In my recent article at Catholic Stand, “An Unexpected Refresher Course on the Sacraments,” I spoke about the invalid ordination of Fr. Matthew Hood of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Father was viewing a video of his own baptism when he discovered that the deacon who performed the ceremony used the incorrect formula for baptism (“We baptize you…” instead of “I baptize you…”). The sad consequence of the deacon’s error was an invalid baptism for little baby Matthew that day.

In short, Father Hood went through thirty years of his life under the assumption that he was a baptized Catholic. He received other sacraments, Penance, Eucharist, Confirmation and ultimately Holy Orders – but all of them were null and void because of his invalid baptism. To explain why this is the case, let’s start with an analogy about the sacraments.

The lock and the key

Baptism is the condition for receiving all the other sacraments, including Holy Orders. Baptism cleanses the soul spiritually with the pouring of water and the minster anoints the baptized person with the Oil of Chrism, which has the effect of “sealing” the soul as a form of spiritual consecration to the Blessed Trinity. Baptism spiritually “locks” the soul against the powers of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

And how do you open a locked door? With a key.

The other six sacraments fit together with Baptism like a lock and key to sanctify the human soul. If Baptism seals/locks the door, the other sacraments open it and let God’s rivers of grace flow in.

Conversely, if the soul is unbaptized, it has no door or seal. Any sacramental actions performed on that soul would be like the seed that fell on the hard footpath in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9) where the birds come and eat the seed before it can take root and bear fruit. Even if correctly performed, the sacraments have no effect on an unbaptized soul.

This is the reason why Father Hood received no other sacraments in his life, including Holy Orders. It’s not that he did not want to receive them. It’s that he could not receive them. The keys of the other sacraments found no lock to open. The sacraments fell like so much seed on a hard path.

The fallout of an invalid ordination

A number of people have asked me what the implications are for all the people that Fr. Hood ministered to during the three years of his priestly ministry as a Not-Validly-Ordained (NVO) priest. The answer is simple: the sacraments that require a priest to minister them were all invalid.

This means that all Masses, Confessions and Anointings of the Sick that NVO Father Hood performed had no sacramental effects on the people who went through those ceremonies. (A bishop is the proper minister of Confirmation, so Father Hood would not have conducted any Confirmations.) Baptisms and weddings are another story, which I will address below. Let’s look carefully at the first three.

Regarding the celebration of the Eucharist:

All Fr. Hood’s Masses were invalid. He did not have the spiritual power to consecrate the Eucharist because he was not validly ordained, therefore, he did not actually consecrate the bread and wine at Mass even though he pronounced the words of consecration and performed the actions associated with it. Objectively speaking, all of his Masses looked like Masses but were actually pious prayer services.

As a result, the congregants received nothing more than a piece of bread at communion time. Depending on their personal dispositions at the time of Mass, his parishioners could have received grace at those ceremonies similar to the way anyone can make a spiritual communion outside of Mass, but they did not receive sacramental graces of the Eucharist at those events.

Regarding Confession:

As an NVO priest, all of Father Hood’s absolutions in the Sacrament of Penance were also invalid. Any penitents who went to the sacrament with repentant hearts (which is a normal condition of receiving forgiveness anyway) would have had their sins forgiven by Christ directly, but they would not have received the sacramental grace that the absolution of the priest communicates.

The people who went to Confession to NVO Father Hood are not required to re-confess their sins unless they wish to do so for the sake of deeper repentance and experience of sacramental grace in their lives. The sins are already gone, but the faithful could still deepen their spiritual lives through a proper re-confession.

This same dynamic holds for any administration of the Anointing of the Sick by NVO Father Hood, since this sacrament also conveys absolution from sin. The sick person may have received a degree of consolation from the words and actions being performed over him (such as the laying on of hands), but he would not have received the specific grace of that sacrament.

Baptisms and weddings

As I noted in another short piece about the seven sacraments, Baptism and Matrimony do not strictly require a priest for their administration.

Regarding Baptism:

Although the priest is the ordinary minister of Baptism in our Church, anyone can baptize validly in extraordinary circumstances as long as they use the correct formula that baby Matthew Hood’s deacon did not use: “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” They must also wish to do it with the same intention of the Church, which is for the salvation of the one being baptized.

In other words, everyone that NVO Father Hood baptized (babies or adults) received a valid – though irregular – Baptism. The anointing with the Oil of Chrism in these ceremonies, however, would have had no effect since that element requires a validly ordained priest to administer it. The person would thus be cleansed and sanctified by the waters of Baptism but the spiritual “sealing” would not be as strong without the application of Chrism.

Any person who would seek to be re-baptized after learning of NVO Father Hood’s dilemma would not have water poured on his head a second time (the first time sufficed) but would go through the other elements of the ceremony for the “sealing” dimension of the sacrament to take full effect.

Regarding Matrimony:

Most people think that a priest is the one who administers the Sacrament of Matrimony, when in fact the couple are the proper ministers of their own sacrament. However, marriage in the Catholic Church requires another element for validity; namely, the necessity of pronouncing vows in front of an ordained minister of the Church (Code of Canon Law, canons 1108, 1111).

In certain circumstances, however, the representative of the Church may be a lay person (canon 1112), and in extraordinary circumstances a valid marriage can be contracted even without a representative of the Church present (canon 1116).

In this complex case, it will probably be up to the judgment of the Archbishop of Detroit as to whether these marriages fulfilled the proper canonical “form” without an ordained representative of the Church present.

The Archbishop may decide that NVO Father Hood fulfilled the condition of a lay representative of the Church for the sacrament’s validity or that the circumstances were so extreme that the marriages were valid due to the presence of the two witnesses alone.

Apparently the Archdiocese of Detroit is in the process of seeking out those who may have been invalidly married by NVO Father Hood. Even if Church authorities ultimately decide on the validity of the marriages, the Archdiocese may give couples the option of going through the essential ceremony again using the proper form (priest and two witnesses) if they have scruples about it. The benefit of the doubt in church law always goes to the faithful.

If the couple was validly married in the eyes of God the first time, re-performing the essential elements (vows) will not harm them. If they were not married due to this defect in the form, a repetition of the vows in the presence of a validly ordained priest and two witnesses will rectify their sacramental marriage – and give them grace and peace.

A golden opportunity to evangelize

As unusual as this situation is for the Church and the faithful, it represents an enormous opportunity for teaching about the sacraments and for deepening people’s faith and spiritual commitments.  The highly unusual nature of this anomaly is an opening for the Church

  • To clarify what sacraments are and the conditions for their valid reception;
  • To emphasize the need for spiritual preparation for and participation in the sacraments (in case the priest is not actually ordained!); and
  • To give glory to God for the rivers of grace that flood our souls through the Catholic sacraments.

Blessings to all!

You may also wish to download a PDF of the matter and form for all seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church.