by Michael Davies

------------------------------ Chapter VII

The New Catholic Rite of Ordination

On 30 November, 1947, Pope Pius XII promulgated his Apostolic Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis specifying what constituted the matter and form of the Sacrament of Order. He made no change whatsoever in the traditional ordination rite contained in the Roman Pontifical. In fact, Pope Pius XII laid considerable stress upon the fact that no change whatsoever was to be made in the traditional rite. At the conclusion of Sacramentum Ordinis he wrote:

Finally, it is not lawful to understand what We have above declared and established in the sense that other rites contained in the Roman Pontifical may be neglected: in fact, We command all that is prescribed in the Roman Pontifical to be religiously maintained and observed. 1

This Constitution is closely examined in Appendix I and will not be referred to in any detail here. The importance of the Constitution lies in the fact that it settled for the future the precise matter and form of the Sacrament of Order. Principally, the Pope ruled that the sole matter of the Sacrament was the imposition of hands and not the "tradition" of the instruments. The ceremony of the traditio (handing over) consisted of the handing over to the candidate of those things used in the exercise of the Order in question, namely the chalice containing wine and the paten with bread for the Priesthood, and the book of the Gospels for the diaconate.
Pope Pius X also decreed that the sole form consists of the words of the Preface of the rite, the essential words being:

Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty Father, to this Thy servant, the dignity of the Priesthood; renew the spirit of holiness within him, that he may hold from Thee, O God, the second rank in Thy service and by the example of his behaviour afford a pattern of holy living. 

Pope Paul VI promulgated the new ordination rites for deacon, priest, and bishop with his Apostolic Constitution Pontificalis Romani recognitio of 18 June 1968. Where the rite for ordaining a priest is concerned, the first point to make is that the matter and essential form designated by Pius XII in Sacramentum Ordinis remain virtually unchanged (see Appendix XI). This is a point in favour of the new rite. It is the only point in its favour. The traditional rite of ordination has been remodelled "in the most drastic manner", and, following Cranmer's example (see Chap. IV), this has been achieved principally by the subtraction of "prayers and ceremonies in previous use", prayers and ceremonies which gave explicit sacerdotal signification to the indeterminate formula specified by Pius XII as the essential form. This formula does indeed state that the candidates for ordination are to be elevated to the priesthood-----but so does the Anglican. Within the context of the traditional Roman Pontifical there was not the least suspicion of ambiguity
-----within the new rite there most certainly is. While the new rite in no way suggests that it is not intended to ordain sacrificing priests, where (and it) it does refer to the sacrifice of the Mass it does so in muted tones, and considerable stress is laid on the ministry of the Word-----a change of emphasis well calculated to please Protestants, as will be shown in Chapter VIII. It is very significant that the Preface of the traditional Roman Pontifical containing the sacramental form has been altered in the new rite immediately the words specified by Pope Pius XII as constituting the form have been completed. A new conclusion is added. It reads:

May they be our fellow-workers, so that the words of the Gospel may reach to the farthest parts of the earth, and all nations, gathered together in Christ, may become one holy people of God.

There is clearly nothing unorthodox in this passage, and equally clearly there is nothing to which any Protestant could take the least exception.

Pope Leo laid considerable stress upon the historical circumstances in which the Anglican Ordinal "was composed and publicly authorized". He makes particular mention of

the abettors whom they associated with themselves from the heterodox sects; and as to the end they had in view. Being fully cognisant of the necessary connection between faith and worship, between "the law of believing and the law of praying" (legem credendi et legem supplicandi), under a pretext of returning to the primitive form, they corrupted the Liturgical Order in many ways to suit the errors of the reformers (para .30).

Every informed Catholic now knows of the six heterodox (Protestant) consultants whose help was invoked by Archbishop Bugnini in his "reform" of the Catholic liturgy. Every informed Catholic is aware of the historical climate during which the new rites originated and were publicly instituted-----a climate which, as Pope John's Council shows, was permeated by a spirit of false ecumenism ready to minimize any Catholic belief or tradition in order to placate Protestants. But although Protestant experts were consulted, the world-wide Catholic episcopate most certainly was not consulted-----as Cardinal Heenan has testified. During the first full meeting of the Westminster Pastoral Council on the 26th April, 1969, Cardinal Heenan

spoke with particular force about the lack of consultation between Rome and the local hierarchies and said that it is a matter he hopes to take up in Rome during the Bishops' Synod in October. He cited as an example of this sort of thing the new form of  ordination ceremony which is to come into force immediately:

 "The bishops saw this for the first time a few days before they were due at an ordination. This is the kind of thing that breaks their hearts."
The Cardinal added that in his view the new form is also much less attractive. 2

Similarly, the Argentinian Bishops objected to the spiritual impoverishment of the ordination rite in its new form, which tended to obscure the essence of the Catholic priesthood. At the request of the Episcopal Conference, its President, Archbishop Tortolo of Parana, wrote a letter to the Congregation for Divine Worship requesting that each ordaining bishop should be left free to decide whether he would use the old or new rite. The request was neither granted nor rejected
-----there simply was no reply at all from the Congregation.

I have also been reliably informed of a case in which one British bishop agreed to the request of some ordinands to be ordained in the old rite as they had grave doubts concerning the validity of the new one.

Before proceeding to make a more detailed examination of the new ordination rite, it is worth noting that Cranmer abolished the subdiaconate and minor orders and replaced them with a ministry in three degrees
-----bishops, priests, and deacons. 3 The Council of Trent taught that the Subdiaconate was a major Order and pronounced anathema upon anyone who denied "that besides the Priesthood there are in the Catholic Church other Orders, both major and minor, by which, as by certain steps, advance is made to the Priesthood" (D. 962).

Cranmer's reform has been followed not simply in the composition of a new Ordinal, denuded of almost every mandatory reference to the sacrifice of the Mass
-----the very term "sacrifice of the Mass" does not occur in either the Latin or vernacular version of the 1968 Catholic rite-----but in the abolition of the Subdiaconate and the minor orders by the Motu Proprio Ministeria Quaedam of August, 1972. This action was taken, according to the Motu Proprio, to conform to "contemporary needs" and in accordance with "the contemporary outlook". The same Motu Proprio instituted what are described as the "ministries" of lector and acolyte, in a newly-devised rite which in no way confers the minor orders with the same name.

The most objective manner of comparing the old and new rites of ordination is to examine them both in the light of the criticism of Cranmer's Ordinal made by Pope Leo XIII in Apostolicae Curae. The basis of this criticism is that:

in the whole Ordinal not only is there no clear mention of the sacrifice, of consecration, of the priesthood (sacerdotium), and of the power of consecrating and offering sacrifice but, as We have just stated, every trace of these things which had been in such prayers of the Catholic rite as they had not entirely rejected, was deliberately removed and struck out (para. 30).

As has already been made clear, the use of the word "priest" in itself in no way denotes an acceptance of the Catholic concept of the priesthood (sacerdotium), as this word is used frequently throughout Cranmer's Ordinal. Reference to the sacerdotium must be looked for in specific references to the powers of a priest ordained to consecrate and offer sacrifice. Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that the Latin word presbyter, used to denote priest in the Latin texts of both the traditional and new ordinals, is translated as "presbyter" in numerous places in the I.C.E.L. translation. At no time in any English-speaking country have Catholic priests been referred to as "presbyters". The term presbyter is also used in the proposed Anglican-Methodist Ordinal.

In order to appreciate the extent to which the new Catholic Ordinal has been revised in a Protestant direction it is necessary to list the more important prayers and ceremonies of the traditional rite. The new rite can then be examined within the context of the changes made in this rite.

The Traditional Ordination Rite (The Roman Pontifical)

A brief outline of the traditional rite will now be provided, including the complete text of some of the prayers most clearly incompatible with a Protestant concept of the priesthood or the Lord's Supper. The modifications made in the traditional rite to provide the new Catholic rite of ordination are examined in some detail in the next section, but some brief comments are also included here.

The Rite of Ordination of a Priest follows the order of Mass up to the Collect, after which the candidates for ordination (ordinands) are called by name and presented to the Bishop by the Archdeacon, who declares that as far as human frailty may judge he considers them worthy of ordination.

The Bishop then "charges" the people to declare any possible objection to any of the ordinands, reminding them that:

Not for nothing did the Fathers ordain that even the people should be consulted in the choice of those who are to minister at the altar. For sometimes what is unknown to the many of the life and conduct of a candidate may be known to the few, and a more ready obedience is given to a priest when assent has been given to his ordination.

There is no provision for the people to give a sign of formal consent to the ordination; this is manifested simply by silence.

In the new rite the reference to "the choice of those who are to minister at the altar" has been eliminated. It has been replaced by a statement that the candidates are to be ordained "for the office of presbyter". The people give a formal consent by saying: "Thanks be to God" or "give their consent according to local custom".

The Bishop then addresses the ordinands and his "charge" to them includes the following:

For it is a priest's duty to offer sacrifice, to bless, to lead, to preach and to Baptise.

This admonition has been abolished.

The Litany of the Saints then follows. It has been left in the new rite in a drastically curtailed form, omitting such unecumenical petitions as the following:

That Thou wouldst recall all who have wandered from the unity of the Church, and lead all unbelievers to the light of the Gospel.

After the Litany comes the silent imposition of hands by the Bishop and then by all the priests present. The imposition of the Bishop's hands constitutes the matter of the Sacrament.

Then a number of prayers follow, including a lengthy Preface which incorporates the form of the Sacrament:

We pray Thee, Almighty Father, confer the dignity of the Priesthood on these Thy servants; renew in their hearts the spirit of holiness, that they may obtain the office of the second rank received from Thee, O God, and may, by the example of their lives, inculcate the pattern of holy living.

It is clear that neither the matter nor the form is in the least incompatible with Protestant teaching. As is made clear in Appendix I, this is a case where the signification of the rite must be deduced from other prayers and ceremonies surrounding the matter and form, what is referred to by theologians as determinatio ex adiunctis. (See Appendix I for the meaning of this term.)

The newly ordained priests are then vested with a stole and chasuble, in each case to the accompaniment of an extremely beautiful prayer. The vesting remains in the new rite but the prayers have been abolished. The Bishop then says another long prayer which includes the following:

Theirs be the task to change with blessing undefiled, for the service of thy people, bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Thy Son.

This prayer has been abolished. The Veni Creator Spiritus is then intoned while the Bishop anoints the hands of the new priests. Dipping his right thumb into the oil of the Catechumens he anoints the opened hands of each one in the form of a cross by tracing two lines, one from the thumb of the right hand to the index finger of the left, the other from the thumb of the left hand to the corresponding finger of the right. He then anoints the palms all over. While anointing each priest he says:

Be pleased, Lord, to consecrate and sanctify these hands by this anointing, and our blessing.

Then he makes the sign of the cross over the hands of each priest and continues:

That whatsoever they bless may be blessed, and whatsoever they consecrate may be consecrated and sanctified in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

This prayer has been abolished and replaced by one which will be examined in the next section. The palms are still anointed, but no specific directions are given in the rubric which simply states that the Bishop "anoints with holy chrism the palms of each new priest who kneels before him". Pope Pius XII clearly set considerable significance upon this prayer, which he cites in Mediator Dei:

. . . the Sacrament of Order sets priests in a class apart from all other Christians who are not endowed with this supernatural power. They alone have entered this august ministry by a special Divine vocation, a ministry by which they are appointed to the sacred altar and made, as it were, Divine instruments to communicate the heavenly and supernatural life in the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. Moreover, as We have said, they alone are marked by the indelible character that likens them to Christ the Priest; they alone have their hands consecrated so that "whatsoever they may bless shall be blessed, and whatsoever they may hallow shall be hallowed and consecrated in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (para. 46).

The rubrics for the traditional rite then state:


The Bishop now closes the hands of each in succession, so that both palms meet, and one of the attendants binds them together with a white fillet; each priest then returns to his place. When this anointing and consecration of hands are finished, the Bishop cleanses his hands: and then delivers to each priest the chalice containing wine and water, with a paten and host upon it, which each takes between the fore and middle finger, so as to touch both the paten and the cup of the chalice, while the Bishop says to each:

"Receive the power to offer sacrifice to God, and to celebrate Mass, both for the living and the dead, in the name of the Lord".
This beautiful ceremony and the exceptionally important prayer have both been abolished. In their place, the paten with the altar-breads, and the chalice with the wine and water to be used in the Mass, are placed in the hands of each new priest by the Bishop accompanied by a brief exhortation which will be discussed in the next section.

The new priests then concelebrate Mass with the Bishop. At the end of Mass, before the Post Communion, each new priest kneels before the Bishop who lays both hands upon the head of each in turn and says:

Receive the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.

This ceremony and prayer have been abolished. The new priests then promise obedience to their bishop who "charges" them to bear in mind that offering Holy Mass is not free from risk (satis periculosa est) and that they should learn everything necessary from diligent priests before undertaking so fearful a responsibility. This admonition has been abolished.

Finally, before completing the Mass, he imparts a most moving blessing.
The blessing of God Almighty, the Father CROSS the Son
CROSS, and the Holy Ghost CROSS come down upon you, and make you blessed in the priestly Order, enabling you to offer propitiatory sacrifices for the sins of the people to Almighty God.

This blessing has been abolished.

The New Ordination Rite

As the previous section made clear, every prayer in the traditional rite which stated specifically the essential role of a priest as a man ordained to offer propitiatory sacrifice for the living and dead has been removed. In most cases these were the precise prayers removed by the Protestant Reformers, or if not precisely the same there are clear parallels. At this point some of the prayers introduced into the new Ordinal will be examined to assess the extent to which they make explicit the doctrine of the prayers which have been abolished. It must be remembered that this doctrine, as was made clear earlier, is not simply the doctrine of Trent but the doctrine of Vatican II. 

The new rite contains an optional model for the "Bishop's Charge". After a lengthy exhortation on the duty of preaching and instructing, the I.C.E.L. (International Commission for English in the Liturgy) translation includes the following:

In the same way you must carry out your mission of sanctifying the world in Christ. It is your ministry which will make the spiritual sacrifices of the faithful perfect by uniting them to the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ. That sacrifice will be offered in an unbloody way through your hands. Understand the meaning of what you do; put into practice what you celebrate. When you recall the mystery of the death and resurrection of the Lord try to die to sin and walk in the new life of Christ.

In typical fashion, the I.C.E.L. has provided an inadequate translation of the Latin, which refers to the sacrifice being offered through the priest's hands upon the altar (super altare, omitted from the I.C.E.L. translation), and also instructs him to imitate what he handles. The Latin text reads:

Munere item sanctificandi in Christo fungemini. Ministerio enim tuo sacrificium spirituale fidelium perficietur, Christi sacrificio coniunctum, quod per manus tuas super altare incruenter in celebratione mysteriorum offeretur. Agnosce ergo quod agis, imitare quod tractas, quatenus, mortis et resurrectionis Domini mysterium celebrans, membra tua a vitiis omnibus mortificare et in novitate vitae ambulare studeas.

Where this passage is included (and it is only an option) the intention to ordain a sacrificing priest is made specific, though in muted tones when set beside the prayers in the traditional rite which have been abolished. This is a prayer which an Evangelical Protestant could hardly say with a clear conscience. In his study of contemporary ordinals the Reverend Peter Toon affirms that from his Evangelical standpoint the new rite still preserves the doctrine of the ministerial priesthood. 4 It would be an exaggeration to suggest that every prayer in the new Catholic Ordinal is totally acceptable to Protestants. It is, rather, part of a process of convergence, a step in the direction of a common ordinal, as will be made clear below. A direct transition from the traditional rite to a common ordinal would have been too drastic a step; but a transition from the new rite to a common ordinal would hardly be noticed.

Two passages from the proposed Anglican-Methodist Ordinal will illustrate the extent to which Protestants are prepared to use terminology calculated to appease Catholics while remaining fully consistent with Protestant teaching. (The manner in which apparently Catholic terminology can be interpreted in a Protestant sense was documented in some detail in Cranmer's Godly Order.) Among a number of passages which could be cited, the two selected read:

(A Presbyter) is to teach, edify, and encourage, both by word and example, the people entrusted to his charge. He is to lead them  in prayer and worship; to preside at the celebration of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ and in his Name to absolve the penitent. 5

These words are addressed to the ordinands during the Bishop's examination. The second passage comes immediately after the ordination ceremony itself:

Pour forth Thy grace upon these thy servants, we beseech thee O Lord, that within the royal priesthood of Thy people they may faithfully fulfill this their priestly ministry . . . Make them worthy to offer with all Thy people spiritual sacrifices acceptable in Thy sight, and to minister the sacraments of Thy New Covenant. 6

Note carefully that this type of language has been drawn up by a joint Commission of Anglican and Methodist theologians and is intended not simply to satisfy Anglo-Catholics, who have a Catholic understanding of the priesthood and Eucharist, but also to satisfy Evangelical Anglicans and Methodists who most certainly do not. It is worth examining carefully as a masterpiece of studied ambiguity.

The question it poses is whether a Methodist who could accept this could not also accept the passage cited [above] from the new Catholic rite. It is worth repeating a point documented on several occasions in Cranmer's Godly Order, that Protestants do profess belief in a Eucharistic Sacrifice-----but one in which the offering is praise, thanksgiving and ourselves. 7

It must also be stressed that the Bishop's "charge", from which the passage from the Catholic rite has been taken, is only an option and that in the introduction to the I.C.E.L. version of the new rite stress is laid upon the fact that it is only an optional "model", that an effort should be made to relate the "charge" to whatever readings are used and that, unlike the traditional rite, "considerable flexibility is provided for the choice of readings."

The introduction insists that: "It is not intended that the model instruction should be read verbatim, as was generally done in the case of the ordination instructions of the Roman Pontifical, although the ordaining bishop may choose to use these texts."

The nearest the new rite comes to a mandatory reference to the power of offering sacrifice is in the following two passages. When the hands of the new priests are anointed the Bishop prays:

May Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Whom the Father anointed through the power of the Holy Spirit, keep you worthy to offer sacrifice to God and sanctify His people.

Note carefully that no reference is made to the "Sacrifice of the Mass" or to "propitiatory sacrifices". The Anglican reformers insisted that it was the duty of every Christian to offer sacrifice to God
-----but a sacrifice of "laud, praise, and thanksgiving".

When the paten and chalice are presented to the new priest the Bishop says:

Accept the gift of the people to be offered to God. Realize what you are about, be as holy as your ministry, model your life on the mystery of the Cross of our Lord.

These two passages represent the sum total of explicit mandatory reference to the essential purpose of a Catholic ordination rite, to
ordain a sacrificing priest. It will be made clear in Chapter VIII that both these prayers can be interpreted in a Protestant sense.

As is shown in Appendix I, none of the prayers which have been omitted from the traditional rite pertain to the substance of the Sacrament, or could be designated as essential to its validity. But nonetheless, their omission by the Protestant Reformers was taken by Pope Leo XIII to indicate an intention not to consecrate sacrificing priests. Perhaps the most astonishing omission is that of the prayer accompanying the "tradition" of the chalice and paten, the

Accipe potestatem-----Receive the power to offer sacrifice to God and to celebrate Mass, both for the living and the dead in the name of the Lord.

In view of the significance attached to this prayer during the Reformation controversies, its omission from the new rite can only be understood by Protestants as a retreat from the fullness of Catholic Eucharistic teaching
-----and it has been seen as such, as Chapter VIII will show. This is what Canon Estcourt has to say with regard to the omission of this prayer by the Lutherans-----his words merit careful study.

Considering that these words had been introduced into the rite with the view of impressing on the mind of the ordained that he did receive a power of offering propitiatory sacrifice; considering that the practice had been in use nearly five hundred years, and had been generally adopted throughout the Western Church; considering that the delivery of the chalice with these words had thus become an integral part of the rite of ordination; considering that the Lutherans denied the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Sacrifice and of the external Priesthood; considering that the omission was made on the express ground of objecting to the faith and doctrine signified by these words; it would seem that neither the bishop nor the persons ordained could have the intention of conferring or receiving such a priesthood as the Catholic Church understands and believes, and that therefore they would neither of them intend to do what the Church does. In this view the validity of the ordination would be extremely doubtful. Hence we come to the following principle: that the omission of the delivery of the chalice, or of the accustomed formula which accompanies it, if done purposely with the motive of denying the doctrine of the Church regarding the Holy Sacrifice, even if a rite otherwise Catholic and valid be used, renders the ordination at least of doubtful validity. 8

It is of great importance to note that Evangelical Protestants, who deny any distinction in essence between priest and layman, are prepared to accept a "tradition" of the chalice and paten provided it is not accompanied by any prayer suggesting that the newly ordained presbyter has been invested with a ministerial (external) priesthood giving him powers denied to the layman, particularly that of offering sacrifice. The Reverend Peter Toon writes that such a ceremony would indicate that the Church has given the new presbyter the right to "preside at the Holy Communion. If there is no hint of ministerial priesthood in the rest of the service, then no ministerial priesthood could be read into the delivery of the chalice." 9

Hence it is not the "tradition" of the instruments (which has been retained in a modified form in the new Catholic rite) which is unacceptable to the Protestants but the prayer "Accipe potestatem" which has been abolished. But, as will be shown in Chapter VIII, the new prayer accompanying this modified "tradition" is by no means incapable of a Protestant interpretation.


It is explained in Appendix XI that the only change made in the form for ordaining a priest in the new rite is the removal of one word ut, which has no theological significance. The Latin form for the new rite reads:

Da, quaesumus omnipotens Pater, in hunc famulum tuum Presbyterii dignitatem; innova in visceribus ejus spiritum sanctitatis; acceptum a Te, Deus, secundi meriti munus obtineat censuramque morum exemplo suae conversationis insinuet.

The provisional I.C.E.L. version was very similar to the one given [above] which is taken from a 1955 C.T.S. translation.

We ask you, all-powerful Father, give these servants of Yours the dignity of the presbyterate. Renew the Spirit of holiness within them. By Your Divine gift may they obtain the second order in the hierarchy and exemplify right conduct in their lives.

The unsatisfactory point here is the use of "presbyterate" instead of "priesthood". In English-speaking countries the priesthood has never been referred to as the presbyterate.

In the American Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy Newsletter of September 1977 it was stated that:

On 12 July 1977, the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship received from the Cardinal Secretary of State the English translation of the sacramental forms for the ordination of bishop, priest, deacon as definitively approved by Pope Paul VI.

The form for the ordination to the priesthood was changed by I.C.E.L. in 1975, and approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1976. The Newsletter did not specify whether Catholic bishops in any other country had been given the opportunity of approving the new translation. It reads:

Almighty Father, grant to these servants of Yours the dignity of the priesthood. Renew within them the Spirit of holiness. As coworkers with the Order of bishops may they be faithful to the ministry that they receive from You, Lord God, and be to others a model of right conduct.

The replacement of "presbyterate" by "priesthood" is obviously an improvement but the replacement of the phrase, "may they obtain the second order in the hierarchy" by, "may they be faithful to the ministry that they receive from you", is obviously fully in line with the Protestant concept of the ministry which has been explained in earlier chapters. Note Hans K
üng's criticism of the "non-biblical term 'hierarchy'" in Chap. III.

I asked Professor van der Ploeg for his opinion on this translation and he commented that the phrase in question, secundi meriti munus, is not an easy one to render accurately in English; in themselves the words have a certain vagueness and could be interpreted in a number of ways. The word munus alone can be translated as (1) office, duty, task, work; (2) military service; (3) ministry, favour, grace; (4) gift. He added that the use of the word "hierarchy" in the other translations was rather more than the Latin expressed.

However, we can be certain that, even if it is an acceptable translation, the new form is more calculated to please Protestants than the old. It also illustrates the danger of attempting to translate vital sacramental forms into vernacular languages and indicates why, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the Church has wisely refrained from doing this for up to fifteen hundred years.

1. The full text of Sacramentum Ordinis and of all papal teaching on the liturgy from the pontificate of Pope Benedict XIV is available in the Papal Teachings series, in the volume The Liturgy. This was published in English by the Daughters of St. Paul (U.S.A.) in 1962 but is now out of print.
2. The Universe, 2 May 1969.
3. CGO, p. 113.
4. OIR, p. 16.
5. AMO, p. 24.
6. AMO, p. 26.
7. COO, pp. 37 & 96.
8. QAO, pp. 264/5.
 9. OIR, p. 21.


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