Faced with the perpetuation of liturgical abuses, with the Note “Gestis verbisque” the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith reiterates that the words and elements established in the essential rite of each sacrament cannot be changed, because in this case the sacrament does not exist.
It’s titled “Verbisque gestures” the Note from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith published this Saturday, February 3rd. A text discussed and approved by the member cardinals and bishops at the recent Plenary of the Dicastery and, therefore, approved by Pope Francis, with which it is reiterated that the formulas and material elements established in the essential rite of the sacrament cannot be altered at will in name of creativity. In so doing, in fact, the sacrament itself is not valid and therefore never existed.
In presenting the document, Cardinal Victor Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery, explains its genesis, that is, “the multiplication of situations in which it was necessary to establish the invalidity of the sacraments celebrated” with modifications that “had later led to the need to trace the people involved to repeat the rite of baptism or confirmation and a significant number of faithful correctly expressed their concern».
Changes in the baptism formula are cited as an example, for example: «I baptize you in the name of the Creator…» and «In the name of the father and the mother… we baptize you». Circumstances that also worried some priests, who “having been baptized with formulas of this type, painfully discovered the invalidity of their ordination and the sacraments celebrated until then”.
The cardinal explains that «while in other areas of the Church’s pastoral action there is ample space for creativity», in the context of the celebration of the sacraments this «becomes a “manipulative will”».
Priority to God’s actions
«With events and words closely interconnected – we read in the Doctrinal Note – God reveals and carries out his plan of salvation for every man and woman». Unfortunately, “it must be noted that the liturgical celebration, in particular that of the sacraments, is not always carried out in full fidelity to the rites prescribed by the Church”. The Church “has the duty to ensure the priority of God’s actions and to safeguard the unity of the Body of Christ in those actions that have no equal because they are sacred “par excellence” with an effectiveness guaranteed by the priestly action of Christ”. The Church is also “aware that administering God’s grace does not mean appropriating it, but becoming an instrument of the Spirit in transmitting the Easter gift of Christ. She knows, in particular, that her potestas in relation to the sacraments before their substance” and that “in sacramental gestures she must safeguard the salvific gestures that Jesus entrusted to her”.
Matter and form
The Note explains, therefore, that “the matter of the sacrament consists of the human action through which Christ acts. Sometimes there is a material element present (water, bread, wine, oil), other times a particularly eloquent gesture (sign of the cross, laying on of hands, immersion, infusion, consent, anointing)”.
As for the form of the sacrament, it “is constituted by the word, which gives a transcendent meaning to matter, transfiguring the ordinary meaning of the material element and the purely human meaning of the action performed. Such a word is always inspired, to varying degrees, by Sacred Scripture, has its roots in living ecclesiastical Tradition and has been defined with authority by the Magisterium of the Church.” Therefore, matter and form “have never depended and cannot depend on the will of a single individual or a single community”.
The document reiterates that “for all sacraments, in each case, observance of the matter and form has always been required for the validity of the celebration, with the awareness that arbitrary modifications of one and/or the other – whose gravity and strength that invalidate, are verified from time to time, compromise the effective granting of sacramental grace, with obvious harm to the faithful.” What is read in the promulgated liturgical books must be faithfully observed without “adding, removing or altering anything”.
The art of celebrating
The liturgy allows for variety that preserves the Church from “rigid uniformity”, as stated in the Conciliar Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium. But this variety and creativity, which favor greater intelligibility of the rite and the active participation of the faithful, cannot relate to what is essential in the celebration of the sacraments.