Questions Answered – November 2022

Incomplete Consecration and its Consequences

Question: At Mass yesterday, the parish priest forgot to bring wine in preparing for Mass. Instead of going to the sacristy to get some he remained in the sanctuary and consecrated the hosts — but, obviously, not the chalice — during the Eucharistic prayer! He then distributed the consecrated hosts to the faithful. Am I right in thinking the whole Eucharistic sacrifice was ipso facto defective because incomplete and therefore Our Lord wasn’t present in the “consecrated” hosts? Or was this a matter of a valid but illicit Mass and therefore Our Lord was present in the consecrated hosts (ex opere operato) even though this was technically against Canon 927? Thank you in advance.

Answer: Briefly, the hosts were validly consecrated, but since the wine was absent and not consumed, this was not the Sacrifice of the Mass. It was a communion service only. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the liturgy as Vatican II teaches. It is truly a sacrifice offered for the living and the dead in an unbloody way. It has the nature of a sacrifice not as rivaling the bloody sacrifice of Christ on Calvary but as applying its benefits as Christ the priest and victim offers himself spiritually for us the faithful before his Father in heaven.

It is also the completion of the Passover meal which Christ celebrated on Holy Thursday when he instituted the Eucharist. Dr. Hahn has an insightful book, The Fourth Cup, in which he connects the Passover meal with the death of Christ on the cross by pointing out that the Apostles left the Upper Room without drinking the ritual culminating cup normally associated with the Passover Meal thus leaving it incomplete. The final cup occurs when Christ drinks from the sponge on the Cross and clearly states: “It is consummated!” before his death. The redemption is consummated, that is, accomplished. So the Eucharist is at one time a meal and a sacrifice, spiritual food and consumed offering in which the victim is entirely consumed as in the sacrifice of the holocaust in the Old Testament.

If the priest acted in the way you describe, he denied both aspects. The bread was truly consecrated by transubstantiation, which is the reason it is elevated after its consecration. But since only one element was consecrated, there was no sacrifice and the Mass was incomplete. The consecration of both elements and their consumption are both necessary for the sacrifice and for the faithful to participate in the heavenly meal which is ongoing and eternal. Though Holy Communion might occur for the faithful, this is not Mass. Such a situation might be akin to what was known as the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts which the Latin Church celebrates on Good Friday. Communion is received under only one form and so is valid, but no Mass or Sacrifice takes place.

If the priest purposely did this from laziness or just because he neglected to find the wine, then not only is the Mass invalid but it is probably a sin for him to celebrate it. If it was merely due to an accidental oversight and he in good faith wanted the faithful to still receive Holy Communion, then the Mass would still be invalid but only due to a lack of prudence on his part. In either case, it should never be done or repeated. Someone must finish the incomplete Mass.

Confession for Non-Catholics?

Question: Can a Protestant go to Confession and validly receive absolution? How should a priest pastorally handle such a situation when a Protestant spontaneously seeks the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Of course, baptized persons being received into full communion are exhorted to go to Confession before their reception. Also, in danger of death, the Church opens wide the gates of grace. What if such a significant reason is absent, and a Protestant shows up in the confessional seeking to unburden themselves or more generally to pursue self-improvement (consider, for example, in the context of a freshman retreat on a college campus)? I have not seen this questions treated anywhere in writing.

Answer: Many people today are fascinated by the practice of Catholic confession. Some non-Catholics seek this practice because of the secrecy of the seal. It would be good to clarify when and how this is possible for non-Catholics and if in such cases the priest can give absolution.

First, it must stated that ordinarily only baptized Catholics can receive the sacrament of penance which includes absolution from sin. The Catechism teaches: “Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to members of the Christian faithful alone who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone.” (844.1) In addition to this the Code of Canon Law states that if it is morally impossible for a Catholic to receive a sacrament from a Catholic minister, in grave necessity, such as danger of death, a Catholic may receive the sacraments from any minister provided the sacraments are valid, even if they are not in communion with Rome. These would be some of the Eastern churches.

The opposite would also apply, as the Code further states: “Catholic ministers can licitly administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick to members of the oriental churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord for the sacraments, and are properly disposed. This holds also for members of other churches which, in the judgement of the Apostolic See, are in the same condition as the oriental churches as far as these sacraments are concerned.” (844.3) These clarifications apply specifically to the Eastern Orthodox, the Copts, the Abyssinians, the Armenians, etc.

The danger of death is a special circumstance. The Code continues: “If the danger of death is present or other grace necessity, in the judgement of the diocesan bishop or the national conference of bishops, Catholic ministers may licitly administer these sacraments to other Christians who do not have full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community, and on their own ask for it, provided they manifest the Catholic faith in these sacraments and are properly disposed.” (844.4)

This canon would refer to those who are Protestants. An example might be an Anglican priest who has come to believe in the fullness of the Catholic faith but is retired and would lose his livelihood if he formally converted. The Protestant must believe what the Church teaches on this subject and actually on the other sacraments as well. On this case alone would the absolution of sins be possible. Otherwise, a Protestant may certainly go to confession and what he says is under the Seal but he cannot receive valid absolution. This is because confession is primarily to Christ through the ministry of the Church taking its origin from the Apostles.

Confession is not just a healing in relationship to Christ with its origin in God’s mercy but is also a reintegration into the sacramental life of the Church. If the penitent in question wanted to be fully integrated into the life of the Catholic Church, they would seek baptism or full confession of unity with the Church, including a repudiation of their errors in their former confession of faith.

It is true that those who are converting make their confession before baptism or the profession of faith, but this is also part of a process with naturally ends in the profession of faith or baptism. It could certainly be argued that the absolution only takes effect once one is either baptized or makes such a profession.

In any case, the short answer would be that for those churches whose sacraments are valid but are not in communion with Rome, confession is good for the soul and absolution is valid. In those extraordinary cases with the judgement of the Church on a personal basis the same might be true. In all other cases, those who confess to a priest certainly can avail themselves of the seal and such a practice is good for the soul but absolution cannot be granted. I think this would cover the practice of confession on a college retreat by a non-Catholic.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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  1. Avatar Fr. J. S. Bailey says:

    For clarity:

    Converts to the Catholic Church who are to be baptized do not need to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance before Baptism. One of the effects of Baptism is the complete remission of sin, original and actual. Further, the non-baptized cannot be absolved as only the baptized can receive the Sacraments.

    Validly baptized Christians who are received into the Church by making a Profession of Faith must make a confession of all mortal sins committed during their whole life up to that point in number and kind before receiving any other sacrament lest they commit sacrilege.

    For the Sacrifice of the Mass to be effected and complete it is only necessary for the priest to consume both the Body and Blood of Christ. It is never necessary for the laity to receive under both kinds or even communicate at all.

    • Avatar DOUSSEVI Guillaume says:

      Thanks Father for this clarity. Now is forbidden to allow laity to communicate under both species. A case where you have like eight faithful at mass.