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Matter and Form
 Holy Orders 

Matter and Form

In the question of the matter and form of this sacrament we must distinguish between the three higher orders and the subdiaconate and minor orders. The Church having instituted the latter, also determines their matter and form. With regard to the former, the received opinion maintains that the imposition of hands is the sole matter. This has been undoubtedly used from the beginning; to it, exclusively and directly, the conferring of grace is ascribed by St. Paul and many Fathers and councils. The Latin Church used it exclusively for nine or ten centuries, and the Greek Church to this day knows no other matter. Many scholastic theologians have held that the tradition of the instruments was the sole matter even for the strictly hierarchical orders, but this position has long been universally abandoned. Other scholastics held that both imposition of hands and the tradition of the instruments constitute the matter of the sacrament; this opinion still finds defenders. Appeal is made to the Decree of Eugene IV to the Armenians, but the pope spoke “of the integrating and accessory matter and form, which he wished Armenians to add to the imposition of hands, long since in use amongst them, that they might thus conform to the usage of the Latin Church, and more firmly adhere to it, by uniformity of rites” (Benedict XIV, “De syn. dioc.”, VIII, x, 8). The real foundation of the latter opinion is the power of the Church with regard to the sacrament. Christ, it is argued, instituted the Sacrament of Order by instituting that in the Church there should be an external rite, which would of its own nature signify and confer the priestly power and corresponding grace. As Christ did not ordain His Apostles by imposition of hands, it would seem that He left to the Church the power of determining by which particular rite the power and grace should be conferred. The Church’s determination of the particular rite would be the fulfilling of a condition required in order that the Divine institution should take effect. The Church determined the simple imposition of hands for the East and added, in the course of time, the tradition of the instruments for the West--changing its symbolical language according as circumstances of place or time required.

The question of the form of the sacrament naturally depends on that of the matter. If the tradition of the instruments be taken as the total or partial matter, the words which accompany it will be taken as the form. If the simple imposition of hands be considered the sole matter, the words which belong to it are the form. The form which accompanies the imposition of hands contains the words “Accipe spiritum sanctum”, which in the ordination of priests, however, are found with the second imposition of hands, towards the end of the Mass, but these words are not found in the old rituals nor in the Greek Euchology. Thus the form is not contained in these words, but in the longer prayers accompanying the former imposition of hands, substantially the same from the beginning. All that we have said about the matter and form is speculative; in practice, whatever has been prescribed by the Church must be followed, and the Church in this, as in other sacraments, insists that anything omitted should be supplied.

Written by Hubert Ahaus. Transcribed by Robert B. Olson. Offered to Almighty God for the priests and brothers of the Legionaries of Christ and all the men ordained into the Priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

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