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Good morning Father Angelo,

My name is Alessandro and I would like to ask you about the validity of the Holy Mass. Talking with a friend on the question of the validity of the Holy Mass, he emphasized the fundamental importance of celebrating the Holy Mass according to the intentions of the Church, or the Mass is invalid. I told my friend that the sacraments are effective ex opere operato and that what counts are the matter and the form that in the Holy Mass are the unleavened wheat bread and grape wine, and the formula “take it and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you”. He reiterated that if the priest does not celebrate according to the intentions of the Church, or does not believe in the celebration as a sacrifice, the Holy Mass is invalid, (he himself asked a priest if he believed in the sacrifice of the Mass, who denied it, unfortunately) and in addition whoever participates in such a celebration being aware that it is not celebrated according to the intentions of the Church commits a mortal sin. Now my question is the following: If my friend is right (and I ask you if this is true) how is it possible for a parishioner to know if a priest celebrates according to the intentions of the Church? Should he go to the sacristy before Mass and ask every priest ?

I thank you. I remember you in prayer.

Answer from the priest

Dear Alessandro,

 1. The matter, the form and also the intention are certainly necessary for the validity of the celebration of a Sacrament, and therefore also of the Eucharist, which is the greatest Sacrament, indeed it is The Sacrament par excellence,.

 2. The matter is made of those tangible and material elements with which the Sacrament is celebrated. In our case, it is wheat bread and wine made from grapes.

3. The form is constituted by the consecrating words. In our case, they are the words uttered over the bread: “This is  my body, which will be given up for you,” and those uttered over the wine: “This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins”. 

 4. But the intention is equally critical and necessary. It is not ritual magic; it is the personal intention of the priest to associate himself to the real celebrant, that is, Christ, the high and eternal priest, so that through our ministry He may make present on our altars the sacrifice of the cross, to the benefit of those present, of those for which it is offered and of all those alive or dead. 

5. We should not forget that the priest, in the celebration of the Sacraments, never acts autonomously and independently, as if he were the owner of the Sacraments. He is a person called by Christ to cooperate with Him, in the way of secondary and instrumental causality, to extend His priesthood for our sanctification. The minister consciously accepts to join Christ and cooperate with Him. In fact, he accepts the Lord’s invitation with his intention to act according to His will and the will of the Church. This intention is absolutely necessary because only in this way he joins Christ. 

6. St. Thomas clarifies that the intention is also required by the very nature of the means which, in this case, is human. Now, while for an inanimate object the action of the principal agent is sufficient (the brush paints if it is handled by the hand), in the case of a “human means”, which is free, the adhesion of the will, i.e., the intention, is required to cooperate with the principal agent, that is, with Christ and with the Church.

7.The Intention is also required by the nature of sacramental signs, which, if they are not natural (like the smoke  is sign of something burning), must be used to mean something in particular (the water can be used for many purposes).

8. The intention to do what the Lord intends to do is indicated in the words pronounced during the celebration of the Sacrament (the form). The Council of Florence (1439) affirmed that the intention is needed: “All the sacraments are made perfect by three facts: by the elements as the matter, by the words as the form, and by the person of the minister who celebrates the Sacrament with the intention to do what the Church does: if one of these is missing, the Sacrament cannot be celebrated ”(DS 1312). Alexander VIII then condemned the following proposition: “Baptism conferred by a minister who observes every external element of the rite and also the form of Baptism is valid even if in his heart he does not intend to do what the Church does” (DS 2328) .

9. The priest you referred to in your email, who does not believe in the sacrament of the Eucharist that he celebrates, while committing a very grievous act, i.e., a sacrilege, because he does not celebrate with the required moral dispositions, he celebrates a valid Mass. By the mere fact that he goes to the altar to celebrate the Sacrament, he agrees to allow himself to be directed by the intention of the Church which is present during the celebration. This means that he intends to do what the Church intends to do even if he does not believe in it.

10. Only in one case would the Sacrament be invalid: if, deep down inside, he said “I do not intend to consecrate”, “nor do I intend to let myself be directed by the will of the Church present here”. If he did so, no one would notice.  The Sacrament would be celebrated only in its exteriority. It would be a farce. We must hope that no priest has ever intended to do this. 

I thank you for your question, I remind you to the Lord and I bless you.

Father Angelo