ASK FATHER: Are “Novus Ordo” ordinations truly valid?

From a reader…


Father, I’ve done some reading on whether Novus Order orders are truly valid or not and am confused. Would love to get your learned comments on the matter. Thanks for your work.

You ask if ordinations to Holy Orders using the post-Conciliar rites implemented by Paul VI, later revised, are valid.

Others have asked the same question.  People worry about these things because everything depends on valid orders for an orderly Church according to the will of the Lord.  No priest – no Eucharist – no Church.

I’ve written on this issue half a dozen times on this blog. I even had a PODCAzT about it.

Back in the day, the late and highly esteemed Michael Davies wrote an alarming book called Order of Melchisedech: A Defence of the Catholic Priesthood. US HERE – UK HERE  It was closely argued and persuasive.

Davies argued, in essence, that in his day – early 90s, there was no question that Latin Church Orders were valid with the “Novus Ordo” Pauline rites.  However, he suggested that in time to come, with the break down of theological formation, more and more bishops would be ignorant, errant, or at least sketchy about Catholic theology of orders.  Hence, they would not have the correct intention to ordain as the Church intended.  In the 90s bishops still got it.  In the future, it would be far less sure.

This is critical because the first edition of the Pauline rites had left out explicit statements about what the priest was ordained to do: say Mass and forgive sins.   Rites should be explicit about what they are doing to convey the proper intention.   That’s why Davies raised the alarm.  If those Pauline rites were kept as they were, and if bishops in the future were sketchy about the priesthood, then they would not confer valid Orders!

Someone in the Vatican figured this out.

Thus, in 1990 Pope St. John Paul II issued a new edition of the Rites for Ordination of all three orders, diaconate, priesthood and episcopate.  As a matter of fact, I was, I think, the first man in the world ordained with the new rite for diaconate.  Card. Mayer had to get a copy of the new book from the Congregation for Worship because it wasn’t out in circulation yet.  That year, 1990, John Paul ordained priests in the Vatican Basilica with the new book.  I was ordained by him with the new book in 1991. I wonder if that makes me a second class relic.

What was the difference because the Johanno-Pauline edition and the Pauline?   John Paul put back into the rite, in the part with the interrogations of the priesthood ordinandi, specific questions relating to confecting the Eucharist and absolving sins.  He made the rites more specific.  Frankly I didn’t study or compare the rites for the episcopate, since I will never have to undergo them!

There is also the problem of the translation of the rites into English.  That was a mess of galactic magnitude.  As a matter of fact, I believe that the absurd rendering that the earlier incarnation of ICEL did was so bad that the camel’s back was finally broken.  The Congregation issued page after page of scathing comments about the inaccuracies and theological errors their version introduced.  After that ICEL was disbanded and reconstituted under new leaders.   The rites eventually produced in English and in use today are dependable.

At this point I’ll add, because someone will ask, a priest is not more a priest because he is ordained with the older, traditional rite.   Do I wish that I had been ordained with the traditional rites?  Sure!  The rites are far richer and more meaningful, just as the traditional rites are in regard to all the sacraments.  And I wish that I had the same ordaining bishops, too (Card. Mayer – the holiest man I’ve ever known, and John Paul II).  However, as it turns out I was ordained – both times – with the rites entirely in Latin, from the best book available, by the holiest of men.  That’s not bad.

There is no question that the post-Conciliar rites for ordination validly conferred Holy Orders.  That is even more certain with the revisions made by John Paul II in 1990.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I am wondering when the Novus Ordo rite of ordination to the priesthood was first mandated in the U.S. and other countries in the Americas?…

  2. APX says:

    A bit of an odd question to ask a priest ordained via the “novus ordo” Rite.

  3. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Fr. Z,

    I would only add to your excellent answer, the opinion of those trained in sacramental theology that an ordination would not be invalid merely because the ordaining bishop was ignorant, poorly schooled, or theologically confused.

    Rather, the sacrament of Holy Orders conferred with the rites of the Church are indefectible and valid unless the ordaining bishop, or the man being ordained, places an “obex” or obstacle to the working of grace which Our Lord infallibly promised.

    In Apostolicae Curae, Pope Leo XIII reasoned that Anglican Orders were absolutely null and utterly–but not just because the rite of ordination was too vague or because the theology of the Anglican bishops was deficient.

    Rather, Leo XIII mentioned that the authors of the Anglican rite, in preaching, teaching, and writing, had explicitly attacked the doctrine that priests could absolve sin, and confect the Eucharist as a propitiatory sacrifice.

    It was from this Anglican “obex,” public and manifest to their clergy and people, that an explicit intention was declared and formed, to expunge and remove from Anglican ordination, any mention of absolving sins and confecting the sacrifice of the Eucharist. That willful, obstinate, heretical, and publicly manifest intention of the Anglicans is what invalidated completely their rite of ordination.

    As crazy as the post Vatican II liturgical scene is, there has never to my knowledge, been a case where a Catholic bishop says to the ordinands, “Let me make it clear, that in this ordination, I have no intention whatsoever to ordain priests who can confect the Eucharist and absolve sin.”

    Theologians have also stated the ancient principle that where a sacramental impediment–of the intention of the minister–has not been made public and manifest to those present (and the rite is employed), we are to conclude that the sacrament of Holy Orders is validly conferred. It is not sufficient to guess that “some bishops don’t have the proper intention,” and therefore some have been ordained invalidly. That kind of speculation is not supported in Catholic theology.

    Perhaps there have been, in the minds of some ordinands, an interior intention to reject the proper ends of the Catholic priesthood, but from the point of view of the rite itself, once the Pope’s signature goes on it, validity attaches. It is even taught by some that when the Pope gives his approval to a liturgical rite, destined for the universal Church, it is an exercise of the infallibility of the Pope.

    [Sorry. Read Davies.]

  4. JustaSinner says:

    Hypothetical one here…
    What happens if after a zombie apocalypse there are only a smattering of priests, monsignors and no Bishops? How is the Church reconstructed?

  5. Kathleen10 says:

    Fr. Sotelo beat me to it, and I’m still fuzzy on this.
    I just read a comment in a combox that is interesting, and it says the same thing. Might all these horrible priests/bishops/Cardinals infecting God’s church be men who were not validly ordained because they didn’t have the proper intention to be ordained? Example, let’s say they became Catholic priests to join the Gay Boy’s Club the church was becoming. Let’s say their pal Randy had told them what a great gig it was, and off they went to sign up, no intention on being the Catholic priest they pretended to be, it was all show.
    Is that man a Catholic priest? It would certainly help to explain why we see so many of these predatorial dissenters.

  6. Thomas S says:


    Even if a man entered formation to join the lavender mafia, with the worst of intentions from the very start, that doesn’t mean he didn’t intend to actually be ordained. That’s a separate issue.

    I think the instances of a man deliberately thwarting the administration of the sacrament by his intention is, mercifully, almost nonexistent. Thank God, because that would unleash havoc on the sacramental life.

    Better these men have a conversion of heart rather than we hope they somehow weren’t really ordained to begin with. Just imagine the consequences for the faithful of such men not really being priests.

  7. Semper Gumby says:

    JustaSinner: Good questions.

    Kathleen10 and Thomas S: Interesting. Perhaps there is a difference between “proper intention to be ordained” and simply “intending” to be ordained.

  8. APX says:

    Hypothetical one here…
    What happens if after a zombie apocalypse there are only a smattering of priests, monsignors and no Bishops? How is the Church reconstructed?

    That could never happen because it would mean the Gates of Hell prevailed against the Church, which will never happen.

  9. Kathleen10 says:

    Thank you Thomas S. I don’t mean to split hairs, but what if he knew he had to be ordained to accomplish his goal, be a Catholic priest, but considered it only a prerequisite he had to get done.
    What if his main goal was something else, most unpriestly-like behavior, in the realms I already mentioned. He’s officially ordained, he finished his studies and so on, got rubber stamped all along the way (by questionable men), and there is he, Fr. Nightmare.
    One begins to wonder about things like ordinations and dodgy papal abdications and elections when one sees what we are seeing, because what we are seeing in our day makes no sense at all.

  10. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I had a bit of an existential crisis about this about a year ago. There was the McCarrick summer of shame. The Pennsylvania Grand Jury report with its lists of sadistic, ritualized sodomitic predation and rape of children (some of those priests were basically Satanists). Then some boiling reports of some of Bernardin’s past exploits, some hinting at even accusations of occult/ritualistic activities including sodomy and rape.

    Added to the history of Bella Dodd (and Manning Johnson’s) claims of implanting well over 1,000 atheist communists into the seminaries to work against the Church from within a century ago…

    I wondered, and honestly have not received an adequate answer, how such men could be properly disposed to receive Sacred Orders…If they specifically reject theism, Christianity broadly, and Catholicism specifically at the time of their ordination and really only see the rite/words/form/matter as a means to another end (destruction of the Church) rather than its proper end (building up the Church, Confessions/Eucharistic Sacrifice). Then how could these men receive Holy Orders?

    These men are different than men who on some level believe in God and the Church but have a homosexual porn addiction or bent/broken views about the Church’s social mission or the fine points of the priesthood or whether celibacy is a prudent law, etc.

    And if they had the same contradictory inner dispositions at their Episcopal consecrations…how could people like Bernardin and McCarrick and their ilk, if secret Communists or atheist malefactors, properly receive Episcopal consecrations? And therefore how could they ordain priest? Or co-consecrate other Bishops? or vote in a Conclave?

    This rabbit hole gets despairingly deep rather quickly, so I just chose to focus on repenting of my own sins, building up on my own virtues, and strengthening the Church how I can where I am…

  11. Hidden One says:


    A good question. But the hypothetical situation it refers to will never occur.

  12. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Fr. Z:

    “Sorry. Read Davies.”

    Actually, the point of my post, that a bishop must give a “positive contrary intention” in order to ordain invalidly, was taken from Davies’ book, “The Order of Melchisedech.”

    And so I repeat, it is not sufficient to judge the validity of Holy Orders from the speculation that bishops are ignorant, poorly schooled, or theologically confused. I quote from page 126 Davies’ book:

    “The consensus of Catholic theologians is that the correct and serious performance of a rite as approved by the Church, and because approved by her, is a sufficient indication of the internal intention on the part of the minister. In such cases there is no means by which the Church can PASS JUDGEMENT ON HIS INTERIOR DISPOSITIONS. Thus, Pope Leo XIII states in Apostolicae Curae:

    ‘The Church does not judge about the mind and intention, in so far as it is something by its nature INTERNAL; but in so far as it is manifested EXTERNALLY she is bound to judge concerning it. A person who has correctly and seriously used the requisite matter and form to effect and confer a sacrament, is presumed for that very reason to have intended to do (intendisse) what the Church does. On this principle rests the doctrine that a Sacrament is truly conferred by the ministry of one who is a heretic or unbaptized, provided the CATHOLIC RITE BE EMPLOYED (para 3 3).’

    Please forgive the caps. I forgot how to code for italics and quotes. If I am wrong, then Michael Davies’ is wrong as well–since what I wrote about intention is what he writes in his book. Namely, Catholic ordination, even in the Ordinary Form, is presumed to be valid so long as there is no public, externally manifested “positive contrary intention” by the ordaining bishop.

  13. JonPatrick says:

    Interesting what Father Sotelo says above about Anglican orders. I have always wondered about that (as a former Episcopalian) since at the time of the break from the Church under Henry VIII they still had validly ordained bishops. I guess I need to go read Apostolicae Curae.

  14. Fr_Sotelo says:


    Queen Mary ordered the Roman rite returned for Holy Orders, and then ordered Archbishop Cranmer to be burned at the stake.

    But when Queen Mary Tudor died and Elizabeth ascended, I believe the Catholic bishops were removed. The previous Anglican structure was returned, along with Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer.

    In the ordinations of new bishops which followed, Cranmer’s Ordinal or ritual was brought back as well, for ordaining bishops. That Ordinal, and the public statements of the Anglican clergy, denied belief in a priesthood which absolves sin and offers the Mass as propitiatory sacrifice.

    Thus, in the Protestant restoration of Elizabeth, both valid Apostolic Succession was broken, and the intention to ordain a sacrificial priesthood was repudiated, assuring the loss of valid orders.

  15. GordonB says:

    The best priestly ordinations are not relevant if the Bishop’s ordination is not. That’s one of the concerns old Malachi Martin raised and given the apparent problems with the Bishops, it would also be an interesting study. One indeed wonders for instance about Mr McCarick’s ordinations and the crew he had co-ordain with him.

  16. James C says:

    It’s astonishing to me they translated the rites of ordination into the vernacular. Wasn’t the vernacular supposed to be introduced for ‘pastoral’ reasons? Funny how ordinations and episcopal consecrations were done in vulgar tongues less than a decade after John XXIII’s Apostolic Constitution “Veterum Sapientia”.

    Ulterior motives, as usual with Vatican II revolutionaries.

  17. mattg says:

    TLDR; “I was ordained in the NO, so it damn well better be valid.”

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