This past Sunday, in the English speaking world, the new translation of the Mass was implemented. While there were certainly many of little mistakes – most notably, the struggle to say “And with your spirit” – we all can recognize that these are of no great consequence. Surely, we want to celebrate the Mass correctly, but a mistake is only a mistake, right?
However, there is one area where we recognize that a mistake could have serious consequences: What happens if the priest does not say the words of consecration correctly? What if he confuses one or two words, especially if he accidently says some portion of the old translation?
The words of consecration
The words necessary for the consecration of the Eucharist are called by theologians the “form” of the sacrament. It is by the power of these words that the bread is transubstantiated into the Body of Christ, and the wine into his Blood. The words of consecration effect the sacrament.
But what exactly are these words? What words are considered to be the “words of consecration”? Here we must note that these words differ from Mass to Mass – that is, the words of consecration in the Eastern Rites are different from those in the Latin Rite. Additionally, even within the Latin Rite, there is a difference between the more ancient form (i.e. the “Traditional Latin Mass”) and the Ordinary Form (i.e. The Novus Ordo). While the words change from Rite to Rite and while they can be modified over time, nevertheless the essential meaning of the words is always the same. The words must signify the reality of transubstantiation and of the sacrifice.
Thus, in the New Mass, it is most likely (though there is some dispute among theologians) that the essential “words of consecration” are “Hoc est enim Corpus meum” (over the Host) and “Hic est enim calix Sanguinis mei, novi et eterni testament, qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur, in remissionem peccatorum” (over the chalice). In the new English translation, these words correspond to “For this is my Body” and “For this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins”.
Notice that this does not include all of the words which the priest says while consecrating the Sacred Species – rather, only those words which signify transubstantiation (for both the Host and the Chalice, individually) and sacrifice (for the Host and Chalice, together) are generally considered by theologians to be the “words of consecration”. Hence, the words over the Host – “which will be given up for you” – do not seem to be a part of the words of consecration, strictly. Likewise, the other words such as “In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took this precious chalice, etc.” are not part of the words of consecration properly so-called.
Generally, if the priest fails to say the essential words of consecration, the Mass is invalid and the Eucharist is not consecrated. However, what if he gets confused and mixes up part of the old translation with the new?
In the Papal Bull of St. Pius V, De defectibus, it is specified that, “if the priest were to shorten or change the form of the consecration of the Body and the Blood, so that in the change of wording the words did not mean the same thing, he would not be achieving a valid Sacrament. If, on the other hand, he were to add or take away anything which did not change the meaning, the Sacrament would be valid, but he would be committing a grave sin.”
Hence, if (presumably by some accident) the priest were to confuse the words of consecration, the first question to ask is: Did the essential meaning (which is transubstantiation and sacrifice) remain? If the words still communicate this meaning, then the Mass is valid. If not, then the Mass is invalid.
Let’s look at an example: “For this is the cup of my Blood, etc.” Now, the word “cup” is out of place, since the new translation says “chalice”; however, the validity of the Mass is certainly not in question, since the essential meaning remains.
Another example: The priest says, “For this is the chalice of my Blood” and then skips ahead to “Do this in memory of me”, without saying anything of the middle (about the Blood being “poured out” or, previously, “shed”). This would make the Mass invalid, since part of the essential meaning (namely, the sacrifice) is left out. In this case, the Host would be validly consecrated, but the wine would remain merely wine.
Although there may be some mistakes on the part of the priest during the pronouncement of the words of consecration – for example, I have formerly heard a priest use contractions as in “It’ll be shed” rather than “It will be shed”, over the chalice (in the old translation) – these errors do not have any negative impact on the validity of the Mass. The Eucharist is still consecrated, so long as the essential meaning of the words remains. Still, the priest is not excused of grave fault (as Pius V says), if he makes these errors purposefully or out of gross carelessness.
What to do if a mistake should occur
I speak now to priests and seminarians – and I am referring to what you should do when you are offering the Mass yourself.
If a mistake should occur during the pronouncement of the words of consecration, you must first ask yourself, “Did I change the meaning of the words? Did what I said fail to convey the essential meaning of the words of consecration (i.e. that this bread and this wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, and that these Eucharistic elements are the sacrament of the sacrifice of the Cross)?”
If the answer is “no” (the meaning isn't changed), then continue the Mass (for it remains valid) – but do penance for the error and be sure to correct it. If the answer is “yes” (the meaning is changed), then we must correct the error immediately.
All of what follows can be found in the De defectibus of Pius V [here] and/or in the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas (ST III, q.83, a.6) [here].
If the priest has already pronounced the words of consecration accurately over the chalice, but then realizes that he has not done so over the host (and that the change in words over the host is such as to change the very meaning of the words [e.g. he did not say “This” or “my” or “Body”]), then he must return and pronounce the words over the host (from Qui pridie), and then proceed with where he had left off. [if the words have not yet been said over the chalice, then he should stop immediately and go back and speak the words properly over the host and then continue with the chalice in the usual manner].
If the priest speaks the words of consecration properly over the Host but confuses the words over the chalice so that the essential meaning of the words are changed, then he must stop immediately and say the words correctly over the chalice. And, even if it is only at some point later in the Mass that he recognizes the error, the priest must stop immediately and return to the words of consecration and pronounce them properly over the chalice (he would then continue with the Mass, from wherever he was when he realized his mistake).
If any have further questions on this matter, or if you would like a more detailed explanation of the reasoning, please look at St. Thomas’ words in the Summa [here] (note that there are some slight differences between the Summa and De defectibus) – I will not go into greater detail either here or in the comments, since St. Thomas explains it all with great precision.
[if you have recommendations regarding the format of this blog, please consider leaving a comment on our previous post (here)]