A Defence of the Catholic Priesthood
by Michael Davies
1979 AND 1993

Appendix II
Ministerial Intention

The term "minister" is used here in the technical sense of the person who administers a Sacrament and not in the sense in which it is popularly used today, namely, a Protestant minister in contrast with a Catholic priest. It is also taken for granted that the term refers to a person who possesses the power to confer a particular Sacrament. An unbeliever can confer the Sacrament of Baptism by using the correct matter and form and intending to do what the Church does, but a man who had not been validly ordained could not celebrate a valid Mass even if he had the correct intention and used the correct matter and form.

Christ Himself, our great High Priest, is the primary minister of the Sacraments. As Pope Pius XII taught in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, "It is indeed He Who Baptises through the Church, He Who teaches, governs, absolves, binds, offers, and makes sacrifice." Hence the human minister of a Sacrament is acting as an instrument of Christ and, as the Council of Trent teaches, he must intend at least to do what the Church founded by Christ does. Ideally, he should be a man of great holiness who believes what the Church teaches, but this is not essential. In order to administer a Sacrament validly the minister requires neither faith nor the state of grace nor holiness of life. He need not believe that the Catholic Church is the true Church; nor that what the Catholic Church teaches concerning a particular Sacrament is true; nor that the Sacrament will effect what the Church teaches it will effect; he need not even believe in God or believe that the administration of a Sacrament will have any effect at all. Furthermore, even if the minister is a heretic and intends to do not what the Catholic Church does, but what his own denomination does, believing his own denomination to be the true Church, his intention is sufficient providing he does not specifically exclude what is essential in a Sacrament. Thus the Holy See has upheld the validity of Baptism administered by the ministers of heretical sects who have publicly denied the doctrine of Baptismal regeneration (D. 2304). This is because the ministers in question intended to do what Christ and the Church do in this Sacrament-----a distinction was made between a failure to believe in Baptismal regeneration and a positive intention to exclude it (a positive contrary intention).

The consensus of Catholic theologians is that the correct and serious performance of a rite as approved by the Church, and because approved by her, is a sufficient indication of the internal intention on the part of the minister. In such cases there is no means by which the Church can pass judgment on his interior dispositions. Thus Pope Leo XIII states in Apostolicae Curae:

The Church does not judge about the mind and "intention" in so far as it is something by its nature internal; but in so far as it is manifested externally she is bound to judge concerning it.

A person who has correctly and seriously used the requisite matter and form to effect and confer a Sacrament is presumed for that very reason to have intended to do (intendisse) what the Church does. On this principle rests the doctrine that a Sacrament is truly conferred by the ministry of one who is a heretic or unBaptised, provided the Catholic rite be employed (para. 33).

Pope Leo's reference to the exterior manifestation of the intention of the minister is of crucial importance. Father Francis Clark explains that if the minister gives a clear indication, a deliberate act of will, directed against something essential to the Sacrament, "then the Church can judge with canonical certainty that his positive anti-sacramental intention necessarily vitiates and nullifies his whole ministerial intention." 1 He goes on to explain that this "principle of positive contrary intention", solidly established in Catholic theology, is essential for an understanding of Pope Leo's judgment on the ministerial intention of those who initiated the Anglican hierarchy by "consecrating" Matthew Parker in 1559. Had the Catholic rite been used as restored under Mary, then the Pope could not have pronounced with certainty that Parker's "consecration" would have been invalid, despite the notoriously heretical views of Bishop Barlow and his assistants who conducted the rite. However, by reverting to a rite designed specifically to exclude Catholic teaching on Holy Orders, they provided an irrefutable external manifestation of their positive contrary intention. Apart from anything else, it would be manifestly unjust to those who first used the Cranmerian Ordinal to claim that they intended to perpetuate a sacrificing priesthood when they wished to do precisely the opposite-----as they indicated by using a rite intended to exclude any possibility of ordaining a sacrificing priest. Pope Leo writes:

On the other hand, if the rite be changed, with the manifest intention of introducing another rite not approved by the Church and of rejecting what the Church does, and what, by the institution of Christ, belongs to the nature of the Sacrament, then it is clear that not only is the necessary intention wanting to the Sacrament, but that the intention is adverse to and destructive of the Sacrament (Apostolicae Curae para. 33).

Finally, some mention must be made of the theory of Catharinus (1552), that where the minister freely and seriously carried out the rite in a context that excluded jesting, he could not invalidate the Sacrament even if he made a positive intention to exclude what the Church intended (a positive contrary intention), as opposed to simply not believing it would effect what the Church intended. This thesis has never been formally condemned but seems impossible to reconcile with the theology of the Sacrament of Matrimony. The ministers of this Sacrament are the spouses themselves and, even where the rite was conducted freely and seriously, proof that one of the parties entering upon a marriage did not intend to do what the Church does in that Sacrament is accepted as grounds for declaring the marriage null. Therefore it is not possible to be absolutely certain that the free and serious performance of a sacramental rite by a lawful minister guarantees its validity. But where the rite is performed in a free and serious manner the recipient can presume that the minister intends to do what the Church does, and has a moral certainty of receiving a valid Sacrament, though not the certainty of faith. The analysis of ministerial intention in this Appendix is based on the following works, to which reference may be made for a more detailed treatment: H. Davis, S.J., Moral and Pastoral Theology, Vol. III, Chapter 4; L. Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pp. 341ff; Addis and Arnold, Catholic Dictionary (1928 edition), see the entry: Sacraments of the Gospel; Canon G. Smith, The Teaching of the Catholic Church, pp. 753ff; A Catholic Dictionary of Theology, vol. III, see the entries "Intention" and "Ordination"; and Summa Theologica, III, Q.LXIV.
Among the points made by St. Thomas on this Question in the Summa are the following, which have already been incorporated into the Appendix but are added here in more detail, quoting St. Thomas directly.

St. Thomas explains in a previous Question (LXII, Art. 5) that:

Christ delivered us from our sins principally through His Passion, not only by way of efficiency and merit, but also by way of satisfaction. Likewise by His Passion He inaugurated the rites of the Christian religion by offering "Himself-----an oblation and a sacrifice to God" (Eph. 5:2).

Wherefore it is manifest that the Sacraments of the Church derive their power specially from Christ's Passion, the virtue of which is in a manner united to us by our receiving the Sacraments.

In Q.XLIV, Art. 5, St. Thomas explains that Christ is the principal agent of the Sacraments, the human minister simply acts as the instrument of Christ and the Church, and hence even a sinful minister can confer a Sacrament validly providing the correct matter and form are used.

The ministers of the Church do not by their own power cleanse from sin those who approach the Sacraments, nor do they confer grace on them: it is Christ Who does this by His Own power while He employs them as instruments. Consequently, those who approach the Sacraments receive an effect whereby they are enlikened not to the ministers but to Christ.

In Article 8 he answers a possible objection, that as the minister acts as Christ's instrument his intention is not necessary for the validity of the Sacrament. St. Thomas phrases the objection as follows:

It seems that the minister's intention is not required for the validity of a Sacrament. For the minister of a sacrament works instrumentally. But the perfection of an action does not depend on the intention of the instrument, but on that of the principal agent. Therefore the minister's intention is not necessary for the perfecting of a Sacrament.

St. Thomas then replies:

An inanimate instrument has no intention regarding the effect; but instead of the intention there is the motion whereby it is moved by the principal agent. But an animate instrument, such as a minister, is not only moved, but in a sense moves itself, in so far as by his will he moves his bodily members to act. Consequently, his intention is required, whereby he subjects himself to the principal agent; that is, it is necessary that he intend to do that which Christ and the Church do.

St. Thomas explains that the minister acts not only as the instrument of Christ but as the instrument of the Church.

The minister of a Sacrament acts in the person of the whole Church, whose minister he is; while in the words uttered by him, the intention of the Church is expressed; and that suffices for the validity of the Sacrament, except the contrary be expressed on the part either of the minister or of the recipient of the Sacrament.

In Article 9 St. Thomas answers the objection that if the minister must intend to do what the Church does he must believe what the Church believes, in other words, he must have faith.

St. Thomas answers:

Such unbelief does not hinder the intention of conferring the Sacrament. But if his faith be defective in regard to the very Sacrament that he confers, although he believe that no inward effect is caused by the thing done outwardly, yet he does know that the Catholic Church intends to confer a Sacrament by that which is outwardly done. Wherefore his unbelief notwithstanding, he can intend to do what the Church does, albeit he esteem it to be nothing. And such an intention suffices for a Sacrament: because as stated above (Art. 8 ad 2) the minister of a Sacrament acts in the person of the Church by whose faith any defect in the minister's faith is made good.

But St. Thomas stresses that for validity it is necessary to observe the form prescribed by the Church:

Some heretics in conferring Sacraments do not observe the form prescribed by the Church, and these confer neither the Sacrament nor the reality of the Sacrament.

1. CCAO, p. 27.

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