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Hello, most reverend Father Angelo.

I have been following your various arguments on the website with great interest for some years, that is, since I found it, and I sincerely thank you for the free and very useful service you carry out through it.

I would like to ask you a question about an aspect that I have not yet fully managed to decipher: I often hear in the ecclesiastical sphere about some things, referring for example to a wedding or to the celebration of a mass, which could present the characteristics of “valid but illicit”. I therefore ask you if you could explain to me what exactly is meant by “valid but illicit”; at first glance, these two words seem to have such an opposite meaning that it seems difficult to imagine them referring to the same thing at the same time, but I’m sure that if Mother Church allows such an expression there is a specific meaning which I do not know.

Would you help me understand its meaning?

Waiting for your cordial response, I ask for prayers, which I reciprocate, for me and for my family.

Gian Paolo

Answer of the priest

Dear Gian Paolo,

1. when we speak of the validity (ad validitatem) of the sacraments, we mean that they were celebrated with all the necessary and essential constituents of the sacrament.

If even one were missing, the sacrament would not have been celebrated.

For example, the essential matter of Baptism is water.

Equally necessary are the words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.

In fact, the sacraments are essentially signs. In the absence of the sign, the sacrament is not celebrated.

2. By liceity (ad liceitatem) we mean other qualities that are necessary for the integrity or completeness of the sacrament or for its fruitfulness.

These additional circumstances or dispositions are not constitutive of the essence or the substance of the sacrament.

For Baptism, for example, the required matter is not simply water, but blessed water. In fact, it is used water blessed in the Easter vigil or other water blessed on the spot by the minister, as prescribed in the Baptismal Ritual.

3. Well, the blessing does not pertain to the essence of water, but to a prescription established by the Church.

Therefore, in case of necessity, Baptism is conferred with any water, even if it is not blessed, because the blessing of the water for Baptism is not required ad validitatem, but only ad liceitatem.

4. What I have said so far for the matter of the sacrament also applies to the form, that is, to the words of the sacrament.

The same is true also for the minister who celebrates the sacrament and for the one who receives the sacrament (the subject).

5. To give examples relating to the celebration of Mass, the required matter is bread. This is ad validitatem.

However, the Latin Church prescribes that bread be unleavened, that is, without yeast, because Christ used unleavened bread.

If the Eucharist was celebrated with leavened bread, it would be valid, but it would be celebrated with an illicit matter, because it is prohibited by the Church.

6. As regards the minister of the Mass, it is required ad validitatem that he be a priest.

Ad liceitatem it is required that he is also in a state of grace.

So that if a priest celebrated in mortal sin he would validly consecrate. However, as subjectively lacking an interior disposition essential for the fruitfulness of the sacrament, he would consecrate illicitly.

This time the behavior is gravely illicit because it exposes the sacrament to its fruitlessness and thus the priest would commit a sacrilege.

7. In the same way, marriage ministers are the man and the woman who are free (i.e., not bound by the bond of a prior marriage).

But for the fruitfulness of the sacrament it is required that they, who are its ministers, be in a state of grace.

So if they marry conscious of a grave sin they marry validly, because the essence of marriage is the will to marry (consent).

However, they marry illicitly because they prevent the Sacrament from communicating to them the grace that helps them to live in the matrimonial consent according to Christ.

In this case, like the priest who celebrates conscious of a grave sin, they too commit sacrilege, exposing the sacrament to fruitlessness.

8. Many other examples could be given, but these are sufficient to give an idea of ​​what is meant by valid and licit celebration and valid but illicit celebration.

I gladly remember you and your whole family in prayer, for the Lord to fulfill your wishes.

I wish you well and bless you.

Father Angelo

Translated by Chiara P.