CRS “Baptisms” and the CDF Pastoral Impact

I’m feeling really tired. I was hoping to avoid this issue for a few days. When the actual document is published, it will be worth a read. Anyway, CNS has the story with select questions and answers. dotCommonweal has threads here and here with dozens of comments. Liam and I have been exchanging a few e-mails on it today.

Baptizing in the name of the “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier” is not something I can recall seeing. On occasion, I hear it invoked for the communal signation at prayer, and sometimes during presidential prayer outside of Mass.

Playing with sacramental formulas, even with the best intentions of assuaging the alienation of sexism, and even with the intent to baptize in the same persons of the Trinity but with different names, seems like too much playing to me. Using the correct liturgical formula should not be an issue. The minister should use it. A local minister of baptism should have integrity on two fronts. The bishop is thus assured of the liceity of what happens liturgically. The people are assured there is no corruption by the expression of maleness to the exclusion of the feminine–the minister’s life-witness and the community’s should reinforce those values.

The CDF is right to condemn the CRS formulation and to insist on the traditional words.

The CDF may be less prudent in the approach to “invalid” baptisms. I have witchhunt worries. Earlier today, I wrote to Liam:

There is a very real danger that this can turn into a circus. A new check box for marriage invalidations. An easy out for laicising a wayward priest. Liturgical police combing through parish baptism records and outing hundreds of “fake” Catholics.

I’m interested in seeing the CDF decision in its entirety.  All I’m prepared to say at the moment is that this situation, both the clumsy CRS formula and the talk of “invalidity,” may give too much boldness to the liturgical busybodies among us.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to CRS “Baptisms” and the CDF Pastoral Impact

  1. FrMichael says:

    Remove the quotation marks around the word invalidity. This is a serious, although hopefully localized problem that deserves strong condemnation and immediate redress.

    The priests involved in the perverse practice need to make years-long public penance a la the Patristic-era praxis. In the contemporary Church’s slackness and lack of accountability, I doubt anything will happen to them.

  2. Todd says:

    I agree that the CRS baptisms are a gravely serious issue.

    That these baptisms may be invalid strikes me as a disputed point. From the brief Q&A I’ve seen, I think the CDF needs greater clarity in explaining that this is more than word substitution, which is how the CRS strikes me.

    If it were to continue and a whole alternate theology were to develop, then I think we have a problem with validity. I think those CRS baptizing lack the theological depth to be straying into a non-Christian view of baptism.

    But I’m open to being convinced.

  3. Liam says:

    Actually, it perhaps was a disputed point but no longer is in terms of validity. Once you have a ruling on validity from Rome, it’s definitive.

    That is not, however, to say this is the entire matter. That is, I believe most if not all would agree the erstwhile baptized here would, while not saved by sacramental baptism, be baptized (extra-sacramentally) by desire. In fact, all the St Blog’s combox commentariat seems very sanguine on that point – so it seems we need not fear a witchhunt of “fake” Catholics, as it were.

    It will be interesting to see if the Note, when published in full form, engages in any discussion on that point.

    I have a feeling the reason Rome did not follow Todd’s speculation here is that it seems to feel one does not even get to the more subjective issue of understanding unless and until the correct form is substantially used. Which would be consistent with Rome’s extreme avoidance of subjective considerations in sacramental validity outside of the special case of matrimony.

    It would be great to see if the Note were actually to openly discuss the limited parameters of “ecclesia supplet” in sacramental validity, and why Rome believed itself bound not to extend such treatment here. But I am not holding my breath….

  4. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Todd: “That these baptisms may be invalid strikes me as a disputed point.”

    I agree with Liam. It may have been disputed, but not anymore. The CDF said all who were “baptized” with another formula must be baptized in forma absoluta. That leaves no room for discussion, really.

  5. Jimmy Mac says:

    Regarding CRS use in baptism and the subsequent validity/invalidity of the rites performed: Where does “Ex Opere Operato” come into play here?

    Ex opere operato, defined in CCC as “by the very fact of the action’s being performed,” has always been the cornerstone of Catholic sacramental thinking. The Catechism also says that “the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God.” This is a quote from Thomas Aquinas. (CCC 1127-1129)

    When it comes to the “follow-on” sacraments, regarding Matrimony, the CCC states that the couple mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church, and the priest served as the Church’s witness. (CCC 1623)

  6. Liam says:


    The point here is that there is no “opere” from which to “operato”. The opus has to have valid form and matter.

    What is relevant about ex opere operato here is that the sincere but subjective intentions or understandings of those involved are rarely (except in Matrimony) relevant.

  7. Todd says:

    A good question would be why Marriage is an exception.

  8. Liam says:

    Ah, easy answer: because in the Roman rite (as opposed to Eastern rites) there are two celebrants, not one, and mutual consent is part of the elements. It’s a unique sacrament in that regard. It has uniquely subjective factors.

    Even then, note how difficult it has traditionally been to overcome objective indicia. The bias against subjective elements is enormous in the Roman sacramental system – very much because of Donatism that begat the “ex opere operato” cure…

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