QUAERITUR: Are SSPX confirmation valid?

From a reader:

I was confirmed by His Excellency Bishop Tissier de Mallerais. He belongs to the SSPX, and I was reading that my confirmation was valid but illicit. Should I get confirmed again. (If I get a disposition from the bishop of ___) I know this has been done before by many SSPX converts to the ICKSP in my parish.

Confirmation, like baptism, cannot be repeated.  If the SSPX confirmation was valid, and it was, then it cannot be repeated.  If there are cases of doubt, then confirmation would be conferred conditionally.  But I don’t think that is necessary in your case.

SSPX bishops are really bishops.  They validly confirm, even though they have no permission from the Church to do so.  That said, I don’t believe that the SSPX priests could validly confirm, since there is no one with any ecclesial authority who could give them a delegation… unless they got it from the local bishop.  Hard to imagine that.

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32 Responses to QUAERITUR: Are SSPX confirmation valid?

  1. MikeJ9919 says:

    I am a bit confused about your answer regarding SSPX priests, Father Z. I may be wrong about this, but I was under the impression that the sacraments one can confer are intrinsically related to one’s state in life. Thus, priests can consecrate the Eucharist, grant absolution, give the Anointing, etc. Bishops can do all of these (as they are priests), but can also ordain. There is a sacramental divide (episcopal consecration, another level of Holy Orders) between bishops and priests, and thus between the sacraments they can administer. (I know from your previous posts that was some prior disagreement over whether episcopal consecration was a separate level of Holy Orders or merely a granting of jurisdiction, but it’s my understanding that has largely been settled in favor of the former answer.)

    Unlike ordination, there is no sacramental divide with regards to confirmation. Priests (with the permission of their bishop) can confirm candidates. They cannot ordain men to the diaconate or the priesthood. It stands to reason that priests can validly but illicitly confirm, even without the permission of a bishop with proper jurisdiction.

    As a layman without formal training in theology or canon law, it is entirely possible I am wrong on this point, and I welcome fraternal correction.

  2. asperges says:

    (slightly off topic, but only a little) I have often wondered the case with converts whose previous baptism (as, perhaps, Anglicans) although accepted as valid – valid orders are not required for baptism – but their confirmation must ipso facto have been invalid in most cases. Are they required / do they in fact receive the sacrament later, or this often overlooked or omitted?

  3. JonPatrick says:

    I was baptized in the Catholic church but never confirmed as a child. I later left the Church for many years, ending up in the Episcopal church where I was confirmed. In 1999 I returned to the Catholic Church and had to be confirmed (by Cardinal Rigali at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Philadelphia) as my Episcopal confirmation was not considered valid.

  4. David2 says:

    Asperges, where it can be established that the baptism was valid (flowing water and the trinitarian formula), then a convert is not conditionally baptised.

    Converts from protestant denominations (such as Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians etc) are all Confirmed unconditionally, usually at the Easter Vigil.

    Converts from Eastern Orthodoxy are not confirmed, because their sacraments (including their equivalent of confirmation) are recognised as valid. They are simply “received” into the Church.

  5. guatadopt says:

    MikeJ

    You are on the right track with a few exceptions. Giving valid absolution requires proper jurisdiction which can only be granted by the bishop. Believe it or not, some active diocesan priests can’t even confer absolution validly (except in danger of death) because they don’t have the authority of the bishop. Confirmation is the same way. The ordinary minister of Confirmation is a Bishop. Priests need the proper authority from the bishop. Sometimes it is assumed…like confirming adults at the Easter Vigil, no special permission is needed. There was a situation in my diocese whereby a priest decided to confirm a group of 8th graders without permission from the bishop. The confirmations where declared invalid and an auxiliary bishop came and confirmed later. The priest claimed ignorance (with the current state of the seminary I don’t doubt it).

    Hope this helps.

  6. Asperges, I think the policy differs from place to place as to when confirmation is conferred on converts with valid baptisms. In some places at least, confirmation would be conferred at the time of reception into the Church and first Holy Communion, but I have heard of an incident from a different country where confirmation was delayed. However, I don’t think it likely that it is ignored in most places. Perhaps it is possible that some priests who have gone off the rails a bit might ignore it, just like some mess about with the words of the baptismal formula to the point of invalidity, but I shouldn’t think it likely that that kind of thing is very widespread. Of course, I may be wrong, but I hope not.

    Of course, I don’t know specifically about former Anglicans, but I’m not sure that there is any reason to believe that confirmation in their case is ignored. My own personal experience was as a former Lutheran (I left the Lutheran ecclesial community years before I was received into the Church), and, of course, Lutherans do not even themselves regard their confirmation as a sacrament. However, I’m not sure that there is any general basis for worrying that confirmation is ignored in the cases of former Protestants with valid baptisms, including Anglicans. At least that’s not my impression.

  7. David2 says:

    Asperges, usually, protestants of whatever denomination are confirmed unconditionally. If they convert following the RCIA process, this usually happens at the Easter Vigil.

    Converts from Eastern Orthodoxy are not confirmed, their confirmaiton being valid.

  8. Daniel Latinus says:

    But how does the disposition of the recipient effect Confirmation? As a youth I was already involved with the traditionalist movement, and wanted to opt out of Confirmation at my parish, so that I could receive the sacrament from Abp. Lefebvre.

    My mother objected, and I relented enough to submit to Confirmation by one of the Archdiocesan vicars. But every now and then, I am haunted by doubt.

    Can an unwilling confirmand be validly ordained?

  9. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Due to a technicality I was received into the Church and later it was discovered my baptism had been invalid. I was conditionally baptized and confirmed in one fell swoop by my pastor. When people are brought into the Church who are baptized they are confirmed in the Church regardless of what has happened before.

  10. AnAmericanMother says:

    As former Episcopalians a/k/a Anglicans, husband and I were reconfirmed.
    The kids were not (they were both preteens). In fact my daughter was just a wee bit miffed because she had just been confirmed by the Piskies and had to go back through confirmation class all over again.
    But she was pleasantly surprised. She enjoyed the classes and learned a great deal – as she said “there was actually REAL learning”. The ECUSA class was just mindless fluff – she and I started keeping score of every time some “facilitator” said “faith journey” and we got up to around 50 in one class. The Catholic class had to memorize bunches of stuff (good stuff, like the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit and the works of mercy) and write several essays. And they had a parents’ class too, since none of the kids were driving age we were all there anyway. Great classes, solid content and taught by the priests and deacons.

  11. “When people are brought into the Church who are baptized they are confirmed in the Church regardless of what has happened before.”

    Does this apply also to a convert from Orthodoxy? I should think that if people are brought into the Church who are not validly confirmed, they will be confirmed regardless of what happened before, and that applies to all Protestants. Except through some utterly weird circumstances that I don’t know about. I should think that even an Anglican priest who has sought valid ordination outside of the Anglican ecclesial community would not be validly ordained a bishop in that communion and so can still not confirm. However, I’m not sure that one can say absolutely all because I’m not sure if this applies to the Orthodox.

  12. FranzJosf says:

    Mike: If I am not mistaken, priests receive delegation to confirm not from their “bishop” but from the Ordinary of the diocese. The ordinary for an SSPX priest at, say, St. Isidor the Farmer is the Archbishop of Denver, not one of the SSPX bishops, who function like auxiliary bishops. Bishop Fellay is not an Ordinary; he is Superior General of the SSPX, but a priest could be too if voted in by the members of the institute.

    I don’t know the official SSPX stance on the topic, but I imagine they must have one if their priests confirm at the Easter Vigil. Perhaps the state of necessity?

  13. Supertradmum says:

    Catholic of Thule…It seems that in the Catechism, that Orthodox confirmation (charismation) is valid: however Canon Law states Canon 844 §3. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches.

    There is nothing there about the invalidity of Eastern charismation. But the above statement may apply to priests only. As far as I know, the sacraments of the Orthodox Church are considered valid.

    Here is the Catechism note at the end of this description… I. Confirmation in the Economy of Salvation

    1286 In the Old Testament the prophets announced that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the hoped-for Messiah for his saving mission.90 The descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism by John was the sign that this was he who was to come, the Messiah, the Son of God.91 He was conceived of the Holy Spirit; his whole life and his whole mission are carried out in total communion with the Holy Spirit whom the Father gives him “without measure.”92

    1287 This fullness of the Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah’s, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people.93 On several occasions Christ promised this outpouring of the Spirit,94 a promise which he fulfilled first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost.95 Filled with the Holy Spirit the apostles began to proclaim “the mighty works of God,” and Peter declared this outpouring of the Spirit to be the sign of the messianic age.96 Those who believed in the apostolic preaching and were baptized received the gift of the Holy Spirit in their turn.97

    1288 “From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews the doctrine concerning Baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. the imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church.”98

    1289 Very early, the better to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil (chrism) was added to the laying on of hands. This anointing highlights the name “Christian,” which means “anointed” and derives from that of Christ himself whom God “anointed with the Holy Spirit.”99 This rite of anointing has continued ever since, in both East and West. For this reason the Eastern Churches call this sacrament Chrismation, anointing with chrism, or myron which means “chrism.” In the West, Confirmation suggests both the ratification of Baptism, thus completing Christian initiation, and the strengthening of baptismal grace – both fruits of the Holy Spirit.

    Two traditions: East and West

    1290 In the first centuries Confirmation generally comprised one single celebration with Baptism, forming with it a “double sacrament,” according to the expression of St. Cyprian. Among other reasons, the multiplication of infant baptisms all through the year, the increase of rural parishes, and the growth of dioceses often prevented the bishop from being present at all baptismal celebrations. In the West the desire to reserve the completion of Baptism to the bishop caused the temporal separation of the two sacraments. the East has kept them united, so that Confirmation is conferred by the priest who baptizes. But he can do so only with the “myron” consecrated by a bishop.100

    1291 A custom of the Roman Church facilitated the development of the Western practice: a double anointing with sacred chrism after Baptism. the first anointing of the neophyte on coming out of the baptismal bath was performed by the priest; it was completed by a second anointing on the forehead of the newly baptized by the bishop.101 The first anointing with sacred chrism, by the priest, has remained attached to the baptismal rite; it signifies the participation of the one baptized in the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices of Christ. If Baptism is conferred on an adult, there is only one post-baptismal anointing, that of Confirmation.

    1292 The practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church.

  14. “That said, I don’t believe that the SSPX priests could validly confirm, since there is no one with any ecclesial authority who could give them a delegation… unless they got it from the local bishop. Hard to imagine that.”

    What’s hard for me to imagine is traditional rite of confirmation administered by other than a bishop. I’ve never personally seen or known directly of a traditional confirmation by a simple priest, even though admitted as per the following New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia quotation:

    The bishop alone is the ordinary minister of confirmation. This is expressly declared by the Council of Trent (Sess. VII, De Conf., C. iii). A bishop confirms validly even those who are not his own subjects; but to confirm licitly in another diocese he must secure the permission of the bishop of that diocese. Simple priests may be the extraordinary ministers of the sacrament under certain conditions. In such cases, however, the priest cannot wear pontifical vestments, and he is obliged to use chrism blessed by a Catholic bishop.

    Hmm . . . EMC means a priest (extraordinary minister of confirmation), EMHC means not a priest.

  15. Papabile says:

    OK:

    1. @Catholicofthule : Orthodox Chrismation is the same Sacrament as Confirmation and is accepted as valid by the Church. Of this in am 100% sure. On this issue of how the Orthodox are to be received, it has been called an “abuse” by Rome to make them go through RCIA. They should not, and should be directly admitted after making a Professiona of Faith.

    2. @MikeJ9919 : The ability of a Priest to confirm and bless Marriages is directly related to the issuance of permission (jurisdiction) by the Bishop. The same thing applies to the Sacrament of Confession. That is why you will often hear the statement that SSPX Confessions and Marriages are invalid.

    The SSPX disputes this, of course, on their particular understanding of ecclesia supplicet. Rome does not have the same understanding.

    3. SSPX Confirmations done by the Bishops are accepted affirmatively. I am personally aware of two Diocesan Priests, and a former seminarian, who were Confirmed by Lefebvre or Williamson and then entered diocesan seminaries, and thei Confirmation certificates were accepted outright by the ordaining dioceses.

  16. MJ says:

    Henry Edwards, you said, “What’s hard for me to imagine is traditional rite of confirmation administered by other than a bishop. I’ve never personally seen or known directly of a traditional confirmation by a simple priest…”

    I’d be that person for ya! :) I was confirmed by a priest who, because of the order he belonged to, had permission (directly from the Vatican) to confirm. The order he belonged to “broke up” 5 years or so after I was confirmed…I do not know all the details…I was 15 when I was confirmed, and 20 when the order broke up, and I really only heard about it through laity talk…not directly from the priest (who had since been moved to another church). But the priest contacted all of us he had confirmed and recommended that we be conditionally confirmed. The FSSP priest at the parish I am now at received permission from our local bishop, and our FSSP priest conditionally confirmed me.

    So now you have an example! :) Oh and in both cases – first confirmation and the conditional one – it was the Traditional Rite.

  17. Sword40 says:

    For many years we attended an SSPX chapel in Idaho. In 1980 three of my children were Confirmed by Abp Lefebrve (sp), but in 1988 when JP II “excommunicated” Abp L, we returned to the establishment church. when it came time for my three children to enter confirmation classes I tried to explain to the late Abp Murphy that they had already been confirmed but he insisted they have it re-done. so rather than fight about it we agreed.

  18. Oneros says:

    I find the idea that priests NEED delegation for VALIDITY to be a bit of a stretch even if it’s the current thinking in canon law or whatever.

    The reason Confession and witnessing Marriages requires faculties…is because there is a question of Jurisdiction involved. Ie, confession is not just a sacrament, but also an act of the Keys/jurisdiction given its nature as a tribunal.

    Confirmation…doesn’t seem to have any question of jurisdiction intrinsically, I wouldn’t think (otherwise, a bishop conferring it on people not his own subject without delegation from their Ordinary would be not only illicit, but invalid).

    Lay people do not need “delegation” to preform baptism validly, even though we’re only extraordinary ministers.

    As for Orthodox confessions and confirmations, etc, the Church seems to now accept that Orthodox Sees have valid jurisdiction INTERNALLY relative to themselves, even if they are in schism/not in communion with Rome.

  19. MJ says:

    Oneros you said “I find the idea that priests NEED delegation for VALIDITY to be a bit of a stretch even if it’s the current thinking in canon law or whatever.”

    I don’t believe Confirmations require delegation – they require permission from the Bishop because priests are not the ordinary minister of Confirmation. Delegation is different – delegation is more along the lines of jurisdiction.

    Unless I am mistaken, I do believe this is the case.

  20. Jucken says:

    @Sword40 just a small correction: Pope Blessed John Paul II did not excommunicate Msgr. Lefebvre; he was excommunicated latae sententiae, that is, automatically by the force of the law itself. All that Pope Blessed John Paul II did was confirm the automatic excommunication, effectively judging Msgr. Lefebvre’s “state of necessity” defence void. Pope Benedict XVI later reassured this by remitting the excommunication of the four illicitly consecrated men: he could not have removed something that didn’t exist!

  21. asperges says:

    Thanks to those who replied to my post above. Very helpful.

    Confirmation delegated to priests here is quite common and has been for some years.

    One has to wonder how it can be that SSPX confirmations are considered as perhaps invalid whereas (schismatic) confirmations by Orthodox are apparently not. I accept the discipline can only extend to our own, but there is something wrong here that I do no entirely grasp between illicit and invalid and which is strictly which.

  22. danphunter1 says:

    I know of one case where the local Ordinary of an African country delegated authority to an SSPX priest to perform a Confirmation on one person.
    Maybe delegating authority for this situation for confirmation of a group is a different story.

  23. Papabile says:

    To take someone who has been confirmed by Lefebvre and “re-confirm” or conditionally confirm him would be gravely sinful as there is no question the confirmation is valid. Rome has been clear on this issue.

    Sometimes the Lefebvrists have conditionally confirmed, because they have concerns over the matter utilized viz. the oil. (I am not saying I agree with that necessarily, just noting it.)

  24. Oneros says:

    “I don’t believe Confirmations require delegation – they require permission from the Bishop because priests are not the ordinary minister of Confirmation.”

    Right, but that sort of permission not involving jurisdiction strictly speaking…would seem to only affect licitity, not validity.

  25. Centristian says:

    I have to laugh at this because I was confirmed by a diocesan bishop when I was a kid, and later conditionally reconfirmed by an SSPX bishop when I joined their seminary. Imagine if both were invalid? It might explain alot, in my case! ;^)

  26. MJ says:

    @ Oneros: “Right, but that sort of permission not involving jurisdiction strictly speaking…would seem to only affect licitity, not validity.”

    Ah, I see what you’re saying. I’m not sure though…because a priest really cannot Confirm unless the permission is there…the “faculties”, if you will, are not ordinary there unless the Bishop gives his express permission. If a sacrament is conferred where faculties are lacking, I’m not sure the sacrament could be considered valid…

  27. Athanasius says:

    What’s hard for me to imagine is traditional rite of confirmation administered by other than a bishop.

    I’ve actually seen this before, in a diocese where the Bishop simply did not want to be involved with the FSSP parish, and gave the pastor faculties confirm. The Rituale Romanum of 1961 allowed it in danger of death, and a subsequent decision by the congregation of rites allowed Bishops to delegate it to priests.

    I find the idea that priests NEED delegation for VALIDITY to be a bit of a stretch even if it’s the current thinking in canon law or whatever.

    What you’re missing is that the Church has the right to restrict the exorcise of the sacraments. Blessings are a great example. Blessings are not intrinsic to the priesthood, the Church could allow a layman to give apostolic blessings, the rites of exorcism and blessing at solemn exorcism, etc. but restricts it to the priesthood because it is more fitting for the priest to bless. This does not eliminate natural law blessings like a father who blesses his kids. It does mean official blessings which the Church promulgates are not valid if done by those whom the Church has not given faculties to bless. This can include priests who do not have their faculties. This is also true with Marriage. There is nothing intrinsic to the priesthood in witnessing marriage, because the proximate matter for the sacrament is a man and a woman who are not impeded by a natural or ecclesiastical impediment. If the Church wanted, she could give to a layman the faculty to witness marriage, and the marriage in such a case would be valid. It is not fitting however, rather that is restricted to a priest, but not any priest, specifically a pastor who has the authority to delegate that to a priest in his parish (and under the new code a deacon). Outside of that it is invalid.

    Historically, the Latin Church has always restricted the conferral of confirmation to the ordinary of a diocese. In the old Rituale Romanum it allowed a priest to confer confirmation in danger of death to children or one who had not received it. A subsequent permission prior to the new code and incorporated in it allowed Bishops to delegate the authority to priests. So to understand it correctly, the priest has the power to effect the sacraments, but the Church restricts that power, either due to justice or to its aptness. If it is restricted, any sacrament that is not ex opere operato (that is, it happens in virtue of the priesthood, e.g. baptism, Eucharist, extreme unction) is restricted. Confirmation cannot be effected in virtue of the priesthood. Its because things are required beyond the power of the priesthood for the sacrament to take place. Or, to put it another way, the priesthood for the other sacraments is only one of the things needed to effect that. Confirmation, marriage and Penance function this way. They require more than the priesthood, they require the right to carry these things out. If the Church wanted she could just allow any priest to do these things, but for prudence (you don’t want a priest who believes the 6th and 9th commandments are optional to hear confessions) the Church restricts them. For confirmation this is a bishop. I hope that makes a little more sense of it.

  28. dn.philip.mathew says:

    I’ve been reading this site for a while, but had to register because I was curious about something and wanted to ask.

    In our Church (Orthodox), priests can and ordinarily do chrismate (confirm) but must use chrism consecrated by the bishop (in our practice, usually by the primate with the synod), and I was under the understanding that Roman Catholic priests who are allowed to administer confirmation must likewise use chrism consecrated by the local bishop.

    Where, then, does the SSPX get its chrism? I presumed they would have to receive it from the local bishop, and not simply the bishops of their order. Can and do SSPX bishops consecrate their own chrism? Would this be considered as valid for confirmation as chrism consecrated by the local bishop? If so, why?

    Thanks!

  29. theophilus says:

    I believe the those of the Eastern Rites use Holy Chrism blessed by the Ordinary, but their priests do not need special permission other than what is given at Holy Orders.

  30. kat says:

    Question to anyone:
    Does any priest need to get the bishop’s permission to confirm someone who is on his/her deathbed (child or adult) who has not yet been confirmed?

    Although Confirmation is not necessary for salvation, it does give that special character which remains after death, and thus I know of cases where dying individuals have received confirmation from priests.

  31. Centristian says:

    @dn.philip.mathew:

    “Where, then, does the SSPX get its chrism? I presumed they would have to receive it from the local bishop, and not simply the bishops of their order. Can and do SSPX bishops consecrate their own chrism?”

    The four men illicitly ordained to the episcopacy by Archbishop Lefebvre–despite having no faculties or jurisdiction–pontificate (in the manner of ordinary bishops) at their own Chrism Masses and make their own holy oil, which is then distributed to the various priories and chapels and other institutions run by or served by the clergy of the Society of St. Pius X. SSPX clergy have no intercourse, at all, with the ordinaries of the various dioceses they find themselves operating within and they do not get holy oils from them, no.

    I was personally present at two Chrism Masses of (bishop) Richard Williamson when I was a seminarian in Winona. The ceremony was extremely impressive, much more so than the Chrism Masses I have seen at the cathedral of my diocese; I have to give them that. Now that I realize the flagrant pretention of it all, I recall it less fondly.

    “Would this be considered as valid for confirmation as chrism consecrated by the local bishop? If so, why?”

    That question I do not know the answer to. I will say, though, that when I was in the SSPX’s seminary, they had me conditionally re-confirmed by Williamson because they had doubts about the validity of the matter used at my original confirmation. Whence their concerns? Beyond me.

  32. Papabile says:

    @Centristian I bet you ten to one the reason they had doubts about validity is they were concerned about the type of oil used. This has been an issue they have raised time and again that they believe 100% olive oil is necessary to the matter.