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Michael wrote:

Hi, guys —

My question is regarding the New Rite of Episcopal Consecration, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1968. I need to provide some background before getting to the question I would like to ask.

After a forty-year, theological study on Holy Orders, the findings were presented to Pope Pius XII in 1947.  The Papal document he published regarding the issue is called Sacramentum Ordinis.

The traditional rite of consecration of a Bishop had many surrounding ceremonies that pointed towards the actual sacrament and its meaning. Pope Pius XII finally defined the essential form of the Sacrament which is within the rite, (the part that actually confers the grace) by teaching that:

". . . the form consists of the words of the Preface, of which the following are essential and so required for validity".

The traditional Form of the Sacrament of Orders to the Episcopacy is as follows:

"Complete in Thy priest the fullness of Thy ministry, and adorned in the raiment of all glory, sanctify him with the dew of heavenly anointing.”

Because a sacrament is an outward sign, the form of the sacrament must both signify what it effects, and effect what it signifies.

According to Pope Pius XII, there are two essential requirements required for the validity of the Sacrament of Orders:

  1. The power of the Order being conferred.
  2. The Grace of the Holy Ghost.

The fullness of Thy ministry and Raiment of all glory

in the traditional form refers to the power of the Episcopacy.
— This meets the first requirement.
The dew of Heavenly anointing
in the traditional form refers to the Grace of the Holy Ghost.
— This meets the second requirement.

Pius XII said that the terms for both the power of the Order and the Grace of the Holy Ghost must be univocal i.e. having only one allowable meaning within the form.

Now, the New Rite of Episcopal Consecration promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1968 has the following as the essential Form of the Sacrament:

“So now pour out upon this chosen one that power which is from you, the governing Spirit whom you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Spirit given by Him to the Holy Apostles, who founded the Church in every place to be Your Temple for the unceasing glory and praise of Your Name.”

This new form uses the term governing Spirit, which has many theological usages, and is not univocal.

Apart from that, the New rite of 1968 does not mention both the power of the Order being conferred, and the grace of the Holy Ghost. At best, it only refers to one or the other, and even then, is quite ambiguous.

  • If governing Spirit refers to the power of Episcopal Orders, (i.e. the spirit to govern the Church) then it cannot also mean the Grace of the Holy Ghost, because this would contradict the necessity for the terms to be univocal.
  • If governing Spirit is a reference to the Grace of the Holy Ghost, then the form doesn't mention the power of Episcopal Orders, as again, it would contradict the necessity for the terms to be univocal.

Pius XII said that the mention of both the power of the Order being conferred and the Grace of the Holy Ghost are required for validity, and both must be univocal. One cannot double-dip on the meaning of governing Spirit, i.e. we can't use it to mean two different things in the same phrase.

Some have suggested that the New 1968 form was lifted from an Eastern rite which the Church regards as valid, but this exact Form is not found in any Eastern Rite. It may have been reconstructed by liturgical experts in the 1960's from parts of various Eastern rites, but at best, there is evidence that, even then, it was only used in the installation of a Metropolitan.

The installation of an Eastern rite Metropolitan or Patriarch is not a Sacramental formula, however, as the man being installed as a Metropolitan or Patriarch, what, we in the West might equate with an Archbishop, would have already received the Sacrament of Order to the Episcopate prior to his installation.

Until 1947, the essential form of the sacrament had never actually been defined by a Pope. Since 1947 however, we have Pius XII teaching definitively and exactly what is required for validity. Such a teaching is irrevocable.

Another response might be that Paul VI, as Pope, can change a rite of the administration of any Sacrament he wishes; this is undoubtedly true, but he cannot change what is essential to a Sacrament itself, once it has been defined, by removing something that was taught as necessary for validity by a previous Pope.

He could not change the Form to, e.g. I think I will go for a walk, and say it is valid because he is the Pope. It has to meet the criteria already laid down and defined by his predecessor.

I know this is a complex preamble, but the question in light of it is very simple:

  • Does the New Rite of Episcopal Consecration promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1968 meet the necessary criteria for validity as irrevocably defined by Pope Pius XII in 1947?
  • If so, how and why?

Thanks very much for your time.


  { Does the New Rite of Episcopal Consecration by Pope Paul VI meet the criteria for validity? }

Mike replied:

Dear Michael,

My gut tells me that you are confusing:

  • how a sacrament is administered with
  • issues of faith and morals, which of course can never change.

I don't understand why you appreciate the papacy of Venerable Pope Pius II but don't appreciate the papacy of Blessed Pope Paul VI. I will assume you are not a sedevacantist. If you are, you are wasting your time with us.

See Questions we don't answer: # 6

For Holy Orders:

The Form is:

The Bishop's specific consecratory prayer asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and his gifts proper to the ministry to which the candidate is being ordained.

The Matter is:

Laying on of the Bishop's hands with the consecratory prayer.


You said:

  • Does the New Rite of Episcopal Consecration promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1968 meet the necessary criteria for validity as irrevocably defined by Pope Pius XII in 1947?
  • If so, how and why?

Yes!, of course it does, because he is the Pope (Paul VI) and like any Pope, he has the right to use whatever consecratory prayer he wishes.

There is no time in history where the Church has interpreted Matthew 16:13-19 to mean that a Pope has the authority to bind and loose non-doctrinal consecratory prayers of another future Pope in history. That said, I can't deny your argument in Sacramentum Ordinis [5].

Since you appear to be questioning the papacy of Paul VI, I don't expect you to agree with this. My colleagues may be able to shed a different view. That's the best I can do.

For my colleagues, here is the document and the validity portion [5] Michael is referring to:


Michael replied:

Dear Mike,

Thanks very much for your reply.

  • Would you or your colleagues be kind enough to point out the clear reference to the Order being conferred, and the Grace of the Holy Ghost in the 1968 rite of episcopal consecration?

After reading and re-reading the Form given in the new rite, I cannot see it in there, but in the traditional rite, both are clearly referred to.

It is a very difficult subject, to be sure, but if anything is important, it is this.

Valid Episcopal Consecration is the very transmission of Apostolic Succession, one of the Four Marks of the Catholic Church. The reason why the Church does not consider the Anglicans to have Apostolic Succession is:

  1. due to the invalidity of their Orders,
  2. as well as their profession of heresy on many points of essential Catholic doctrine.
  • Can a Pope alter the form of a Sacrament so that it does not clearly express the essence of that Sacrament?

I really do appreciate your reply, and would like to have this resolved.

Thanks again for your time.


An Anonymous Friend replied to Mike:

Hi, Mike —

This is an issue raised by some people who question or even deny the validity of episcopal ordinations performed with the Rite of Ordination, issued by Blessed Paul VI in 1968.

Dissatisfaction with some aspects of the rite arose fairly soon after its publication, saying that the rites didn't include enough explicit expression about the meaning of ordination.

For example, one book on the history of ordination rites (Rites of Ordination by Paul Bradshaw) says that the prayer of ordination of priests was criticized as having focused too much on Old Testament priesthood and not enough on the priesthood of Christ. The 1968 prayer of consecration of bishops was taken from patristic sources, and some parts of the prayer of consecration were not said by all the concelebrating bishops, as had been done in the previous (1962) edition.

In 1989, Pope St. John Paul II had the rite revised to make it express the theology of ordination more explicitly and consistently; for example, introductions were added with explanations of the Church's theology of ordination. Some elements that had been removed were restored in order to make clear what the rite accomplishes.

Here's a link to Bradshaw's book:

The critique from some traditionalists, including the accusation of invalidity, involves technical issues of sacramental theology and liturgical history. Perhaps the foremost presentation of the accusing case is in the writings of the sedevacantist scholar Fr. Anthony Cekada: it's a book-length subject, really. So is the defenders' case: the traditionalist writer Michael Davies, allied with Archbishop Lefebvre, agreed that there were flaws in the rite, but argued that they were not severe enough to make it invalid.

Anyone who is curious to learn about that debate only needs to run a Google search to find books by Cekada and Davies, and writings by others. I know very little about the whole controversy, and I wouldn't pretend to discuss either side of the case meaningfully, however, we can recall that the Catholic Church is indefectible, meaning it is going to remain as a visible society and endure until the end of the world, exactly as Christ instituted it.

That is enough to tell us that the Church, guided by the successors of St. Peter, cannot present an ordination rite for bishops that doesn't work.

An Anonymous Friend

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