Another article referencing the recent
statement by the CDF on baptismal formulas.
“If someone knows for a fact they were
baptized with another other formula,” they should say something, said
Susan Wood, a theology professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee.
But if they don’t know the wording used, they shouldn’t be anxious, she
If the baptism took place without the words “Father, Son and Holy
Spirit,” without anyone realizing it, she said the baptized person
still receives grace as part of the church tradition called “ecclesia
supplet,” meaning the church supplies graces if through no fault of an
individual something is not quite right.
Wood, who is currently writing a book on the ecumenical and systematic
theology of baptism, said she was pleased with the Vatican
announcement, noting that there has been a change in baptismal practice
in recent years, primarily in Protestant churches but also in some
Catholic churches that use gender-neutral terms to refer to the Trinity.
“Hopefully this will bring attention to it and bring a return to the
more traditional formula,” she said, adding that the pastoral response
should be “to be aware of what’s correct and why and move forward,
honoring the tradition of the church.”
Wood pointed out that an attempt to “avoid male language for God ends
up creating more serious problems for Trinitarian theology,” because
the wording takes away the relationship that each member of the Trinity
has with the other and ends up reducing members of the Trinity to their
“The personal relationship gets lost” in the attempts to “be
politically correct,” she said.
Quoting another church tradition, Wood said, “We believe according to
how we pray,” meaning that prayer formulas influence what one believes.
In the case of gender-neutral language for the Trinity, she said, it
takes away the unique relationship among the Father, Son and Holy
Spirit, and provides an incomplete understanding that could “seriously
affect the faith life of the church.”
She explains this very well, though I
might quibble with the use of
“ecclesia supplet” in this circumstance. The term for the “Church
provides” has been bandied about recently in regards to the CDF’s
Canon lawyer Ed Peters previously
explained on his blog in reaction to Fr. Francis Hoffman
OSV’s The Catholic Answer.
My concern is not with Fr. Hoffman’s
answer but with an additional comment he offered at the end:
“Nevertheless, the penitent’s sins are forgiven because it was no fault
of his own the priest used an invalid formula.” Hmmm. Careful here.
Continuing: “In this case, as sacramental theologians point out,
Ecclesia supplet, that is, the Church provides, out of her treasury of
grace, the proper remedy for the defect of the minister’s actions.”
Maybe this is a quibble between canonists, but I’m not so sure.
I understand the concept of Ecclesia supplet (1983 CIC 144.1) to
describe the Church’s power to supply, under limited circumstances,
jurisdiction for an act. But there is no question in this case about
whether the confessor had jurisdiction; rather, what was missing were
sacramental words, that is, some of the words which the Church holds to
be necessary for validity of the sacrament. Since what was defective
was sacramental form, I don’t see how the Church’s ability to supply
jurisdiction helps our penitent. To adapt a phrase, Ecclesia non
supplet quod Ecclesia non habet; the Church cannot supply what the
Church does not have, and the Church does not have the ability to
supply sacramental form to a minister’s deficient utterance. Many
historical examples of invalid baptisms, confirmations, or ordinations
would seem to bear this out. Ecclesia supplet does not remedy those
cases wherein innocent persons bore the consequences of ministers
making invalidating changes in sacramental form, and I don’t think it
does so for confession, either.
So where does that leave our penitent?
Well, even though Ecclesia supplet seems of no avail here,
nevertheless, we may hold that, in some way, Deus providet, that is,
God provides, or God foresees. If tragedy were to befall a hapless
penitent, I think, like Fr. Hoffman, that one’s efforts to seek
absolution for sins in this life would somehow be rewarded by God in
But short of that, God provides in other ways, too, right here and
right now. He provides by giving us priests like Fr. Hoffman who will
tell it like it is and alert penitents that such absolutions are
invalid; He provides by telling these penitents that, while He knows
these mistakes were not their fault, He still expects them to act on
their knowledge of the invalidity of such absolutions and return to
confession (assuming we’re talking about grave sins, etc.); and I even
think He provides by giving the faithful the confidence to contact
their confessors, and if necessary their bishops, to inform them of
serious violations of the gift that is sacramental confession.
Meanwhile, the rest of us need to be wary lest we assume too quickly
that Ecclesia supplet will remedy serious mistakes in ministry just
because they were not the fault of the faithful. Salvo sapientiorum
It is too bad that there are other
formulas being used througout Christianity, but this is not just
limited to feminist theology and so-called inclusive language.
A segment of Protestantism such as Oneness Pentecostals and
others also use an invalid baptismal formula by baptizing
“In Jesus’ name.” This is no suprise since Oneness
Pentecostals are not Trinitarian, but some others also baptize
this way since they think the shortcut term referenced in the Book of
Acts somehow trumps Jesus’ own words in Matthew 28:19. Though
it is not just the correct formula that is important since the Vatican
previously ruled that Mormon baptisms were invalid since there intent
is certainly not Trinitarian even though they baptize “In the name of
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In sacramental theology there must be
proper matter and form along with proper intent for there to be a valid