Pastoral care regarding the Vatican's Note on Baptism

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

On August 6, 2020, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a response to questions regarding the validity of baptisms in which the words used by the priest or deacon are different than those in the approved liturgical text. Specifically, to say, “We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” does not convey the Sacrament of baptism. Rather, ministers are to allow Jesus to speak through them and say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

By recently watching a family video taken at the time of his baptism as an infant and then reading the note issued by the Vatican, Father Matthew Hood was devastated to learn that a deacon decided to change the proper words (formula) to baptism. Father Hood immediately contacted the Archdiocese and the proper steps were taken to remedy his situation. He has now been validly baptized, confirmed and ordained.

We offer the information below as a resource to all the faithful. We encourage you to read the letter from Archbishop Vigneron and the frequently asked questions. Should you have additional questions or concerns, please contact your parish or use the form below to contact the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Letter from Archbishop Vigneron to the Faithful of the Archdiocese of Detroit

Earlier this month, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an important doctrinal note alerting the Church throughout the world that baptisms were not valid in which a particular word or words were changed. Specifically, to say “We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” does not convey the sacrament of baptism. Rather, ministers must allow Jesus to speak through them and say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

In making this clarification, the Congregation pointed to the Second Vatican Council, which established that no one “even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”

One of our priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit received this news with particular devastation. Father Matthew Hood, a graduate of Sacred Heart Major Seminary who sought ordination to the priesthood in June of 2017, had recently viewed a family video taken at the time of his baptism as an infant and realized the celebrating deacon decided to change the proper words (formula) to baptism, using “We baptize” as opposed to “I baptize.”

Read Archbishop Vigneron's full letter in English and Spanish

Frequently Asked Questions

These frequently asked questions are also available in Spanish.

What happened to Father Matthew Hood?

On August 6th, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a doctrinal note (here) alerting the Church throughout the world that baptisms were not valid in which a particular word or words were changed. Specifically, to say, “We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” does not convey the Sacrament of baptism. Rather, ministers are to allow Jesus to speak through them and say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

By recently watching a family video taken at the time of his baptism as an infant and then reading the doctrinal note issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Father Hood was devastated to learn that the deacon who did his baptism, Deacon Mark Springer, decided to change the proper words (formula) to baptism, using “We baptize” as opposed to “I baptize.” Father Hood immediately contacted the Archdiocese and the proper steps were taken to remedy his situation. He received the Sacraments of Christian Initiation (i.e. baptism, Holy Eucharist, and confirmation). After spending time on retreat, he received the Sacraments of Holy Orders, being ordained a transitional deacon and then receiving priestly ordination the evening of Monday, August 17.

My child/grandchild was baptized before Father Hood found out that he was invalidly baptized and therefore invalidly ordained. What does that mean for my child/grandchild?

Since baptism in particular can be administered by anyone who a.) has the intention to baptize according to the mind of Christ and His Church; b.) uses pure water; and c.) uses the proper form, your child/grandchild has been validly baptized. This is because Father Hood is, and has been, very diligent always to follow the liturgical directives of the Church in his ministry.

I was confirmed by Father Hood before he realized that he was invalidly baptized and therefore invalidly ordained. Was I validly confirmed?

No, you were not validly confirmed. If you have not been contacted already, you should contact your pastor to arrange to receive validly the sacrament of confirmation.

I went to confession before Father Hood realized he was not validly ordained. Did I receive absolution of my sins through him?

No, you did not receive sacramental absolution, which is the act of a priest during confession through which God grants the penitent pardon and peace. Since Father Hood was not validly ordained, he was unable to provide sacramental absolution.

However, in this situation, you should reflect on the fact that you attempted to do as Jesus instructed us in the Gospel when he gave priests the power to absolve sins (Jn. 20:22–23). You can always be comforted in the fact that God knows that you made every effort to follow His plan exactly for the forgiveness of your sins. The Church, following St. Thomas Aquinas, maintains that God has bound Himself to the sacraments, but He is not bound by the sacraments (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1257 and St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiaeIII, q. 64 a. 7 and III q. 68 a. 2). This means that while we can have certainty that God always works through the sacraments when they are properly conferred by the minister, God is not bound by the sacraments in that He can and does extend His grace in a sovereign way. We can be assured that all those who approached Father Hood, in good faith, to make a confession did not walk away without some measure of grace and forgiveness from God.

That said, if you recall any grave (mortal) sins that you would have confessed to Father Hood before he was validly ordained and you have not yet been to a subsequent confession, you must bring them to your next confession explaining to any priest what has happened. If you cannot remember if you confessed any grave sins, you should bring that fact to your next confession as well. A subsequent absolution will include those sins and will give you peace of mind.

Father Hood married us before he was validly baptized and validly ordained. Is our marriage valid?

Due to the many different situations that the engaged couple may have been in, this answer may be different for each individual couple. You should speak to your pastor as soon as possible so any steps can be taken to remedy your marital status in the Church, if necessary.

It is important to note that if it is determined that your marriage is sacramentally invalid, you are not guilty of any sin – grave or otherwise – by living as husband and wife in the time since your ceremony. You can be comforted in the fact that God knows that you made every effort to follow His plan exactly for the Sacrament of Marriage.

The Church teaches that to be guilty of a sin, the act must be one that is known, deliberate, and voluntary, which would not have been possible while a couple was completely unaware of the possible sacramental invalidity of their marriage.

I went to Mass where Father Hood presided before he was validly baptized and validly ordained. A.) Did I satisfy the grave duty I have to meet my Sunday obligation to keep the Lord’s Day holy by attending Mass? B.) Was the Mass intention(s) for which Mass was offered fulfilled? C.) Did I receive the Eucharist when I went to Holy Communion?
  • A.) Yes. Although the Mass itself was invalid, you were unaware of this and made every effort to follow God’s plan exactly for satisfying your grave duty to meet the Sunday obligation.
  • B.) No, the Mass intention(s) was/were not fulfilled, so Mass will be offered as soon as possible for the intention(s)in order to fulfill them.
  • C.) Father Hood was unable to celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist while invalidly ordained to the priesthood. As mentioned in question #4, the Church believes that God has bound Himself to the sacraments, but God is not bound by the sacraments. While it is possible that God intervened to miraculously give people the Body and Blood of Christ – as all things are possible with God – you can consider your presence at Mass and intention to receive the Eucharist as entering into a spiritual communion with our Lord. It would be profitable for you to reflect upon the disposition with which you went to receive the Holy Eucharist on that occasion(s). You can be confident that the Lord supplied some measure of grace to you in proportion to the measure of your disposition to receive Him. God is drawn to hearts that are open to Him in love.
I or a loved one was sick and was anointed before Father Hood was validly ordained. Did I/they receive the Sacrament of the Sick?

No. Again, however, this is the tension that exists in the Catechism’s observation noted above. While the sacrament was not conferred, you can be confident God was very aware of the desire to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing and supplied grace in some measure.

What happened if someone has died after being baptized invalidly by Deacon Springer or after going to confession with Father Hood before he was validly ordained a priest?

As mentioned in question #4, the Church believes that God has bound Himself to the sacraments, but God is not bound by the sacraments. This is another opportunity to reflect on the fact that this individual (or their parents, in the case of an infant’s baptism) attempted to do as Jesus instructed us in the Gospel when he gave priests the power to baptize and absolve sins. We can be comforted in the fact that it is deeply pleasing to God when an individual makes every effort to follow His plan exactly for baptism and the forgiveness of sins. We can be assured that anyone who has died after seeking, in good faith, to receive baptism from Deacon Springer or confession from Father Hood did not leave this life without some measure of grace and forgiveness from God.

Did Deacon Springer invalidly baptize other people?

Yes, inasmuch as he used the invalid formula while he was assigned at St. Anastasia. The parish will be attempting to contact the people Deacon attempted to baptize at St. Anastasia from 1986 to 1999. The Archdiocese has made his identity and parish known in an attempt to alert people who the parish may not have found a way to contact.

It has been determined that I (or my child/grandchild) was invalidly baptized by Deacon Springer. Are my other sacraments valid?

Since other sacraments cannot be validly received in the soul without valid baptism, some of your sacraments are invalid, like in the case of Father Hood. You should speak to your pastor as soon as possible so any steps can be taken to remedy your situation.

What happened to Deacon Springer?

Deacon Mark Springer, who had performed the invalid baptism was approached by Archdiocesan officials in 1999 when they had learned that he was using the pronoun “We” instead of “I” during baptisms. He was forbidden to continue using the improper formula at that time and has stated that he has abided by that directive ever since. At the time, after careful study and canonical counsel, those entrusted with this situation believed the baptisms to be valid. It was only on August 6, 2020 that the Archdiocese received notice confirming the invalidity of the words used by Deacon Springer.

Deacon Springer is retired and no longer in active ministry.

What will you do to remedy this situation of all the people that thought they received the sacraments?

Pastors of the affected parishes will be directing an outreach to all those impacted to determine if any situation needs to be remedied. The affected parishes are mainly St. Anastasia, where Deacon Springer had been assigned, and the Church of the Divine Child, where Father Hood had been assigned from 2017 until this summer. Father Hood recently started his new assignment at St. Lawrence this summer, so the Archdiocese also will work with that parish community to determine if any situation needs to be remedied.

What has been done to remedy Father Hood’s situation?

A few days after Father Hood came to this realization (August 6, 2020) and informed the Archdiocese of the matter, he received the Sacraments of Christian Initiation (i.e. baptism, Holy Eucharist, and confirmation). After spending time on retreat, he received the Sacraments of Holy Orders, being ordained a transitional deacon and then receiving priestly ordination.

Isn't it legalistic to say that, even though there was an intention to confer a sacrament, there was no sacrament because different words were used? Won’t God just take care of it?

It may be perceived as an overly strict interpretation. However, theology is a science that studies what God has told us and, when it comes to sacraments, there must not only be the right intention by the minister but also the right “matter” (material) and the right “form” (words/gestures – such as pouring or immersion in water by the one saying the words). If one of those elements is missing, the sacrament is not valid. Using the Eucharist as an example: a validly ordained priest might have the intention to confect the Eucharist. He might say the right words of consecration. However, if he uses an apple, the Sacrament of the Eucharist is not confected.

As far as God “taking care of it,” we can trust that God will assist those whose hearts are open to Him. However, we can have a much greater degree of confidence by strengthening ourselves with the sacraments He has entrusted to us. According to the ordinary plan God has established, the Sacraments are necessary for salvation: baptism brings about adoption into the family of God and places sanctifying grace in the soul, since we are not born with it, and the soul needs to have sanctifying grace when it departs from the body in order to spend eternity in heaven. Sin is a loss of sanctifying grace (a venial sin being a partial loss and a mortal sin being a total loss). The sacrament of penance (confession) restores sanctifying grace if it has been lost – as well as the sacrament of the sick if a person is unconscious and properly disposed. Indeed, all the other sacraments increase and fortify sanctifying grace in the soul. One can see then, that sanctifying grace is a treasure of treasures and we should do everything we can to protect the integrity of the sacraments and stay very close to them – receiving them as often as possible.

Why are we being told now?

When the Archdiocese became aware of this situation on August 6, efforts began immediately to prepare comprehensive resources to help share and explain the circumstances to the faithful and clergy. Simultaneously, the process began to remedy Father Hood’s sacramental status. The news was shared as soon as both tasks were complete.

How many other deacons and priests are in the situation that Father Hood was in?

None that we are aware of.

For more information

If you have questions or concerns about the validity of your sacrament(s), we invite you to submit questions using this online form.

NOTE: For those who have specific concerns about their sacraments and wish to discuss those concerns with a priest, please check the "Yes, I wish to speak with a priest" box and provide a phone number where you can be reached.