The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued a stern warning against any unauthorized alterations in the celebration of sacraments.

The recent doctrinal note, “Gestis verbisque” (“By gestures and words”), approved by Pope Francis and released on February 3, 2024, underscores the importance of adhering to established liturgical practices.

Cardinal Victor Fernández, Prefect of the Dicastery, emphasized the gravity of this matter, saying that any deviation from the prescribed sacramental forms could invalidate the sacraments. This situation has become increasingly concerning, as reports of unauthorized changes, especially in baptismal rites, have surged. Phrases like “I baptize you in the name of the Creator…” or “In the name of dad and mom, we baptize you,” have been cited as examples of these unauthorized alterations.

The document clarifies that the matter and form of the sacraments are deeply rooted in Scripture and Tradition, and their alteration is “always a gravely illicit act and deserves exemplary punishment.” Cardinal Fernández added that “modifying the form of a sacrament or its matter … is capable of producing serious harm to the faithful People of God.”

This directive comes as a response to a growing number of sacramental invalidations, leading to distressing situations for both the clergy and the laity. In some cases, priests have discovered the invalidity of their ordinations due to incorrect baptismal formulas used in their own baptisms, rendering all sacraments they subsequently administered as invalid.

While the Church acknowledges the need for adaptation of liturgy in different cultures, it maintains that such variations should never compromise the integrity and validity of the sacraments. Cardinal Fernández urges ministers to resist the temptation of viewing themselves as “owners of the Church” and instead honor their duty to administer the sacraments as established by the Church.

The Vatican’s directive is therefore a reminder of the importance of preserving the essence of sacramental celebrations, ensuring that they remain true conduits of God’s grace and unity in the Church.

Photo credit: Jim McIntosh via Flickr via Wikimedia Commons
Get our inspiring content delivered to your inbox every morning - FREE!