ASK FATHER: Is confirmation necessary for ordination?

From a reader…


To validly take up holy orders, must a Catholic also be confirmed in addition to being baptized?

There are two absolutely necessary things for valid ordination to Holy Orders… all three Holy Orders, Diaconate, Priesthood, Episcopate: the male sex and baptism.

It is impossible to ordain a woman.  In the ancient Church, there were a few places where some women were admitted to a ministry (especially to women) in an “order” and they were called “deaconesses”. They were not ordained with a valid sacrament of orders to the diaconate.  (There may have been attempts to ordain, but they would have been invalid.) Whatever it was they were called upon to do, however valuable, they weren’t doing it in the same way that ordained deacons did.  The practice fizzled out.  That women cannot be ordained is of Divine positive law by the fact that Christ only called men to the apostolate that requires orders.  Also, the Church affirms that Holy Orders is the sacrament of apostolic ministry in three degrees: diaconate, priesthood, episcopate. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, reads:

28. Christ, whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world, has through His apostles, made their successors, the bishops, partakers of His consecration and His mission. They have legitimately handed on to different individuals in the Church various degrees of participation in this ministry. Thus the divinely established ecclesiastical ministry is exercised on different levels [diversis ordinibus] by those who from antiquity have been called bishops, priests and deacons.

If the two, priesthood and episcopate, are open only to men, and if there is one sacrament and not two or three sacraments, then it follows that women cannot be ordained to the diaconate.  Some of the confusion about this today probably comes from the fact that in the ancient Church there were several “orders” that didn’t rise to the level of sacramental orders.  There was, for example, the order (not a matter of ordination) for catechumens.  There were orders also for those engaged in works of mercy, such as the orders of virgins, of widows and also of gravediggers (again, not matters for sacramental ordination).  These orders were highly respected and members had their designated places in churches.  Deaconesses probably were in that sort of order.

It is also impossible to ordain an unbaptized man.  Baptism is absolutely necessary for validity.  Moreover, while this is hardly to be imagined, it would be – or at least was – possible validly to ordain a male infant to any or all of the three orders.  An adult male has to have the intention to be ordained:  you can’t ordain a guy who is in a coma or who really doesn’t want to be ordained, protesting as people hold him down.  A baptized man doesn’t have to be in the state of grace for validity of ordination.  However, if he isn’t in the state of grace, he receives ordination with serious lack of worthiness… apart from the fact that none of us are really worthy.

So, to be ordained validly you must be male and must be baptized.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law says:

Can. 1033 Only one who has received the sacrament of sacred confirmation may lawfully be promoted to orders.

It is possible validly to ordain a man who has not been confirmed, but it would not be licit to do so.

Given the burden of the Sacrament of Orders in any of the ranks, functioning without the graces of the Sacrament of Confirmation would be that much more difficult.   It would be a really really really bad idea knowingly to ordain a man who isn’t confirmed.  And ask yourself, why would that happen?  If a bishop is ready to ordain, even – for the sake of playing out a scenario – during the coming time of persecution with itinerate priests in an underground Church, it would take about 5 seconds to confirm the man to be ordained before starting the ordination rites.

Confirmation is poorly understood by many.    You might take a look at this: HERE


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    As a matter of fact, there are twelve (or was it elven?) prominent examples of people who were ordained first (on Maundy Thursday) and, with (if it wasn’t elven from the onset) one exception about which let be silent the minstrel’s courtesy, confirmed later (on Pentecost Sunday).

    But we can agree that was a special and exceptional case; it had to be that way, because you can’t be confirmed before the first pouring-out of the Holy Spirit.

    Re ordination of male infants: If I got that correctly, there are authors around – admittedly more modern ones, but with some sound reasons – who demand use of reason for validity. There is no doubt that people back in the day thought you could validly ordain infants. For the somewhat interested non-theologian such as myself, this is the broad category of “doubtful”.

    It wasn’t, to my knowledge, either licit or a widespread practice at any time in any case. (It was somewhat widespread to designate infants to be future clergymen, but that is an entirely different thing which addresses this very problem.)

  2. Imrahil: One of those who thought that even infants could be validly ordained is Ludwig Ott. I find him reliable.

  3. Alice says:

    The Catechism of the Council of Trent says that children can be validly ordained even though it shouldn’t be done. Personally I find this somewhat comforting. If the same maturity were required of priests for valid ordination that is required of both of the parties for marriage, we could never be sure that we had received the sacraments from a validly ordained priest!

  4. I’m thinking it’s not just Confirmation that is sorely misunderstood (that some have to keep chewing the cud over Holy Orders is another); but the whole sacramental economy is misunderstood after the last 50+ years of dumbed-down feel-good encounter sessions which replaced robust catechetics.

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