Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church XXIV: Crying Wolf: The Question of Valid Orders, continued

In the previous post we looked at the issue of the “validity” of sacraments and I mentioned that while claims that the sacramental systems of rival groups within the Church (and without) were invalid stretch all the way back into the third and fourth centuries, the criteria we use today—matter, form, minister, and intention—emerge in the Middle Ages with the switch to scholastic theology from the patristic theology of the first millennium. 
We looked at “matter” and “correct minister” in that earlier posting.  Matter is the material—bread and wine for the Eucharist, water for baptism, etc. necessary for the sacrament.  The correct minister is the person having the authority to administer the sacrament—in some cases a bishop, in others a priest, in the case of baptism and matrimony, a lay person can be the minister of the sacrament.  In this post, we will look at “form” and “intention.”  The “form” are the words used, the formula for administering the sacrament.  The “form” of baptism is “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”   In Penance, or Reconciliation as it is sometimes known, it is “I absolve you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” 
There can be much variety in form.  In the Eastern Rites, followed by Byzantine Catholics (among others) as well as Orthodox, sacramental formulae are usually in the passive voice: “The Servant of God, N., is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  Ever since the days of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the form for the Eucharist has been: This is my Body; This is the Chalice of my Blood…”  But about twenty years ago a question came to the congregation of Rites regarding an ancient Eucharistic Liturgy, the Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari used in the East Syrian Tradition since apostolic times, in which there are no such “words of Instiution.”  That is to say, the bishop or priest never says: “This is my Body; This is my Blood.”  Faced with an apostolic tradition to the contrary, the Catholic Church backed down about the necessity of having these words for a “valid” Mass.  Moreover, while the Western Church had claimed that the Words of Institution were essential to the Eucharist, the Eastern Church—Catholic and Orthodox, always claimed that the Epiclesis, the Prayer calling down the Holy Spirit, was the actual consecratory prayer.  The various approved Rites of the Church do not all follow the same formulae in administering the sacraments so we need to be clear that there is no one set of words required for a sacrament—any sacrament—to be valid.  There is legitimate variety in sacramental form. 
As for “intention”—this is the trickiest of all criterion.  If a priest says the right words, but does not intend to forgive the penitent, is the penitent forgiven?  If a priest says “This is my Body” but does not himself believe that in the Eucharist the bread becomes the Body of Christ, does the bread remain only bread?   If a priest, in his dotage, goes into a bakery and says: “This is my Body,” does all the bread in the bakery become the Sacrament of the Eucharist?
Here is the real rub that we must consider: if a bishop, in ordaining a priest, intends to ordain him for preaching but not for offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice, is the man validly ordained?   And what, if in addition to not intending to ordain a sacrificing priest, the bishop uses words that do not mention that the priest is being ordained to offer sacrifice—does the “form” prove to be insufficient for validity?  And what if, the bishop himself is not a validly ordained bishop—is then the priest not a validly ordained priest?   Keep these questions in mind as they will become very important points of dispute between the Anglican and Papal parties and continue today to be unresolved points of dispute.
It will take a while for this issue to surface.  When Henry VIII separated the Anglican Church from Communion with the Papacy, he did not change any theology.  Nor did the liturgy—including the rites of Ordination—change in Henry’s day.  The bishops and priests ordained under Henry were validly ordained. No one disputes that.  But after Henry’s death, during the reign of his son, King Edward VI, there were changes in the ritual and changes in the doctrine that raise serious questions about the continuation of sacramental life in the Anglican Communion.   

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