The New Rite of Episcopal Consecration Valid, albeit deficient and problematic
In fall 2005, Rev. Fr. Pierre Marie of the SSPX, a traditional Dominican Priest in Avrille, France, published a detailed and excellent study (which is now online here) in Sel de la Terre documenting that the New Rite of Episcopal Consecration (in use in the Latin Church since 1969) is in itself valid (albeit problematic for other reasons). More recently last fall, on Aug 27, 2021, the SSPX put out a video, “Are Novus Ordo Priests and Bishops validly ordained” where Fr. Mcfarland thoroughly shows that the New Rite of Episcopal Consecration is indeed a valid rite for Consecrating Bishops.
In the 2005 study, Fr. Marie wrote,
This comprehensive study was compiled to settle a debate that has been circulating in traditional Catholic circles. Some writers have examined the new rite of episcopal consecration and concluded that it must be invalid. Since this would cause manifest problems if it were true and due to the heightened awareness of such a theory, we present a study of this question concluding that it is valid.d
Since many are new to the subject, and since some of the issues involved are complex, we present here below a brief summary of the study.
The main arguments for the validity of the rite are as follows:
(1) It is found in an ancient work called the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome.
(2) It appears to be largely derived from two Eastern Rites, the Coptic and West Syrian.
(3) The Indefectibility of the Catholic Church is against 50+ years now of invalid consecration.
Valid Forms, East and West
This is how Pope Paul VI explained his rationale for the change by quoting Vatican II:
By episcopal consecration is conferred the fullness of the sacrament of Orders, that fullness which in the Church’s liturgical practice and in the language of the holy Fathers of the Church is undoubtedly called the high priesthood, the apex of the sacred ministry. But episcopal consecration, together with the office of sanctifying, also confers the office of teaching and governing. These, however, of their very nature, can be exercised only in hierarchical communion with the head and the members of the college. For from tradition, which is expressed especially in liturgical rites and in the practice of the Church both of the West and of the East, it is clear that, by means of the imposition of hands and the words of consecration, the grace of the Holy Spirit is so conferred, and the sacred character so impressed, that bishops in an eminent and visible way undertake Christ’s own role as Teacher, Shepherd and High Priest, and that they act in his person (Lumen Gentium, 21).
The Roman Pontiff then comments on the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus:
To these words must be added many other admirable points of doctrine concerning the apostolic succession of the bishops as well as their tasks and offices which, although they are already contained in the Order of episcopal consecration, ought to be expressed, it seems, in a better and more accurate way. For the better attainment of this end it has been judged opportune to take from the ancient sources the prayer of consecration found in what is called the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome, written at the beginning of the third century and which is still preserved, in great part, in the liturgy of Ordination of the Copts and of the Western Syrians. In this way the agreement of both Eastern and Western tradition with regard to the apostolic task of the bishops will be borne witness to in the act of Ordination itself.
Setting aside questions of legitimacy, fittingness, and pastoral concerns, there is nothing which invalidates the Sacrament of orders by replacing one valid form with another valid and traditional form. The aforementioned Fr. Marie examined these claims of the Paul VI in a clear tabular comparison which shows that these assertions are indeed accurate.
In his first interview book, His Excellency Athanasius Schneider commented on this controversy in the following way:
Pope Paul VI changed the sacramental form only of the episcopal consecration. The sacramental form of the priestly and diaconal ordination remained the same. To administer a sacrament validly there is necessary valid matter, valid form, and the intention to do what the Church does. In this case, the question is only of the form. Actually, Paul VI took the sacramental form of the episcopal ordination from of the Byzantine Rite [sic., i.e. eastern rites]. The popes always through history recognised the validity of the Byzantine episcopal consecration. I don’t see a doctrinal problem in the sacramental form of episcopal ordination, introduced by Paul VI. The same Pope took the sacramental form of the sacrament of Confirmation from the Byzantine rite. However, the Catholic Church always recognised the validity of the Confirmation in the Byzantine church. Hence, the theory that says the new rite of episcopal ordination is invalid is without foundation and is not serious.
He then fields the objection that the Novus Ordo rites are similar in their defects to the invalid Anglican rites, to which answers with these distinctions:
The new rite of episcopal ordination is completely Catholic. The Anglicans changed the rite of episcopal ordination in the protestant sense without mention of the Eucharistic sacrifice and the priesthood. Therefore, their ordination is surely invalid, because of the objective defect of the right intention. In the case of the reform of the ordination rites made by Paul VI, there are sufficient references to the doctrine of the Catholic priesthood and the true sacrifice of the Eucharist.
The Sede Argument
However, let us consider the argument made by the late Fr. Anthony Cekada (rest in peace), one of the most well known sedevacantist scholars.
Fr. Cekada lays great stress on
The principle that [Pope] Pius XII laid down in Sacramentum Ordinis: That the essential sacramental form for the conferral of the episcopacy must univocally signify its sacramental effects: (1) the power of the order being conferred (the Order of episcopacy) and (2) the grace of the Holy Ghost.
Let us then closely examine the new rite consecratory prayer. Does it fulfill these requirements? The following part of the prayer is recited by all the consecrating bishops, with hands joined:
So now pour out upon this chosen one the power that is from you, the governing Spirit whom you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Spirit given by him to his holy apostles, who founded the Church in every place to be your temple for the unceasing glory and praise of your name.
Then the principal consecrator continues alone (note the explanatory phrases, my emphasis):
Father, you know all hearts. You have chosen your servant for the office of bishop. May he be a shepherd to your holy flock, and a high priest blameless in your sight, ministering to you night and day; may he always gain the blessing of your favor and offer the gifts of your holy Church. Through the Spirit who gives the grace of high priesthood grant him the power to forgive sins as you have commanded, to assign ministries as you have decreed, and to loose every bond by the authority which you gave to your apostles. May he be pleasing to you by his gentleness and purity of heart, presenting a fragrant offering to you, through Jesus Christ, your Son, through whom glory and power and honor are yours with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church, now and for ever.
Sede Objection 1: “Governing spirit is not the Holy Spirit. It is ambiguous.”
Governing Spirit is not the Holy Spirit? So Who is the Spirit given by the Father to His Son Jesus Christ, and the Spirit given by Our Lord Jesus to His holy Apostles? Or who is the “Governing Spirit” (spiritu principali) from Psalm 50:14? An evil spirit? God forbid. Of course it is the Holy Spirit, the text following makes that clear.
Sede Objection 2: “Governing Spirit does not sufficiently signify the Power of the Episcopacy”
This is a better objection, that gets really to the heart of the issue, but one that ultimately fails.
First, only the Episcopate is a Governing Order. The simple Priesthood or Presbyterate is a subordinate order and not the principal order of the Priesthood.
Second, this is even clearer in the Latin: Spiritus Principalis, the Spirit Who gives the Principal Order.
Third, it is evident from the fact that the Spirit asked for is the Spirit conferred on Our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, there is no doubt that Our Lord was High Priest, of the Order of Melchizedek, as the Bible says (cf. Heb 2:17, 3:1, 4:14-15, 6:20, 7:26 etc).
Fourth, it is evident from the mention of Apostles. Will anyone argue the Apostles were merely simple Priests? No, of course they were Bishops and High Priests.
Fifth, it is also implied in the reference to founding the Church. The Apostles founded the Church by perpetuating Bishops and Priests for Her – something they could because they were Bishops, possessing the fullness of the Priesthood themselves.
We have therefore at least five clear indications from within the essential form itself that the rite is valid, and unequivocally signifies what Pope Pius XII required.
Objection 3: “Context” doesn’t matter. Only the essential form itself does.
Yes and no. The context plays a role in understanding what the words within the essential form itself mean. Thus, when there is a reference to “Spirit Who gives the Grace of High Priesthood” in the portion immediately after the essential form, that matters not because the words surrounding the form could confect the Sacrament validly, but because the meaning of the words in the essential form itself are thereby made clear.
So, Sixth, we have clear references to the Office of Bishop. This is not a rite for anything other than the Consecration of a Bishop to an Episcopal Office. An objection is made that the rite was sometimes used for Patriarchs, but that was when Patriarchs received Consecration upon their installation into office. The true but more developed doctrine of the distinction between Orders and Jurisdiction was more fully understood later on.
Seventh, we have references to “the Spirit Who gives the Grace of High Priesthood.” This signifies unequivocally both (1) the Grace of the Holy Ghost and (2) the specific Order of the Episcopate and confirms that “the Governing Spirit Whom You gave to Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Spirit given by Him to His holy Apostles, who founded the Church” is the Spirit Who gives the Grace of High Priesthood, the Power of the Episcopate.
Eighth, not to belabour the point, but only to remove all unnecessary doubt and scruple, we have the final reference to the “authority You gave to Your Apostles,” a manifest reference to Episcopal Authority, also confirmed by reference to assigning ministries etc.
Fr. Marie points out that all this does not mean the reform – non-infallible and not irreformable – is not otherwise problematic for other reasons:
Let it be said, though, that we are only speaking of the validity of the new rite as it was published by the Vatican. We do not speak of the legitimacy of this reform (was it good to suppress the Roman rite and replace it by an Eastern rite?), nor of the validity of the different translations and adaptations of the official right in divers particular cases…
In light of all this, traditional Catholics should work to promote the restoration of the traditional Roman Rites within the Latin Church, but without questioning the validity of the new Episcopal Consecrations. A rite that is valid can still be deficient, of course. If the new rite of consecration is indeed invalid, as sedevacantists claim, then the Church has been stripped of sacramental grace and the office of the episcopacy worldwide – outside, of course, a disputed list of sedevacantist chapels. Thus such a proposition undermines the dogma of the indefectibility of the Church. Despite the deficiencies of the Novus Ordo rites, they continue to pass down the episcopal constitution of the Church of Christ and indeed confer Sacramental grace for the salvation of souls. Therefore the Church, even in an unprecedented crisis of iconoclasm, still provides salvation to the faithful.
The Evidence of Eucharistic Miracles – A Final and Further Confirmation
Our contributing editor, Charles Coulombe, wrote last fall on six recent miracles all approved by episcopal authority, all confirmed by science, and all Novus Ordo. For example, under Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio himself in Buenos Aires, Coulombe relates the following scientific analysis:
On October 21, 1999, a genetics laboratory began analysing the samples [of the miraculous host]. The following January 28, they found human DNA in the samples: it is human blood that has a human genetic code – once again, AB Positive [the same as the Shroud of Turin, the Sudarium of Oviedo, and the Blood of Lanciano].
In March, Dr. Robert Lawrence, a forensic pathologist – an expert in tissues examination – was asked to participate in this analysis because of the discovery of substances resembling human tissue in the sample. He found human skin and white blood cells.
But Dr. Eduardo Ardonidoli, who had studied the host of Lanciano studied this host at the request of the Italian Episcopal Conference. He said: “This is probably heart tissue, it is not epidermis, that is, it is not human skin.” The sample was then sent to Professor John Walker of the University of Sydney in Australia and who reported that the samples sent were inflamed muscle cells accompanied by intact white blood cells. The inflammation indicated the person had suffered. In 2003 he further declared that these samples “may correspond” to inflamed heart tissue.
Next the foremost expert on hear pathology was consulted: Professor Federico Stigibe from New York City’s Columbia University. His report is sent on March 26, 2005, declaring “It is heart tissue. It has degenerative changes of the myocardium and these are due to the cells being inflamed and it is the left ventricle of the heart.” Dr. Stigbe says that the patient from whom these samples come had suffered a lot (he did not know that these samples came from a host), because they have stuck him at the chest and caused a heart attack.
Even more bizarre is the existence of white blood cells. If a person’s blood is drawn, within 15 minutes the white blood cells disintegrate. So how is it possible that until 2005 white blood cells remain in the sample that was taken in 1996?
And so Our Lord, by miracles that could only come from Him, clearly settles the question. The new rite is unquestionably valid, although we may say it is deficient for other reasons.
To our sedevacantist friends: there is no doubt that the new sacramental rites are valid and that the Roman Catholic Church still continues to this day. As mentioned in a previous article, all the Bishops appointed to office by Pope Ven. Pius XII have now died. Therefore, if Pope Ven. Pius XII was the last Pope, the Church would have lost Ordinary Jurisdiction, Formal Apostolicity, and defected. The Holy Roman Catholic Church does not continue in the schismatic sedevacantist sects, which are not Roman Catholic because they are not united with Rome, but it continues in the Visible Church, with thousands of bishops around the world comprising the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium of the Church. We pray you one day come back to Her.
 Salt of the Earth, No. 54., Autumn 2005, pp. 72-129.
 Ibid., 55.
Nishant Xavier lives in Chennai, India. He has an MBA in Financial Management and works in investment banking in Credit Suisse. He earlier worked at Bank of New York in its Chennai office. He makes time to preach the Gospel. His Passion is to preach to 100 Crore Souls before he dies. He is the Author of the upcoming Book: The Great Commission of Lord Jesus Christ: Distributing 150 Crore Bibles in India by 2033. For any important concern, send him a mail at [email protected] or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and YouTube.