ASK FATHER: Validity of Confirmation when an instrument is used and there is no hand contact

Recent I had two dubia about the same issue, one via email and another via SMS.  I find it curious that they both came in within days of each other.

The question was about the administration of the Sacrament of Confirmation using a some kind of cotton swab or instrument.  It is valid or not?

I’ve written about this question HERE and HERE.

I am flummoxed.

On the one hand, after Trent, at least, it was completely clear that use of an instrument was invalid.  The valid administration of Confirmation required a) imposition of the hand and b) anointing with Sacred Chrism.

At the time of Paul VI in 1972 it was clarified that the use of the thumb to anoint (or in case of need a different finger) sufficed for imposition of the hand.  That underscored that there had to be a touch of the hand.   So, if there was no imposition of the hand, but the bishop did anoint with the thumb, that was sufficient for validity.

Before Trent, a 15th c. painter Rogier van der Weyden shows that Confirmation could be done with an instrument.   It does not show the moment of imposition of the hand, but one assumes it.

Moving forward, in September 2020 (mid COVID Theater) the CDW told the USCCB that an instrument could be used and that it wouldn’t affect validity.  Presumably that would mean that Confirmation could be administered without any touch of the hand at all, given the response in 1972.

It’s a mess.

I think that the CDW is not the Congregation to answer this.  For questions of validity of sacramental forms and matter it seems to me that the CDF should answer the question.   It was, for example, the CDF that answered a challenge from French bishops about the continued use of the traditional form of Confirmation.

Meanwhile, because of COVID Theater, it is possible that some bishops, when confirming, are not imposing their hand and also using an instrument, meaning that there is no imposition of the hand.

Until this is resolved, it would not be a mistake to seek the Sacrament of Confirmation from a bishop using the TRADITIONAL Rite, including laying on the the hand and anointing with the thumb.  There is ZERO question of validity that way.

And isn’t that what we all want?  Do we ever want the slightest doubt about validity of sacraments?   We are our rites, after all.

Confirmation is REALLY IMPORTANT.   And through the history of the Church back to Apostolic times, as attested in Acts, imposition of hands  by the bishops is necessary.  That said, to this day I do not think that there has been an end-all-debate dogmatic declaration about imposition of hands.

It is natural that we should want clarity about this.

This is why we want to make sure that wine is truly grape wine, that hosts are from wheat and are not adulterated.  This why we want Father to use the correct words of absolution in the confessional.  Do you want to wonder of the Eucharist was really confected or your sins were absolved?   This is why the Church has a specific form for marriage.  This is why there is rite for anointing.  This is why a precise form should be used for baptism.

Remember the awful consequences when a couple of priests learned that they had been invalidly baptized because, back in the day, the priest or deacon made up his own baptismal form?

Do we ever want the slightest doubt about validity of sacraments?

This is why we must always



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    What has happened to the Church that such states of affairs are present? Father, is this a natural thing—I mean, look at all the heresies through our history, normal ebb and flow of the Church (ultimate Good) versus the dark one (ultimate evil)?

  2. Ages says:

    Covid cannot be transmitted by touching someone. There is zero basis for doing this, even if the bishop has good intentions.

    This has far surpassed AIDS in terms of the baseless general social panic it is causing. (Yet even during the greatest fears of that disease, faithful priests and bishops continued to do their job, even in conditions considered risky by what was known at the time.) By the way, a certain Anthony Fauci was also involved in creating that panic among persons not at risk, but I digress.

  3. monsmellis says:

    Father Z., can the argument be made for validity, based on some Eastern Rites using an instrument (looks like a slender paintbrush) for Chrismation?

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