The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the approval of Pope Francis, has released a doctrinal note called “Gestis Verbisque” (“Deeds and Words”) to address deviations in the administration of sacraments, particularly baptism and the Eucharist. The document reaffirms the Catholic Church’s traditional teachings on sacraments and emphasizes the importance of using the correct words and materials to ensure their validity.
The 13-page note, described as a lower-level document than a declaration, was published in Italian on February 3. Translations in other languages, including English, are expected to follow. The document has been in discussion since the dicastery’s plenary assembly in 2022 and was unanimously approved in January 2024.
The document was prompted by instances of priests not following liturgical directives for sacraments, resulting in their invalidation. Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the dicastery, notes in his introduction that the invalidation of sacraments has caused distress and required many people to be rebaptized or re-confirmed.
Cardinal Fernández reports that some priests have used incorrect formulas during baptism, such as saying “I baptize you in the name of the Creator” or “I baptize you in the name of Mama and Papa.” Some priests have even discovered after their ordination that they themselves were invalidly baptized.
The note cites examples of invalid baptisms, including a priest in Detroit who discovered his own baptism was invalid after watching a video recording, and a priest in Phoenix who rendered thousands of baptisms invalid by using the wrong formula. The diocese clarified that it is Christ alone who presides over sacraments, not the community.
There have also been rare cases of invalid celebrations of the Eucharist, such as when a priest used honey and baking soda instead of flour and water for the wafer.
Cardinal Fernández emphasizes that while creativity is allowed in other areas of pastoral action, it cannot be invoked in sacramental celebrations. He states that modifying the form or matter of a sacrament is a gravely illicit act and merits punishment, as it can cause harm to the faithful.
The document reiterates that sacraments are “masterpieces of God” instituted by Christ to allow humans to participate in divine life. It acknowledges that deviations from liturgical and sacramental norms are often presented as pastoral motivations.
The note does not introduce anything new but reaffirms the traditional doctrine of the church. It emphasizes the importance of matter, form, and intention for the validity of a sacrament. The correct intention alone is not sufficient; the matter and form must also align with liturgical texts.
The document explains that matter can be water, oil, wine, bread, or a significant gesture, while form consists of words that confer transcendent meaning to the matter. The church has determined the essential elements of sacraments through Tradition and Vatican II’s request to express conferred grace better.
The note insists on faithfully observing the matter and form as prescribed in liturgical books without any additions or changes. It emphasizes that the minister’s intention must align with what the church does, as the sacramental action prolongs Christ’s saving work.
The document concludes by stating that while the liturgy allows for variety and creativity, essential elements of sacraments cannot be changed. It applies to both Latin and Oriental rites and emphasizes that priests and bishops are not owners of the liturgy. The people of God have a right to valid sacraments.America Magazine