Validity of Sacraments

“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.”

As Catholics we understand that the sacraments, when properly administered, are visible rites and efficacious channels through which the sanctifying grace of God flows to those who receive them with the proper disposition. This grace is a treasure of treasures. It is the duty of the local Church to ensure that everyone entrusted into her care has the full benefit and certainty that come from the valid reception of the sacraments, which have been given to us to keep us as secure as possible on the path to heaven.

Knowing this, the Archdiocese of Detroit is committed to ensuring the validity of sacraments celebrated in our communities. This commitment came into focus in August of 2020, when the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a clarification regarding the validity of baptisms in which the words used by the priest or deacon are different than those in the approved liturgical text. Importantly, the Vatican's clarification included a reference to 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.”

This detail has prompted the Archdiocese to identify and examine any other irregularities, such as the minister of baptism inviting a second person to pour the baptismal water, to determine their potential impact on the sacrament's validity.

In the time since the Vatican's clarification, Archbishop Vigneron has recommitted himself and the Archdiocese to ensuring the integrity of sacramental liturgies and responding to any irregular situations that come to light. We offer the information below as a resource to all the faithful as part of these efforts. Should you have additional questions or concerns, please contact your parish or use the form below to contact the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Frequently Asked Questions
Why are valid sacraments important?

We can always trust that God will assist those whose hearts are open to Him. However, we enjoy a much greater degree of confidence when we strengthen 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 Reconciliation (or Confession) restores sanctifying grace if it has been lost – as does the Sacrament of the Sick if a person is unconscious and properly disposed. Indeed, all the sacraments increase and fortify sanctifying grace in the soul. When properly administered, the sacraments are visible rites and efficacious channels through which the sanctifying grace of God flows to those who receive them with the proper disposition. This grace -- and our ability to experience it flowing through the sacraments -- is a treasure of treasures.

What is the Archdiocese of Detroit doing to ensure the integrity of the sacraments and identify potential issues?

Archbishop Vigneron has used this opportunity to remind priests of the importance of using the correct matter (material) and form (words/gestures, such as pouring or immersion in water by the one saying the words) when celebrating the sacraments. In addition, there is a team dedicated to responding to potential irregularities reported by priests or any member of the faithful. If invalid sacraments are discovered, this team will work with any parishes involved to contact anyone affected directly.

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.

How does one determine whether a sacrament is valid?

For a sacrament to be valid, 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 (the form). However, if he uses an apple (the incorrect matter), the Sacrament of the Eucharist is not confected.

If it has been determined that a person was invalidly baptized, are his or her other sacraments valid?

Since they generally cannot be validly received in the soul without valid baptism, some other sacraments are invalid, like was the case with Father Hood in August 2020. Anyone with concerns about their baptism should speak to their pastor about steps that can be taken to remedy the situation.

What happens if a person dies after being invalidly baptized?

While such a person may have passed into eternal life without a valid baptism, it is important to reflect on the fact that they (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. 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 theologiae III, 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 anyone who has died after seeking, in good faith, to receive baptism did not leave this life without some measure of grace and forgiveness from God.

Where can I learn more about the invalid baptisms announced in August 2020?

Immediately following the Vatican's announcement regarding the validity of baptisms in which the words used by the priest or deacon are different than those in the approved liturgical text, it was discovered that at least one deacon in the Archdiocese of Detroit had decided to change the proper words (formula) to baptism during many years of ministry at one of our parishes. At the time, Archbishop Vigneron issued a letter to the faithful (also available in Spanish) about the Archdiocese's efforts to remedy that situation. In addition, the Archdiocese released a set of frequently asked questions, which are available here for reference.

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.