A priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit recently learned that the deacon who baptized him many years ago did not say the correct words when performing the sacrament. Since baptism is necessary to receive all the other sacraments of the Church, Father Matthew Hood had not only been invalidly baptized, but every single sacrament he received, including Holy Orders, were suddenly rendered invalid.
My sacramental theology professor posited this scenario in class while I was in seminary. He said, “imagine a bishop somehow finds out he was invalidly baptized while enjoying some appetizers at a cocktail party. In his dismay he chokes and is actively dying. Do you perform the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick or do you baptize him?” The underlying teaching of this extreme and unlikely scenario has become true for Father Hood. It would be necessary to baptize the dying bishop.
A letter from Archibishop Vigneron of Detroit recently published states that “Father Hood immediately contacted the Archdiocese and the proper steps were taken to remedy his situation. He was recently validly baptized. Furthermore, since other sacraments cannot be validly received in the soul without valid baptism, Father Hood also was recently validly confirmed and validly ordained a transitional deacon and then a priest.”
For many, this may appear legalistic and unnecessary. When Rome recently published a document stressing that when performing a baptism, the minister must say, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” rather than “we baptize you…”, some deemed it somewhat ridiculous.
The Church takes what she teaches and does seriously. Baptism is not some kind of magic trick, but the Church is very precise in her rites. It is a way to ensure that things are done in a uniform manner and no abuses take place. Furthermore, the Church recognizes that she has the authority to determine what the various formulae are for the celebration of sacraments.
A question remains: what about the many sacraments Father Hood celebrated during the past three years? The Archdiocese is working with the parishes where Father Hood was assigned so that “each individual’s circumstance may be examined and rectified.”
A moment like this however serves as a reminder, as Archbishop Vigneron states, that “God has bound Himself to the sacraments, but He is not bound by the sacraments.” We are certain that God’s grace is present in the sacraments of the Church, but we are well aware that God is not limited to the sacraments. In the end, we have to trust that God will supply the needed graces to those who received a sacrament from Father Hood in good faith.
I wonder if more cases such as this one will arise. I wonder how many priests are looking through old family videos from the 80s and 90s to make sure they were validly ordained. I only have pictures of the events, so I will trust that I was validly baptized!