacrament, viz. when the obstacle is removed by contrition or by the sacrament of Penance. On the one hand the sacraments always produce grace unless there be an obstacle; on the other hand those graces are necessary, and yet the sacrament cannot be repeated. St. Thomas (III:69:10) and theologians find a special reason for the conferring of the effects of Baptism (when the "fiction" has been removed) in the permanent character which is impressed by the sacrament validly administered. Reasoning from analogy they hold the same with regard toConfirmation and Holy Orders, noting however that the graces to be received are not so necessary as those conferred by Baptism.

(c) The doctrine is not so certain when applied to Matrimony and Extreme Unction. But since the graces impeded are very important though not strictly necessary, and since Matrimony cannot be received again whilst both contracting parties are living, and Extreme Unction cannot be repeated whilst the same danger of death lasts,theologians adopt as more probable the opinion which holds that God will grant thegraces of those sacraments when the obstacle is removed. The "reviviscence" of the effects of sacraments received validly but with an obstacle to grace at the time of their reception, is urged as a strong argument against the system of the physical causality of grace (supra, V, 2), especially by Billot (op. cit., thesis, VII, 116, 126). For his own system he claims the merit of establishing an invariable mode of causality, namely, that in every case by the sacrament validly received there is conferred a "title exigent of grace". If there be no obstacle the grace is conferred then and there: if there be an obstacle the "title" remains calling for thegrace which will be conferred as soon as the obstacle is removed (op. cit., th. VI, VII). To this his opponents reply that exceptional cases might well call for an exceptional mode of causality. In the case of three sacraments the charactersufficiently explains the revival of effects (cf. ST III:66:1, III:69:9, III:69:10). Thedoctrine as applied to Extreme Unction and Matrimony, is not certain enough to furnish a strong argument for or against any system. Future efforts of theologiansmay dispel the obscurity and uncertainty now prevailing in this interesting chapter.