The following is taken from  "HANDBOOK OF MORAL THEOLOGY"  by Dominic M. Prümmer, O.P. 1957



"Since all the Sacraments of the New Law instituted by Christ our Lord are the principal means of sanctification and salvation, the greatest care and reverence should be observed in administering and receiving them fittingly and in accord with the prescribed rites " (c. 731, § 1).

This treatise on the Sacraments in general is divided into six chapters: 1. nature and existence of the Sacraments; 2. their number and kinds; 3. their efficacy and effects; 4. the institution of the Sacraments; 5. minister of the Sacraments; 6. the recipient of the Sacraments. - In an appendix at the end of this treatise we shall consider the sacramentals.





"A sacrament is a sensible sign instituted by God to signify and cause justification and sanctification " (Roman Catechism, pt. ii, c. I, q. 8.). 

This definition is applicable only to the sacraments of the New Law, for which three things are necessary.  

1. an external sign 

2. productive of interior grace 

3. instituted by Christ.

The external sensible SIGN in the sacraments is composed of two elements:- the matter and the form. The matter of the sacraments is either things or actions; the form is the words which give a precise significance and efficacy to the things or actions used. The matter and form compose the essence of each sacrament, as stated by the Council of Trent (Sess. 14, c. 2 de sacr. paenit.).

The matter of the sacraments is either remote or proximate; the concrete thing used in the sacraments, such as water in Baptism, chrism in Confirmation, is called the remote matter; the actual application of this sensible thing or remote matter, such as the washing with water in Baptism, is called the proximate matter.


1. The matter and the form are absolutely essential to the validity of the sacraments and they cannot be changed even accidentally without grave reason ; any substantial change of either would render the entire sacrament invalid. There is considered to be substantial change if in the ordinary and prudent estimation of men the matter has become a different thing from that instituted by Christ or the form has assumed an entirely different sense.

2. The matter and the form must he morally united at one and the same time. For just as in physical substances the matter and the form together constitute one body, so it is essential for a similar moral union to exist at the same time between the matter and form in order to constitute one sacrament. Thus, for instance, Baptism is invalid if after pouring the water some interval is allowed to intervene before pronouncing the words of the form.

3. Since the validity of the sacrament depends on the matter and the form, the minister must be certain of their existence. Therefore it is not permissible to follow any opinion regarding them which is no more than probable, and outside the case of urgent necessity it is grievously sinful to use matter or form which is not certainly valid.

4. Ordinarily speaking, the matter and the form must be applied by one and the same minister. There are some exceptions, as, for example, in the sacrament of Penance where the penitent supplies the proximate matter and the priest pronounces the form.

5. If doubts arise, the matter and form must be repeated in order that the sacrament be certainly valid (c. 732, § 2). If it proves impossible to decide whether everything essential for the sacrament is present or not, the form should be used conditionally. In such cases the general rule to be followed is this ; it is always permissible to confer the sacrament conditionally when there is the danger of the sacrament being invalid if it is administered absolutely, or when a person would be deprived of great good or eternal salvation imperilled if the sacraments were denied unconditionally. Thus, for instance, it is lawful to grant conditional absolution to a dying person who is unconscious when there is grave doubt concerning his previous life and present dispositions. Infants who have been abandoned by parents and found must be baptised conditionally, unless, after diligent enquiry, it is known for certain that they have been baptised (c.749).


In the Old Law there were to be found four types of sacraments which signified grace through faith in Christ who was to come: 

1. circumcision 

2. various forms of purification

3. eating the Paschal Lamb

4. consecration of Levites and priests. 

The Councils of Florence and of Trent have defined the existence of sacraments in the New Testament which not only signify but also cause grace.  



531. NUMBER. 

It is defined, (Councils of Florence and of Trent) that there exist seven sacraments in the New Testament: 

532. KINDS.

1. By reason of their necessity there are certain sacraments which are necessary for each and every individual (the first five sacraments), while others are necessary only for Christian society as a whole (the two final sacraments).

2. By reason of their subject sacraments are either sacraments of the living or sacraments of the dead. The former can be received only by those who are spiritually alive, i.e. by those who are in the state of sanctifying grace; these are Confirmation, Eucharist, Extreme Unction, Orders, Matrimony. The sacraments of the dead are those which were specifically instituted to confer spiritual life, viz. sanctifying grace, on those who are spiritually dead (sinners). It may happen that accidentally the sacraments of the dead do not confer but intensify grace when the recipient is already in the state of grace; similarly the sacraments of the living may accidentally confer grace without increasing it, when the recipient approaches the sacrament in a state of inculpable ignorance regarding grievous sin.

3. BY reason of their effect sacraments are divided into those which imprint a character (Baptism, Confirmation, Orders) and those which do not. The former cannot be repeated, whereas the latter may be.

4. By reason of the dispositions of the subject sacraments are either fruitful if they produce all the effects proper to them, or unfruitful if they confer no grace due to an obstacle interposed by the recipient. A sacrament which is unfruitful must not be confused with one that is invalid and lacks something essential. If the recipient was aware of the obstacle which rendered the sacrament unfruitful, then his action is also sacrilegious, but not otherwise. A sacrament received sacrilegiously is known as formally unfruitful; where the sacrament is received without knowledge of the obstacle it is said to be materially unfruitful.





533. 1. EFFICACY. 

All the sacraments of the New Law produce their grace by reason of the sacred rite itself (ex opere operato). This is defined by the Council of Trent (Sess. 7, C. 8 de sacr. in gen.).

The expression "ex opere operato" which is frequently used in this context means that the effects of the sacrament follow from the actual valid administration of the sacrament, provided that the recipient interposes no obstacle. Therefore the sacraments do not produce their grace "ex opere operantis", i.e. because of the merits and dispositions of minister or recipient.

534. 2. The EFFECTS of the sacraments are: 

a) sanctifying grace which is either given for the first time or increased. The sacraments of the dead normally give the first grace, whereas the sacraments of the living normally increase sanctifying grace already existing in the soul; cf n. 432 
b) sacramental grace i.e. some special help proper to each of the sacraments
c) an indelible character received in three sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Orders) which consequently cannot be repeated.

Although there is no universal agreement regarding the nature of the sacramental character, the following points seem to be certain:

1. the character sets a seal on the soul and distinguishes it from others

2. the character gives the soul a disposition for offering to God a special form of worship

3. the character gives the soul a share in Christ's priesthood.


The REVIVISCENCE of the sacraments is the process whereby a sacrament that was formerly unfruitful, later becomes fruitful. The transition is effected by the removal of the obstacle which existed when the sacrament was received. According to the more probable opinion there are five sacraments whose grace may subsequently revive:

The same disposition which was required and sufficed for the reception of grace at the time of conferring the sacrament is also necessary and sufficient for these sacraments to produce their grace afterwards. (Cf. the author's Man. Theol. mor. III, 43).  




All the sacraments of the New Law were instituted immediately by Christ prior to his Ascension. This is theologically certain, although a few theologians before the Council of Trent thought that some sacraments were instituted by the Church through the authority committed to it by God.

Not only did Christ institute immediately all the sacraments of the New Law but He also determined specifically the matter and form of each of the sacraments so that no substantial change in either of these elements is permissible.

All modern theologians agree that Christ did determine in some way the matter and form of the sacraments, but they are not agreed to what extent He determined them, for He could have done so either in detail, or generically, or specifically. It is certain that Christ did not institute the matter and the form of the sacraments in detail down to their accidental features, since these have changed in the course of time both in the Latin and in the Greek Churches. Thus, for instance, Christ did not determine whether the bread to be used in the consecration of the Eucharist should be leavened or unleavened. A generic institution requires that Christ should have determined the efficacy of each sacrament but left to His Church the power of choosing the matter and form. A specific institution demands in addition that Christ should have determined in detail the essential matter and form of each sacrament. The opinion which maintains that Christ instituted the sacraments specifically seems preferable, since if Christ determined the matter and the form generically the Church would still retain the power of changing the matter and form, which has been expressly denied by the Council of Trent.  



This chapter consists of four articles: 

1. The minister himself: his faith and state of grace

2. His attention and intention

3. The obligation of administering and refusing the sacraments

4. Simulation and pretence.  

Art. 1.  The Minister himself: his Faith and State of Grace


Only men on earth who are legitimately delegated or consecrated are ministers of the sacraments. Therefore neither the angels nor the souls in Purgatory have the power of administering the sacraments; furthermore for the administration of certain sacraments there is required a special consecration and delegation.

a) A minister is said to be consecrated for the administration of the sacraments if he requires to be deputed by a special act of consecration otherwise he is not so consecrated, as, for instance, the minister in Baptism and Matrimony.

b) The ordinary minister of the sacraments is one who administers them by virtue of his office; the extraordinary minister is anyone who administers them in a case of necessity in virtue of a special delegation. Thus the ordinary minister of Confirmation is a bishop, the extraordinary minister a priest properly delegated.



a) For the valid administration of the sacraments neither faith nor the state of grace is required in the minister, seeing that the sacraments operate by God's power.

b) For the lawful administration of the sacraments there is required under pain of mortal sin the state of sanctifying grace; at least when a consecrated minister administers the sacraments solemnly outside the case of necessity.

In such circumstances the minister who is consecrated for the worthy administration of the sacraments is guilty of grave irreverence if while in a state of mortal sin and in the power of the devil he wills to confer grace on others in the person of the most holy Christ, although he himself considers such grace of little worth. A minister who confers a sacrament while in the state of mortal sin is excused from grievous sin, 1. if he is not a consecrated minister, such as a lay person conferring Baptism in a case of necessity; 2. if there exists urgent need and there is no time to be restored to a state of grace, even through an act of contrition.

A consecrated minister who administers the sacraments (outside cases of urgent need) while in a state of mortal sin commits sin as often as he performs this unlawful act. This is the more probable opinion. It is uncertain whether a priest or deacon commits grave sin by administering Holy Communion while in the state of mortal sin, seeing that he is not the instrumental cause of grace which comes from the act of receiving and not from the act of giving the sacred host. It is probable that a deacon in mortal sin does not sin grievously by touching or carrying the Eucharist or by assisting the priest during Solemn Mass.

Art. 2.  The Attention and Intention of the Minister of the Sacraments

539. 1. ATTENTION. 

For the valid administration of the sacraments external attention is necessary and also sufficient; for their lawful administration there is required internal intention which excludes all voluntary distraction. Consequently the minister who confers a sacrament while willingly yielding to distraction does so validly but unlawfully. The sin is usually venial, but according to St. Alphonsus a priest who allows himself to be distracted during the consecration in Mass is guilty of such grave irreverence that he commits grave sin; this is not admitted by all theologians.

540. 2. INTENTION  

Intention is the reasoned direction of the will to some end through the use of certain means. So far as the sacraments are concerned, the intention ensures that the minister wills through means of the sacramental sign to do that which the Church does.

Kinds of intention.

a) From the subject's point of view the intention is either actual, virtual, habitual, or interpretative. An actual intention is one which is elicited here and now while the act is in progress. A virtual intention is one made on a previous occasion, never retracted, and still exerting its influence on the present human act of the minister. An habitual intention is one which although formed on a previous occasion and never retracted, yet has no positive influence on the act as a human act. An interpretative intention is one which never has existed, does not exist at present, but is presumed to exist from clear indications; v.g. a dying Protestant who is unconscious and is known to have been in good faith and to have lead an upright life is considered to possess an interpretative intention of receiving absolution and therefore may be absolved conditionally.

b) From the object's point of view, the intention may be either confused or clear according as the object intended is confusedly or clearly present to the mind; it is definite if his will is directed towards an object which is precise in every respect, it is indefinite if the object is only vaguely indicated; his intention is furthermore either explicit or implicit depending on whether the object which is clearly recognised is intended in itself or in something else to which it is conjoined. Finally, his intention is absolute or conditional according to whether the object is intended with or without conditions attached.


a) For the valid administration Of the sacraments, the minister must have at least the intention of doing that which the Church does.

This is defined as being of faith in the Council of Trent (Sess. 7, C. 11 de sacr. in gen.). But theologians are not agreed regarding the exact meaning of that phrase: the intention of doing that which the Church does. Some are of the opinion that the only intention required in the minister is that he should have a serious will to apply the matter and the form (an external intention); others state as being the more correct opinion that such an intention is insufficient and that there is also required in the minister the will to perform the rite in so far as it is considered a sacred rite by the true Church (an internal intention), since the minister of Christ. Therefore he must intend to perform a rite which is considered sacred by the Church of Christ. But it is not necessary that the minister himself believe the rite to be sacred. Similarly it is not required that he will to do that which the Catholic Church does, provided that he intends to do what the true Church of Christ does.

b) Neither an interpretative intention nor an habitual intention is sufficient; an actual intention is not demanded; a virtual intention is sufficient and must be present.

 Art. 3.  The Obligation of Administering and Refusing the Sacraments


Those who have the care of souls in virtue of their office are bound in justice to administer the sacraments to those who reasonably request them; other ministers have an obligation in charity.

With regard to the first part of the principle, priests who accept the care of souls enter into a contract whereby they oblige themselves to provide for their subjects all that is necessary and useful for their salvation. Undoubtedly the reception of the sacraments is a necessary or extremely useful means of salvation and therefore any pastor refusing a reasonable request for the sacraments violates his contract and accordingly offends against justice. Even at the risk of his own life a pastor must administer the sacraments to those of his subjects who are in extreme spiritual need; thus he is bound to confer the sacrament of Penance on the dying during time of plague or any other contagious disease.

The reason for the second part of the principle is that other priests in refusing a reasonable request for the sacraments do not thereby violate any contract, but they offend against charity in depriving their neighbour of the valuable gift of sacramental grace. Moreover there is frequently danger of scandal if the priest refuses to administer a sacrament without having sufficient reason for refusal.


a) The sacraments must always be refused to those who are NOT CAPABLE of receiving them, who would receive them not only unlawfully but also invalidly; 

b) One may not administer the sacraments to those who although capable of receiving them are UNWORTHY to do so, unless there is a very grave cause.

To administer the sacraments to those incapable of receiving them would be a grave act of sacrilege directly procured by the minister himself. Thus, for instance, a bishop could never confer Orders on a woman, even to escape death. The administration of the sacraments to those unworthy to receive them is valid and represents no more than material co-operation in another's sin. If there exists sufficient reason, material co-operatign in another's sin is allowed. This is confirmed by Christ's own example in probably administering the sacraments to Judas Iscariot, even though he was most unworthy to receive them. Reasons which would permit the administration of the sacraments in such circumstances are:

1. In order to prevent the violation of the seal of Confession;
2. Lest the person who although unworthy asks for the sacrament should fall into grave disrepute through the revelation of some secret sin;
3. Lest grave scandal ensue.


1. With the exception of Matrimony the sacraments should be denied 

a) to any public sinner when one is not sufficiently certain of his emendation; 

b) to occult sinners if they ask for them privately.

2. The sacraments are not to be refused to occult sinners if they ask for them publicly, if such refusal would lead to scandal or disrepute.

The Code of Canon law, c. 855, applies these rules to the Eucharist: "Those who are publicly unworthy, such as the excommunicated, the interdicted, and those who are manifestly infamous, must be excluded from the reception of the Eucharist until after their repentance and amendment are certain and satisfaction has been made for public scandal. The minister must also exclude occult sinners who approach the sacrament privately and are known by the minister to be unrepentant; however, if they approach publicly and the priest cannot pass them over without causing scandal, he may give them Holy Communion."

 Art. 4.  Simulation and Pretence in Conferring the Sacraments


The simulation of a sacrament consists in the minister changing secretly and unlawfully either the matter or the form or the necessary intention so that the sacrament becomes invalid and the recipient is lead into error.

Therefore simulation may be practised in one of three ways:

1. The minister may use invalid matter, v.g. by pouring into the chalice some other liquid in place of wine; 

2. He may secretly change the substantial form; 

3. He may withhold internally his intention of administering the sacraments.

One must distinguish carefully between simulation and pretence; in the latter neither the matter nor the form of the sacrament is used, so that although the recipient himself is not lead into error others are; for instance, a confessor who has to deny absolution to his penitent expressly informs him of the fact, then recites some prayers and gives a blessing so that the bystanders will not realise that absolution has been denied.


Although it is sometimes permitted to pretend to administer a sacrament for a sufficiently grave cause, simulation of the sacraments is never lawful.

To pretend to administer the sacraments is sometimes lawful, since one has a sufficient reason for permitting others who have no right to the truth to fall into harmless error.

Simulation is never permitted, because it is an extremely dangerous lie and a detestable sacrilege. Consequently Innocent XI condemned the following proposition (29): "Urgent grave fear is a just reason for simulation of the sacraments."    



1. For the VALID reception of the sacraments the conditions required vary in each of the sacraments. However the following, principles are generally true.

546. a) Faith and a state of grace are not required in the recipient, with the exception of the sacrament of Penance; in order that this sacrament be received validly, contrition (attrition) is necessary and this is impossible without faith and the state of grace (in its initial stages).

b) Neither internal nor external attention is necessary for the validity of the sacraments so that even an unconscious person may be validly absolved, provided that he has a virtual or at least interpretative intention of receiving the sacrament.

c) The valid reception of Baptism is required before the other sacraments may be received validly.

d) No (personal) intention of receiving those sacraments of which they are capable is required in infants and in those who, are permanently deprived of the use of reason. In such circumstances the intention is supplied by the Church. Infants may receive validly Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist and Orders. But in the present discipline of the Church only the sacrament of Baptism is administered to infants and those permanently deprived of the use of reason; in some countries the sacrament of Confirmation is also administered.

e) In order that those enjoying the use of reason may receive the sacraments validly (with the exception of the Eucharist), some intention is necessary which varies with the different sacraments, as will be indicated when each sacrament is considered in detail. An exception is made with the Eucharist since this consists in something permanent, viz. the consecrated species, and therefore does not depend for its validity on any intention either of the minister or of the recipient.

2. For the LAWFUL reception of the sacraments special conditions are required for each of them, as will be noted below. But the following general rules should he noted:

a) Those who enjoy the use of reason cannot lawfully receive

i) the sacraments of the dead without at least attrition; 

ii) the sacraments of the living without the state of sanctifying grace.

b) Unless there is a grave cause it is forbidden to receive any sacrament from a minister who is known to be unworthy. Only in danger of death may the faithful ask for sacramental absolution and, if no other priest is available, for the other sacraments and sacramentals from excommunicates who are to be shunned and from other excommunicates after they have been explicitly condemned or declared excommunicate (c. 2261, § 3).

Appendix: the Sacramentals

547. DEFINITION. Sacramentals (in the strict sense) are objects or actions which the Church uses in the semblance of sacraments in order to obtain spiritual favours principally through her intercession (c. 1144).

These sacramentals were sometimes called by older theologians the minor sacraments because of their resemblance to the sacraments, but there are many differences between them.

a) They differ in their origin, since the sacraments were instituted by Christ, the sacramentals by the Church. According to present discipline the Holy See can institute new sacramentals, and abolish, interpret or change those already in existence (c. 1145).

b) They differ in their effect: the sacraments cause and increase sanctifying grace by virtue of the sacred rite itself, but the sacramentals of themselves produce only actual graces and other spiritual and temporal favours.

c) They differ in the way in which they act: the sacraments cause grace in virtue of the rite itself, the sacramentals produce their effects in dependence on the dispositions of the recipient, and the Church through her powerful intercession confers on the sacramentals most fruitful effects; namely, 

i) actual graces, 

ii) remission of venial sin, 

iii) victory over the wiles of Satan, 

iv) temporal benefits.

d) They differ in their number; there are seven sacraments, but the number of sacramentals is indeterminate and variable.                                       

548. RULES. The sacramentals are either permanent (objects) or transitory (actions).

The former include certain blessed and consecrated articles by the use of which the faithful acquire various aids towards salvation. Such sacramentals are holy water, scapulars, medals, etc. Transitory sacramentals include those actions to which the Church has attached special graces, such as blessings, exorcism, etc.

BLESSINGS are today the chief form of sacramentals. Certain blessings are reserved to the Pope, such as the blessing of the "Agnus Dei" or the pallium, etc.; some blessings belong to bishops, such as the blessing of chrism; other blessings are reserved to certain religious institutes, such as the blessing of rosaries, or scapulars, etc.; other blessings are reserved to the parish priest, as the blessing of houses on Holy Saturday (but not on any other day), the nuptial blessing ; many blessings may be given by any priest. Blessings are invalid if the form prescribed by the Church is not used (c. 1148, § 2). If a deacon obtains permission from his bishop to administer Viaticum, he may bless the sick person with the Blessed Sacrament; similarly he may bless the grave at a burial. Lay persons have no power to confer any liturgical blessing or sacramental.

549. THE SUBJECT OF SACRAMENTALS. Sacramentals (and especially blessings) are to he administered primarily to Catholics; they may also he given to catechumens and even to non Catholics, provided this is not expressly forbidden by the Church, in order that they may receive the light of faith and at the same time recover bodily health (c. 1149).

Thus, for instance, it is not forbidden to give a blessed medal to a non Catholic who will not abuse it.

The Church forbids that sacramentals be given 

a) to excommunicates after declaratory or condemnatory sentence (c. 2260, § 1); 

b) to those under personal interdict (c. 2275, n.2);  

c) to Catholics who have dared to contract a mixed marriage without the necessary dispensation from the Church (c. 2375). 

The first two instances are unlikely to occur in these days, but the third case is fairly frequent.