QUAERITUR: Confirmed or ordained but not in the state of grace – Fr. Z rants

From a reader:

My question is regarding confirmation. Do those who receive the sacrament have to be in a state of grace in order for it to take? (the answer, I assume, is yes). I ask this because I am not sure I was when I was confirmed. I happen to have a terrible memory and can remember wanting to go to confession before the mass and not being able to do so. However, I have reason to doubt that said memory is accurate.

Should I be worried? Is there anyway to get a provisional confirmation like there are provisional baptisms for those who convert from other Christian denominations? Does one have to be confirmed in order to receive holy orders?

Should someone with these questions even consider holy orders?

Quickly, three sacraments confer on the recipient an “indelible mark” which they never lose forever and forever and forever, in hell or in heaven: baptism, confirmation, Holy Orders.   Baptism forgives all sins, Original and actual, so you obviously are not in the state of grace when you receive it.

If you are confirmed or ordained and you are not in the state of grace, you are nevertheless confirmed or ordained.  The sacrament has really been conferred.  You are thereafter a confirmed person or ordained man.  However, you may not have the advantages of the graces from that sacrament until you are in the state of grace.  The same goes for marriage.  Two people can be married validly even if they are aware of un-confessed mortal sins.  If they are baptized members of the Church who are free to marry, they have the right understanding and intentions, and the proper form is used before a duly appointed minister of the Church, etc. etc., they are truly marriage even though they may be wicked she might be a wicked ne’er-do-well and he a blaggarding rapscallion.

It is as if the sacrament is dormant in a person until she returns to the state of grace, when it wakes up and starts to function again.

In the meantime, if a priest says Mass, the Mass is valid.  If he forgives sins, the absolution would be valid if he has faculties, etc.

To be ordained the ordinand must be male and baptized.  If the man is baptized but not confirmed the ordination would be valid but, according to the way things are done now, illicit.

And, yes, a man who has these questions can still consider seminary.  If you hadn’t been taught these things before, you are inquiring now.  You may have a lot to learn or relearn through no fault of your own.  Get a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for a start and begin reading.  That is a first good resource.  Man thinking about priesthood have to start somewhere and we all have different paths.

But I promised a rant, and here it is.

When an engine has a bad spark plug, it doesn’t work as well as it should.  If you are not in the state of grace, you are not operating as well as you should.

When you are not in the state of grace you are, to one degree or another, a drag on the whole Church.

We need you to clean up and fulfill your vocation because we are all in this together.

Mortal sin – bad spark plug.

If a ship at sea in a storm has crewmen who won’t report or can’t do their jobs properly because of scurvy, when a mast goes by the board, that ship is in peril.

Mortal sin – spiritual mutiny and scurvy.

So… you confirmed people out there.  Examine your consciences carefully and, for the love of God GO TO CONFESSION and confess EVERYTHING in both kind and number.

You married people out there.  Examine your consciences carefully and, for the love of God GO TO CONFESSION and confess EVERYTHING in both kind and number.

You priests and deacons out there.  Examine your consciences carefully and, for the love of God GO TO CONFESSION and confess EVERYTHING in both kind and number.

Simply baptized? …. need I repeat myself?

It’s all hands on deck these days, friends.

Thus endeth the rant.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Brad says:

    This isn’t directed at the person who wrote you the question, Father, but just a general comment. May God bless him.

    We all know times offered for confession are minimal in most parishes nowadays. But that is no hill for a climber, as pops would say, and we need to stop using that as a quasi-excuse or a naked one. Go to neighboring parishes. Or call your rectory and arrange it ahead of time…you know, like any other valuable medical appointment. Or go to some retreat center. Just DO something and stop making fuzzy references about confession attempts, especially, excuse me, in anticipation of or related to major Sacramental events or other religious events. I see we all manage to accomplish all our other errands — mundane ones at that — quite proficiently in this life. By the time one is twenty five years old one is a pro at so doing. Why isn’t one a pro at successfully bagging the elusive big game animal of the confessional booth?

  2. RMT says:

    So what you’re saying, Father, is that Confession puts the “lime” in “limeys”…

  3. RMT: I don’t know what that means. Sorry.

  4. APX says:

    By the time one is twenty five years old one is a pro at so doing. Why isn’t one a pro at successfully bagging the elusive big game animal of the confessional booth?
    Being a 25 year old, I can tell you that a) I’m just learning all this now. A lot of Catholic catechism was either glossed over, watered-down, or just not taught when we should have been learning this. b) I had a difficult time finding a priest to hear my Confession. One thing I learned was just because there’s confession times, doesn’t mean there’s going to be a priest there to hear confessions. It also doesn’t help much when the majority of Confession times are on Saturdays when those of us of that age group are mostly working at jobs where trying to get time off on a Saturday is very difficult, and when you ask, they want a reason that isn’t vague like “I have an appointment”. I don’t want to tell my employer I have to go to Confession, or that I have something going on at the Church. It leads to problems in the workplace. Furthermore, when I asked my own parish priest to hear my Confession outside of his normally scheduled once a month time on Saturday, he told me that he doesn’t hear confessions outside of his scheduled time unless it’s an emergency. For many of us it isn’t for lack of trying. I finally got to Confession in another diocese with an FSSP apostolate and it was the greatest experience in my life.

    @Fr. Z
    Thanks for clarifying this. It was something I had been wondering too since going through the Baltimore Catechism and it mentioning something about receiving Confirmation in the State of Grace. Despite spending the entire day at Church for a retreat the day of my Confirmation, there was no opportunity for Confession, nor any mention of needing to be in the State of Grace when we received Confirmation.

    But…we did play some groovy game about sins with the priest with a ball of yarn in which we all told one of our sins as we tossed the yarn to someone else making the “web of sins”. *eye roll*

  5. Jenny says:


    I’ve got to agree with APX. I’m thirty-four and when I went through confirmation the whole state of grace thing was not even brought up. When I got married the whole state of grace thing was never brought up. I’m sure my parish had confession scheduled on Saturday afternoon, but generally no one ever mentioned it. I had first confession in second grade and was taken back once in the eighth grade (I’m not sure why) and that was it for my entire childhood (confirmation was in eleventh grade) . No one ever talked about it.

    You have to be aware of the necessity of the sacrament before you start to attempt to bag the elusive big game animal.

  6. RMT says:

    Sorry Father, bad joke…

    I was referring to the nickname British sailors had, “limey”, because they would suck on lime juice to prevent scurvy.

  7. Dr. Sebastianna says:

    @ Fr Z

    What happens if the Priest or Bishop, in a really rare instance, is just “going through the motions” of performing the Sacrament and has no intention of doing what the church does with a sacrament… Is the sacrament still valid, by virtue of the church’s intention? Or does the minister of the sacrament also have to have that intention?

    [Your question doesn’t have much to do with the topic of this entry, which concerns the matter of the sacrament of baptism. I don’t want this to become a rabbit hole. That said, a heretic or pagan can validly baptize, so long as the person intends to do what the Church intends. If the person uses correctly the Church’s rite for baptism, the assumption is that the person has at least the minimum intention to do what the Church intends.]

  8. Terry_D says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf,

    How should a penitent confess “number” if it’s been quite a while between confessions and it can’t be stated with certainty?

    [Just do your best. If you give even a rough estimate about frequency if not the number, that will suffice in a pinch. And this is yet another good reason why people should make their good confession regularly and not let too much time pass. Our memories can have lots of holes.]

  9. Dr. Sebastianna says:

    @Fr z
    Thank you very much for answering my question.

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