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In writing about the sedevacantist position yesterday, I mentioned several interesting notions that I would like to enlarge upon in this article. For example, I mentioned the sedevacantist contention that Pope Benedict XVI is not a bishop because the rite of Episcopal consecration was changed after Vatican II. One could also argue that the Sacraments themselves have been changed to such a degree that they cannot be seen as valid.

The following is an attempt to examine some basic tenets of sacramental theology. All references are to Dr. Ludwig Ott’s “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” (TAN Books and Publishers, 1974) and “The Catechism of the Council of Trent” (Baronius Press, 2007) unless otherwise stated.

Before getting into the individual sacraments themselves, it is necessary to outline in the most definite detail what constitutes a sacrament in the eyes of the Holy Mother Church. According to the teachings of Holy Mother Church, there are two constituent parts of every single sacrament: Matter and Form.

As Ott quotes, “The outward sign of the scarments is composed of two essential parts, namely, the thing and word (res et verbum or elementum et verbum)” (p. 327). These two components are either a physical substance (the chrism, the water of baptism) or the action perceptible to the senses (the joining of the hands during marriage, the prayer of absolution in Confession). The word is always spoken.

In addition to the above, Holy Mother Church distinguishes between two kinds of sacramental matter (material proxima and material remota). “Materia remota” refers to the actual physical substances that are being used such as the bread and wine during Mass, while “material proxima” refers to the physical use of that substance in the sacrament. In other words, the oil of chrism is used in the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.

It is necessary also to point out here that actions (res) must be perceptible to the senses. It is not enough for a bishop to ordain a man by merely saying, “I am making a priest of you, Mr. Jones.” As the matter is laid out in the appropriate liturgical books, the bishop must place his hands on the head of the ordinand. The importance of these physical actions cannot be overstated. As Ott clearly states, “The appropriateness of the institution of signs of grace perceptible to the senses may be shown by considering that man is composed of soul and body” (p. 328).

As we said before, the each of the Seven Sacraments instituted by Our Lord consists of two elements: actions and words (res et verba). To put it into even more comprehensible terms, these two terms: matter and form.

If we follow this train of thought to its logical conclusion, one of two things must be missing in order to invalidate a sacrament: the matter or the form. Some sedevacantists would prove intention into this, but that is a fight that I’m willing to deal with at a furutre date.

If we look at the large batch of sedevacantist literature on the Mass of Pope Paul VI, one thing becomes immediately clear. The sedevacantist will claim that the Mass is invalid of the words “pro omnibus” (for all) being used instead of “pro multis.” Furthermore, these same sedevacantist writers will take their arguments a step further and say that the words were changed on purpose so as to match whatever new theology was coming out of the Council.

This latter claim is as nonsensical as it sounds. The Vatican has said over and over again that there had been a mistake in translation. If one opens up a Missale Romanum currently in use with parallel Latin and English, one finds the following during the consecration of the chalice. The Latin clearly says: “Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei novi et aeterni testamenti, qui pro vobis et pro multi effundetur in remissionem peccatorum.” In English, this translates as: “This is the chalice of my blood of the new and ever lasting covenant which will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.”

If the Latin is still “pro multis,” then what are the sedes are so upset about? To quote an American author, “pro multis” is always going to be “pro multis.” If a mistake was made in the English translation, then it most certainly was not on purpose. Therefore, it would be necessary to go back and make the necessary corrections. (A process which is currently occurring. The new translations will be promulgated by the USCCB at some point in 2012.)

“Pro multis” vs. “Pro omnibus” is the linchpin for sedevacantists. Since the words have been changed, the entire Mass is invalidated. Of course, matters are not this simple and they are usually much more complex than what simple reasoning shows.

If one were to read a book such as Dr. Pius Parsch’s “Liturgy of the Mass,” it would become apparent to the reader that the Mass has changed numerous times over the centuries. During the centuries before the Reformation, each country had its own Rite of Mass (the Mozarabic Rite, the Gallican Rite, the Ambrosian Rite, etc.). During the Council of Trent, it was mandated by Pope St. Pius V that one Mass be adopted by the entire Roman Catholic Church. This was done so as to put up “a united front” against the various Protestant heresies.

It should be noted here that the Gregorian Mass had been used at Rome for centuries on end. As those same centuries wore on, certain parts of the Mass were shortened (the Offertory procession, the Kiss of Peace) and others were taken out entirely. The Missal of Pope St. Pius V merely instituted and codified those changes that had been taking place over the last several centuries.

I am certain that there are some detractors in my reading public who will say, “Oh, it’s the same old rubbish that the modernists have used. It’s their blasted historical continuity syndrome.” The problem is that the modernists, for all of their issues and problems, did not invent what I am describing. It is a historical process that has taken place over centuries and will continue over centuries.

Of course, some will say that the Mass of Pope Paul VI completely overhauled everything that Catholics believed during all of those centuries when the Gregorian Mass was around. I would not say that the Mass of Pope Paul VI overhauled absolutely everything, but certain changes were made to accommodate changing times and places. For example, the readings for the entire ecclesiastical year include much more from the Old Testament and the New than they did before. If knowledge of the Bible among Catholics was sorely lacking before Vatican II, then it was bound to grow.

Others will argue that the Mass of Pope Paul VI is sinful. There are even parish priests who will threaten their parishioners that if they dare to attend a wedding or funeral at a Roman Catholic Church, they will incur mortal sin on themselves because the Body of Christ is trampled in those churches. That’s good and fine, but changes are taking place in Rome to curb these abuses and sacrileges. Kneeling is slowly becoming mandatory. The gears are shifting slowly, but they are shifting.

In future articles, I will continue looking at sacramental theology and giving some thoughts based on what I have read.

Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!

St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for us!