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Why didn’t they just look it up?

That Novus Ordo Paradigm: Contribution to a Dispute between Steve Skojec and Louie Verrecchio

[UPDATE 06-AUG-2019 00:33 UTC: Louie Verrecchio has posted a follow-up reacting to our article]

A recent argument about sacramental validity between semi-trad bloggers Steve Skojec and Louie Verrecchio illustrates quite beautifully what the fundamental problem is in the camp of non-sedevacantist traditionalists.

Let’s examine chronologically what has happened.

On July 26, 2019, Steve Skojec, editor of the theology-free resistance propaganda blog One Peter Five, published a post entitled “The ‘Novus Ordo Paradigm’ — What It Is and Why It Matters”.

We won’t dwell much on the fact that in this article Skojec essentially describes how his religion has defected from the Gospel and is therefore worthy of anathema (cf. Gal 1:8-9) and a grave danger to Faith and morals and therefore salvation. For example, he puts forward the theologically absurd, utterly outrageous, and solemnly condemned idea that “you are the victim of a crime” if you “have access to nothing but” Mass in a liturgical rite approved by the (supposed) Supreme Pontiff. (By this he means the Novus Ordo Missae (“New Mass”) of Paul VI.)

Such an idea is gravely injurious to the traditional Roman Catholic Faith, for the Church teaches: “If anyone says that the ceremonies, vestments, and outward signs, which the Catholic Church uses in the celebration of Masses, are incentives to impiety rather than the services of piety: let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Session 22, Canon 7; Denz. 954). And further: “Certainly the loving Mother is spotless in the Sacraments, by which she gives birth to and nourishes her children…” (Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, n. 66). But then, the recognize-and-resisters rarely allow actual traditional Catholicism to interfere with their “traditional Catholic” position.

This is evident also in the rest of Skojec’s piece, where he proclaims (quite correctly, of course, but nevertheless inconsistently) that “Novusordoism and Catholicism [are] Not the Same Religion” — while at the same time insisting that Francis is the head of both of them, making him the Vicar of Christ and the Vicar of the Devil. In Resistance Land, this is what is smugly offered under the label “the gates of hell shall not prevail” — it boggles the mind!

Confecting the Eucharist outside of Mass: Skojec vs. Verrecchio

But let’s turn to the part now that triggered the public skirmish between the two bloggers. Skojec wrote:

Now let’s get this out of the way, because I can hear the objections coming: yes, offered according to the rubrics, the Novus Ordo [Mass] is valid. What does that mean? It means that the Eucharist is confected, and the bread and wine become Our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity during that liturgy.

But too many people stop there.

Technically, a priest has the power to consecrate the Eucharist anywhere. It’s legally forbidden, but he can do it. He can sit at a bar, drunk, and consecrate bread and wine if he says the right words with the right intention. He could even do the same thing at a satanic Mass for the purposes of desecration.

(Steve Skojec, “The ‘Novus Ordo Paradigm’ — What It Is and Why It Matters”, One Peter Five, July 26, 2019; underlining added.)

Skojec is wrong, of course, in saying that the Novus Ordo Missae is valid. It is not, but that’s not our topic now.

All the controversy is about the last paragraph in the above quote, specifically the sentence: “He can sit at a bar, drunk, and consecrate bread and wine if he says the right words with the right intention.”

Blogger Louie Verrecchio, a recognize-and-resister who believes Benedict XVI is the currently-reigning Pope, responded to Skojec, asking him to correct his position:

The grave error in question concerns the following statement:

Technically, a priest has the power to consecrate the Eucharist anywhere. It’s legally forbidden, but he can do it. He can sit at a bar, drunk, and consecrate bread and wine if he says the right words with the right intention. He could even do the same thing at a satanic Mass for the purposes of desecration.

Frankly, I was positively stunned to read this; not because of the source, but mainly since so many people that I respect – people who should know better – had given the article a big thumbs up without making any mention of this horrendous falsehood.

(Louie Verrecchio, “MAJOR CORRECTION: The ‘Novus Ordo Paradigm'”, aka Catholic, July 31, 2019; italics given.)

Verrecchio then proceeds to explain why he believes Skojec is wrong. There is no need to repeat all he says here — readers interested in the full argumentation can read it by clicking on the source link given above.

The same day Verrecchio published his post challenging Skojec, the latter reacted to it on Twitter. Be sure to check out the entire thread here.

What interests us in this dispute is not so much the question of who is right — we will get to that later — but rather the way both bloggers go about documenting and defending their respective positions. Let’s have a look at that now:

  1. In his original article on the “Novus Ordo Paradigm”, Skojec did not back up his contention at all that a priest can confect the Holy Eucharist anywhere, as long as he says the right words over the right matter with the right intention. He simply asserted it.
  2. In his response to Skojec, Verrecchio appealed to the following perceived Catholic authorities: a woman professor who teaches Novus Ordo canon law; the oddball canon lawyer “Fr.” Gregorius Hesse; and Abp. Marcel Lefebvre, who was the Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers (at the time he said the words quoted by Verrecchio) and would later go on to found the Society of St. Pius X to resist the Vatican II Church while acknowledging its leadership as the legitimate Catholic hierarchy.
  3. In his Twitter rebuttal to Verrecchio, Skojec pointed to a sermon given by the SSPX’s then-Superior General Bp. Bernard Fellay in 2o11 and also referred his critics to that same woman canon lawyer Verrecchio himself had quoted (and whom Skojec had brought up originally).

What is noticeable in all three cases is what is noticeably absent, namely: documentation from pertinent Catholic theology books published before Vatican II. Instead, all (supposed) authorities appealed to wrote or spoke during or after Vatican II.

Thus, the million-dollar question is: Why is neither Skojec nor Verrecchio quoting from pre-Vatican II Catholic theology books on this issue?

Their failure to even attempt to do so illustrates the fundamental problem so prevalent in Resistance Land: They proclaim themselves traditional Catholics but don’t ever — or very rarely — actually bother to look up what traditional Catholic theology says. Instead they offer ideas from personal reflection, share something their favorite traditional priest or bishop has said, copy argumentation found in a pamphlet written by Michael Davies or a blog post authored by Chris Ferrara, refer to a publication of the SSPX, or rely on a perpetually-recycled quote ascribed to a saint or Pope they have never actually verified and whose meaning they have never researched (the Bellarmine resistance quote is a perfect example). They may even quote something from a book by a real theologian if they can find it easily and quickly by means of an internet search.

Ladies and gentlemen, the issues we are facing are too important for such silliness.

If we are serious about traditional Catholicism, then those of us who blog and speak about theological matters in public are going to need to do real research, and that can require real effort: It will take some money, a decent amount of time, as well as prayer and also perseverance. Sometimes you may end up spending hours reading things only to find that your question still hasn’t been answered and you need to look elsewhere. But no matter the cost, it is definitely worth it, and there is no alternative.

If we’re going to be traditional Catholics, if “preserving Catholic Tradition” is to be more than just a pretty slogan on the masthead of our newspaper or web site, then we’ll have to study and hold fast to the doctrines and principles that were actually taught and believed before all the changes took place. Otherwise, we end up with nothing more than an empty “Latin-Mass-ism” that consists in beautiful externals and pious devotions but is devoid of the actual doctrinal underpinnings of real Catholicism, as beautifully explained by Bp. Donald Sanborn in a recent sermon. It would be like putting makeup on a corpse.

So… who’s right? Skojec or Verrecchio?

Since the main focus of this blog post is the semi-trad propensity of not consulting traditional Catholic literature on matters of traditional Catholic theology, we have only done some cursory research on this issue, which is a bit complex. As far as we have been able to ascertain, the traditional Catholic position on the question of the validity of consecrating the Eucharistic species outside of Mass, simply by a validly-ordained priest pronouncing the essential words over valid matter, is that it is probably invalid and at least doubtful. In other words, the preponderance of the evidence appears to favor Verrecchio over Skojec. If we stipulate that the priest in question is drunk, the attempted sacrament is definitely invalid because intoxication inhibits the use of reason and therefore prevents a valid interior intention of doing what the Church does (and to that extent, Skojec’s premise of a priest “sit[ting] at a bar, drunk” yet “with the right intention” is a clear contradiction).

Once we leave Novus Ordo canon lawyers or popular resistance clergy aside and turn to the pre-Vatican II traditional Catholic theological literature, here is what we discover:

First of all, in order to have the sufficient intention of doing what the Church does, “the minister must always act as a serious human agent, for a fictitious intention or an action in jest would be insufficient, since the Church does not act in that way, nor does the minister wish to perform a serious rite” (Rev. Raphael De Salvo, The Dogmatic Theology on the Intention of the Minister in the Confection of the Sacraments [Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1949], p. 27). For this reason, explains the same author, the Protestants were wrong “when they maintained that the sacraments would be valid even if the minister should be manifestly acting out of amusement as he united the matter and the form” (p. 22).

Regarding the specific question of the validity of consecrating bread and wine outside of Mass, the sources we have consulted all say more or less the same thing, namely:

To consecrate outside the Mass would not only be a sacrilege, but probably also an attempt at invalid consecration. The priest would certainly not perform that action in the person of Christ, nor according to the intention of the Church, which is restricted to the celebration of the Mass.

(Rev. P. Charles Augustine, A Commentary on the New Code of Canon Law, vol. IV [St. Louis, MO: Herder, 1920], p. 156)

The canonist Augustine bases his opinion on the teaching of the celebrated moral theologian Fr. Dominic Prummer, who states in his Manuale Theologiae Moralis, vol. III [Freiburg: Herder, 1955], n. 176, that if an evil priest were to pronounce the words of consecration over bread at a bakery, it would be “probably invalid” (probabiliter invalida).

The canon law professor Fr. Henri Ayrinhac echoes that very same position:

…[A] priest who would deliberately decide to consecrate only one element or knowingly use insufficient matter would commit a grave sin of disobedience to the command of Christ to do what He had done; moreover, according to some theologians, his act would be invalid, because he has not the intention of doing externally what the Church does. Still less would we find that external, whatever may be the interior, intention in the case sometimes proposed as an objection, of a priest passing in front of a bakery and pronouncing the words of consecration over baskets of bread.

(Very Rev. H. A. Ayrinhac, Legislation on the Sacraments [New York, NY: Longmans, Green and Co., 1928], pp. 114-115)

This position is confirmed also by Fr. Nicholas Halligan:

Even in a case of extreme necessity it is never allowed to consecrate except within the Mass. A consecration which is not accompanied by the principal parts of the Mass is probably invalid. …To consecrate one species without the intention to consecrate the other renders the consecration doubtful.

(Rev. Nicholas Halligan, The Administration of the Sacraments [Cork: The Mercier Press, 1963], p. 106)

Finally, regarding the question of a priest being drunk when attempting to confect a sacrament, we also have a rather clear answer from an unquestionably traditional source:

…[H]e who would administer a sacrament in a drunken, or somnambulistic [=sleepwalking], or hypnotic state, would perform an action that is null, even though before the occurrence he might have had the most formal intention of doing what the Church does; for in that abnormal state he no longer acts as a rational being capable of being the representative of Christ and the Church.

(Very Rev. P. Pourrat, Theology of the Sacraments [St. Louis, MO: Herder, 1910], p. 393)

So much for Skojec’s idea that a priest could be drunk and intend to do what the Church does.

Concluding Thoughts

At this point we have a fairly clear picture of how the Catholic Church has traditionally looked upon the question of consecrating bread and wine outside of Holy Mass. We’ve consulted genuinely traditional Catholic sources by serious theological authors and not simply relied on a Bp. Fellay sermon, a blog post by a Novus Ordo canonist, or a talk by “Fr.” Hesse.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that if a traditional Catholic wants to know the answer to a theological problem, he ought to look it up in the traditional Catholic literature, i.e. in the books that were written and used before the whole Novus Ordo religion started. That’s the safe way to proceed, keeping in mind that if we do not use the right method in the search for knowledge, we run the grave risk of arriving at a flawed conclusion — and at a correct one only by accident.

Skojec is known for being rich in rhetoric but short on actual Catholic theology. Two years ago he suggested on his web site that people should be sedevacantists in practice but not in theory. In other words: Say Francis is Pope but act like he’s not. What he must have thought of as a smart Catholic idea — he called it “Practical Sedevacantism” — is really just called hypocrisy and schism in moral theology.

Verrecchio makes more of an effort to be serious about theology but his work tends to be flawed because it is still so heavily influenced by the Lefebvrite resistance propaganda the Society of St. Pius X has been spewing with great success for decades. In 2015, Verrecchio had a similar dispute with another blogger (that time with the English writer Mundabor), and there too he relied on the argumentation of his hero “Fr.” Hesse instead of turning to pre-Vatican II Catholic theology books. (We published a powerful critique of him, Mundabor, and the celebrated Hesse in this post.)

With regard to both Skojec’s One Peter Five and Verrecchio’s aka Catholic, we can say: For web sites that supposedly seek to promote, defend, and restore Catholic Tradition, it’s amazing to see just how little of it is actually found there.

By the way: As far as the validity of Paul VI’s “New Mass” goes, which Skojec affirms and Verrecchio disputes to an extent, that issue is pretty much moot, since the large majority of such “Masses” is now conducted by clerics who are themselves bereft of valid holy orders (having been ordained in the 1968 Novus Ordo rite or by a “bishop” himself ordained in such a rite); and of course it does not matter how valid the words of consecration are in themselves if they are pronounced by a mere layman.

That, at least, is what traditional Catholicism says.

Image source: own composite with elements from onepeterfive.com and akacatholic.com
License: fair use

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