Priest Finds Out His Baptism and, therefore, Ordination are Invalid
By Michael Stechschulte – August has been a roller coaster for Father Matthew Hood, who was ordained to the priesthood – some might say for the second time, but in reality, for the first time – August 17, 2020, for the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Father Hood’s world turned upside down on August 6, when the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a doctrinal note ruling that baptisms using an altered formula – specifically, those using the phrase, “We baptise you …” instead of the church’s ancient prayer, “I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” – are invalid.
Thirty years ago, that was the formula a deacon used to baptise Father Hood as an infant at St Anastasia Parish in Troy.
“It was devastating for me to find that out,” Father Hood told Detroit Catholic, the online news outlet of the Archdiocese of Detroit. “It meant I wasn’t baptised, and I hadn’t received any of my other sacraments – first Communion, confirmation or ordination to the diaconate or the priesthood.”
In other words, he wasn’t actually a priest because according to sacramental theology, only a baptised Catholic can validly receive the other sacraments.
“It’s such a strange circumstance, because it felt like nothing had changed. We don’t always feel the effects of the sacraments,” said Father Hood, who since July has served as associate pastor of St Lawrence Parish in Utica and before that at Divine Child in Dearborn since 2017.
While Father Hood has now received his sacraments – he was baptised, confirmed and received the Eucharist on August 9 and was ordained a transitional deacon August 15 and a priest on August 17 – his bigger concern now is those who received their sacraments from him, or thought they did.
Those he confirmed at Pentecost at Divine Child Parish will need to contact the parish to complete their sacraments, he said. The Archdiocese of Detroit has set up a webpage for anyone who believes they received an invalid sacrament, who can be contacted by a priest to learn what steps need to be taken. The parishes of those affected will also be reaching out.
“My heart goes out and breaks for those for whom I’ve celebrated Mass, Mass intentions I’ve offered, the confessions I’ve heard, and especially the sacraments of anointing of the sick that I’ve celebrated for people on their deathbeds, my grandmother included among them,” Father Hood said.
While the sacraments he celebrated might not have been valid – with the notable exception of baptism, which, ironically, doesn’t require a priest as long as the words, matter and intention are present – Father Hood said people can rest assured knowing God didn’t abandon them in their time of need.
The priest said he understands those impacted will feel the news with a sense of shock which is how he felt.
“As a priest, I want to be able to reach out to them and tell them this is something that’s very strange and probably painful, but I’ve gone through this as well, and I want to help you to remediate this problem,” he said.
The priest said he understands the importance of sacramental theology, including the words, water and actions that comprise baptism, which imparts sanctifying grace to the soul – effectively making one a Christian.
After all, for three years, he thought he was a priest.
“All of this might give the impression of an administrative act, but it’s something that needs to be taken seriously because the sacraments are so serious,” Father Hood said. “The sacraments come from Christ, and they’re entrusted to the church. It’s important to celebrate the sacraments according to the precepts of the church.”
The fact that he even discovered the problem in the first place was a stroke of divine providence, he said.
“At the beginning of the Covid quarantine, the archbishop talked about how there are special graces in these moments that we can’t expect,” Father Hood said. “One of those graces for me was that my dad had free time to go through old family videos. One of those videos was my baptism, and he sent it to me.”
Although the priest has long had an interest in the sacrament of baptism, it wasn’t until he watched the video in April that alarm bells began to go off.
“When I heard the words, at first, I thought, ‘That doesn’t sound right,'” Father Hood recalled. So he reached out to a professor at the seminary, a canon lawyer and the archdiocesan chancellor.
At the time, there was no clarification from the Vatican, and given the church’s longstanding practice of presuming validity of the sacraments unless shown otherwise, the four decided the priest was likely safe.
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