Sometime ago, I was told by a priest that if the priest is in mortal sin, the mass (primarily Holy Communion) is still valid, his argument being that you wouldn’t know that he was in mortal sin. I was taught if a priest is in mortal sin, he should not celebrate mass, but if he were, would it be valid?
It is a great mystery and a sign of God’s unfathomable love that He entrusts the most sacred thing imaginable to the hands of the most unworthy sinners.
The older form of Mass in the Roman Rite often reminds the priest that he is a sinner. The newer form…. not so much. Perhaps this is part of our problem today. But I digress….
The efficacy of our sacraments and rites do not depend on the holiness of the human priest. Christ is the true actor in the liturgy. The holiness and efficacy of the rites depend on Christ’s holiness and action. The priest, by his ordination, acts in Christ’s person, but Christ is the only Holy One.
So, even when a sinful priest, even a very sinful priest, says Mass or absolves sins, the Mass is valid and the sins are forgiven.
Would it be better were the priest only to fulfill his priestly duties when in the state of grace? Sure. But this is real life, friend. Priests have work to do and they can’t always get to confession. As a matter of act, for lots of reasons it can be harder for priests to get to confession than it is for most lay people.
Should the priest, a frail human being like everyone else, refuse to say Mass for the congregation who come to church on schedule to fulfill their own obligations? Of course not. He should make as perfect an act of contrition as he can and say Mass on schedule. He should then try to get to confession as soon as he can…. just like everyone else who is aware of mortal sins.
Priests have to face judgment too, you know. Their judgment will be more exacting because of what is entrusted to them.
I want to add a warning:
Don’t attach too much to the person of the priest or to his own holiness. Priests don’t transmit their holiness to you. This was an error that St. Augustine dealt with during the Donatist controversy in the 4th and 5th centuries. Priests are God’s instruments and the holiness is entirely HIS.
The bottom line: When a priest who has committed mortal sins says Mass, Mass is valid.