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Are Sacraments Valid if a Priest Is in a State of Mortal Sin?


A listener named Mona calls into the show and asks, “Are the Sacraments valid if a priest is in a state of mortal sin?” Mona wonders if the sin of a priest cancels out the grace of the Sacraments. Father Dave explains the Sacraments are still, in fact, valid.

“There are specific terms that we use in respect to Church law and particularly with the Sacraments. We might use the term valid kind of casually, but it has a very specific meaning in the Catholic Church. Meaning, is it a valid Sacrament? Does the grace get conferred? In the case of the Eucharist, do we, in fact, have transubstantiation, and is Jesus present or not? That’s validity. Another thing we use to measure is liceity, is it licit or not? Meaning, does it happen according to the laws? And further down the scale, we may ask if it is 100% liturgically correct. So, these are three gradations.”

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“It is a valid Mass as long as the priest at one time in his life was validly ordained. And he uses, in the case of the Eucharist, the proper matter and form … You would think that something like that [mortal sin] would make the Mass invalid. Being in an unconfessed state of mortal sin wouldn’t invalidate the Mass. In fact, something that would invalidate the Mass is using a rice cake instead of gluten or wheat. Jesus is not present if we were to not use the proper matter and form. The matter in the case of the Eucharist is actual wine, so if we used vodka or Pepsi it would not be valid, and we must use wheat-based, unleavened bread. Those things speak to the validity of the Mass.”

He then explains liceity. “A priest should not celebrate Mass in the state of mortal sin, and if he does that means it’s illicit. But essentially, that’s only on him. In other words, he did an additional thing wrong. In the same way that if you or I were to be in the state of a mortal sin and we went up to receive Communion, that would be an additional thing wrong, but it doesn’t make the Communion invalid because we did that. Thankfully, the same is the case even with a priest in mortal sin. So, that would be an illicit Mass, meaning not according to the law, but that in no way affects you or anybody else gathered around.”

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Father Dave further explains matter and form. “Sometimes we’ll hear people wondering about the priest switching around the words at Mass. That would be a lesser offense or abuse. It would not be liturgically correct according to all of the rubrics. So, instead of using the words of institution that we believe Christ said at the Last Supper: ‘This is my body given up for you,’ if the priest switches them around and says, ‘Here, have some Eucharist,’ to not use the proper words would make it invalid.”

Father Dave uses the example of Baptism to further clarify. He explains that the matter for Baptism is water, and the proper form is the Trinitarian form. The priest must say, ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’ If they were to say, ‘Welcome to the Church. You are now baptized,’ that would be invalid because it is not the proper form.”

Father Dave points out that once someone is ordained a priest he is always a priest. So, even if a priest leaves the Church or the bishop removes his priestly faculties, he can no longer celebrate Mass licitly anywhere, but Mass would still be valid. The Church would recognize it as a valid sacrament.

“We never punish the people of God for something that a priest did wrongly … If there is a defect in the minister himself, the Church supplies the grace.” (Original Air 8-30-17)