Thursday, May 26, 2016


Karl Keating answers a good question:

What does the expression ex opere operato mean? Doesn't it have something to do with the sacraments?


Ex opere operato is a Latin expression meaning "by the work worked." It refers to the fact that the sacraments confer grace when the sign is validly effected -- not as the result of activity on the part of the recipient but by the power and promise of God.

Now, to receive the fruits of the sacraments, you should be properly disposed. At least in adults, there must be a predispositional receptivity to receive the grace that is always available in a validly effected sacrament. This means reception of grace via the sacraments is not automatic. But the ex opere operato nature of the sacraments reminds us that, while a proper disposition is necessary to receive grace in the sacraments, it isn't the cause of that grace.

This being properly disposed is summed up by:

Latin Term



A term mainly applied to the good dispositions with which a sacrament is received, to distinguish it from the ex opere operato, which is the built-in efficacy of a sacrament properly conferred. But it may refer to any subjective factor that at least partially determines the amount of grace obtained by a person who performs some act of piety. Thus in the use of sacramentals or in the gaining of indulgences, the blessings received depend largely on the faith and love of God with which a sacramental is employed or an indulgenced prayer or good work is performed.

When we speak of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in either form, these two terms, Ex Opere Operato and Operantis are extremely important for those who are so critical of either form no matter how justified the criticism is. 
If one attends Mass and only sees the flies in the healing ointment, one's ability to receive the built-in graces that come from God alone may be stifled. One's faith and love for God is necessary for meriting the grace that is present even if that grace is hidden under a bushel basket because of the manner in which the Holy Sacrifice is being celebrated. 
One's critique of the Holy Sacrifice must be based upon what the Church intends for the sacrifice based upon its rubrics.   To critique the OF Mass because it lacks the ethos of an EF Mass creates a situation for the person attending that Mass to undermine the graces God wishes to give that person, what God has built into that valid celebration no matter how poorly designed or executed the rubrics. 

The same for the person who brings to an EF Mass the mentality of the OF Mass expecting the same. Being overly critical of its regimentation, language and the perception of its clericalism causes that person to miss out on what God intends the faithful to receive. 

So this is a cautionary tale to accept the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass through the eyes of faith and allowing every valid expression of the Mass to convey what God intends for the communicant.


Anonymous said...

So when I see Pope Francis refuse to genuflect at Mass as prescribed by the rubrics I should or shouldn't be scandalized? Remember he has no problem crawling on the floor at the feet of Muslims.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

You must be a coloring book Catholic who doesn't understand physical difficulty in genuflecting, which is different than kneeling and that your hyper-critical attitude toward the Holy Father in this matter is down right uncharitable and on the surface can be classified as a mortal sin--examine your conscience to determine if it is or isn't: Serious matter is present in being uncharitable. If you know it is a sin, you are then culpable of it being a mortal sin and if you persist in your uncharitableenss with full consent of the will, it certainly is a mortal sin and not a venial sin.

If a mortal sin for you, I recommend confession.

TJM said...

Anonymous, you've got to be kidding. When I see a priest the age of Santita,I expect that he cannot genuflect. I am younger than the Pope, but due to a deteriorating hip, I cannot genuflect. Quod faciam?

Rood Screen said...

What you say is certainly true. But I think a shepherd of the Church must lend an attentive ear to the cries of the sheep, who are undoubtedly well-fed, but who are beset by wolves in sheep's clothing. The contest between OF and EF is really only a surface feature of this deeper spiritual violence. As a priest, you are spared the experience of sitting through weekly celebrations of the Mass in which numerous worldly distractions are diabolically introduced by the celebrant and other liturgical planners. Just because a congregation receives the grace of the sacraments does not excuse these evils being perpetrated against them by wayward clergy, nor does it relieve us of the obligation to combat these evils.

It is a matter of faith that a valid Mass in grace-filled, but so is martyrdom.

Marc said...

Father, I recommend to you this article by Fr. Chad Ripperger on the Merit of the Mass.

Anonymous said...

As long as there aren't any altar girls, okey-dokey.

Anonymous said...

"If a mortal sin for you, I recommend confession"

Why confession Father. Pope Francis has just taught that a person can be in objective mortal sin and still receive sanctifying grace. He also teaches that adulterers can go to confession and don't have to confess their adultery. Why do I have to confess my mortal sins if adulterers don't have to? Why?! Answer me. And don't say he doesn't teach all of that nonsense. It is right their Chapter 8 of the scandalous document AL.

Anonymous said...

Pope Benedict knelt and so did Pope John Paul II, at least he tried. There are pictures of Pope JP II bent over with a hump on his back kneeling before Our Lord in the MBS. Something Francis will never do.

Anonymous said...

Marc, it’s too bad there’s no way of requiring that every priest and bishop read and assimilate Fr. Ripperger’s article—the most accessible exposition I’ve seen of the “distinction of merits” between different celebrations of the Mass. Every pre-Vatican II seminarian was schooled in this standard Eucharistic theology, but many or post-Vatican II priests are ignorant of the distinction between the infinite “intrinsic value” of every valid Mass as a sacrifice of infinite merit offered by Christ Himself, and the finite “extrinsic value” of a particular Mass to individuals who are limited by their differing abilities in different circumstances to actually receive and profit from the spiritual fruits of the sacrifice.

In such ignorance, it is easy to fall into the error of assuming that, so long as a Mass is validly offered, it doesn’t matter what differences there may be in the manner of its celebration by the priest or in its reception by worshipers. In other words, that validity of the Mass is all that matters.

Fr. Ripperger summarizes in detail the particulars or exterior “accidents” by which any two different celebrations of Mass (whether in the same or different forms) may differ considerably in extrinsic value, depending upon the dispositions of priests and participants, differences in ritual and solemnity of celebration, beauty and decora, conditions for efficacious prayer, etc. Perhaps even some unfamiliar with traditional Eucharistic theology will find that the article supports his final conclusion:

“It is safe to say that, objectively speaking, with respect to the ritual itself the old rite of Mass has an ability to merit more than the new rite of Mass. While this merit is accidental, since the essential or intrinsic merit of the Mass, which is the Sacrifice of Christ, is the same in both rites, it is nevertheless something serious. Since the faithful are the beneficiaries of the fruits derived from this aspect of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we have a grave obligation to consider the impact that this factor may be having on the life of the Church. While it is not our intention to denigrate the new rite, we must recognize that the ritual of Mass used in the old rite is more meritorious and therefore more beneficial for the people who assist at it and for the priests who offer it.”

Though it might also be argued that many people today are nevertheless better prepared or disposed to benefit from the new rite than for the older rite, especially if the new rite is offered in a more efficacious manner than is common in many typical mainstream parishes.

Marc said...

Henry, I first read that article as part of a collection of his essays called "Topics on Tradition," which is a compendium of essays on these topics. That, along with his other book, "The Binding Force of Tradition," should be required reading for anyone concerned with these topics, especially priests.

What we see among many priests is a lack of sufficient philosophical training, especially with regard to Thomistic philosophy, which underlies this entire question. Without that training, for reasons that I don't fully understand, there appears to be a tendency toward minimalism.

It seems rather clear to me that doing the bare minimum, i.e. merely having a valid Mass, might strictly satisfy our obligations to God in justice, it is a deficient way of fulfilling our obligation of charity and piety toward God.

Now that I think of it this way, I am reminded of the recent papal document which sets up an ideal, but holds it is unattainable in most circumstances. That is emblematic of the post-conciliar ethos, which is partially supported by the Protestant error that we can do nothing vis-a-vis God anyway so we are not bound to try. In other words, it is the sin of presumption.

I don't know whether the Novus Ordo somehow better disposes people in limited circumstances. The deficiency of the rite itself, as explained by Fr. Ripperger, means that, even under optimal circumstances, the exterior merit of the Novus Ordo (if it is valid in the first place) is limited. The reality that the sacrificial nature of the Mass is obscured by the ceremonial of the Novus Ordo is itself a stumbling block toward proper disposition.

Rood Screen said...


What is your objection to girls serving at the altar?

John Nolan said...

Dialogue, the same objections that I have, Paul VI had, John Paul II had, all those parishes who do not allow this (very recent) practice have. Is it really necessary to justify such an objection? I would have thought the reasoning was obvious.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for the question. Years ago, I did not see it as being a major issue either. But then I began to notice a trend among the then-few parishes that still used a male-only altar server corps. They had lots of altar boys and each year there was at least one young man from those parishes that was being ordained to the priesthood. I was intrigued, especially because one of my jobs in my diocese is to examine ways to help increase vocations to the priesthood. These parishes were not Extraordinary Form parishes (though their Ordinary Form was exceptionally-reverent and well done). They had female lectors and cantors, but male only altar servers. So I dug a bit deeper. I looked up one of the recent CARA reports on the priestly ordinations for (what I think was 2012 or 2013...can't remember) and found that nearly 80 to 85% of the men ordained had been altar servers at one time and pointed to that experience as an important one in discerning their vocation. In my own diocese, there was a disproportionate amount of men coming from male-only altar server parishes. So, I began to ask those priests at those parishes about their policy. Some had had female altar servers in the past, and very, very few boys. They found that, as girls came into the ranks, their higher level of maturity at a younger age made them better at serving than the young boys, and the boys (of middle school age) began to loathe to be around them. It became a "girls" activity, and so they quit. Those that hung around until high school, were done as soon as they were freshmen. Interestingly, these parishes and those that retained female service, had nearly zero or few vocations to the priesthood. This was the opposite of those male-only altar server parishes, and the opposite of the experience of those parishes which became male-only. One of the things the priests at these parishes often say is that alter service is different than the other forms of liturgical activity in that it is really an apprenticeship for the priesthood. Girls cannot be ordained priests, and so their is a ceiling there that cannot be surmounted. Also, interestingly-enough, those parishes with male-only altar service from boyhood through adulthood saw an increase in vocations to the permanent diaconate as well. There seems to be a strong connection between altar service and vocations to the diaconate and priesthood. And perhaps this is why the Vatican recommended maintaining male altar service, though it allowed female servers. I see this wisdom as well.

Rood Screen said...

John Nolan,

I quite agree.

TJM said...

Using altar girls was an innovation which further politicized the Mass. For libs, politics trumps the sacred