“Steeped in Romanity” — Fr. Victor-Alain Berto

Articles written, translated or selected by John S. Daly

The guiding star of this site is fidelity to Rome.

From torrid south to frozen north,
The wave harmonious stretches forth,
Yet strikes no chord more true to Rome’s,
Than rings within our hearts and homes.
Cardinal Wiseman

Mgr McCarthy and a New Defence of the Validity of the Novus Ordo Missae

Back in the August issue of The Four Marks, we looked at Fr Brian Harrison’s attempt to reconcile Vatican II’s affirmation of religious liberty with the Catholic Church’s condemnation of it. Today we turn our attention to Fr Harrison’s confrère, Mgr. John F. McCarthy of the Diocese of Helena, Montana. Both Harrison and McCarthy are conservative Novus Ordo clerics, belonging to the somewhat pretentiously named Society of the Oblates of Wisdom (“SOW”) of which McCarthy is the Founder and “Director General”. Mgr McCarthy has taught Canon Law at the Lateran University in Rome, and was an official for many years at the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in the Curia of the pseudo-Church currently occupying Rome.

McCarthy does not lack courage. He has been endeavouring for some years to undermine the solid scholarship of Mr Patrick Omlor demonstrating the invalidity of the Novus Ordo Missae. That is the equivalent of spontaneously entering the ring to challenge the world champion heavyweight at boxing.

Mr Omlor, predictably, won a knock-out victory in the first match, but McCarthy has been seen flexing his muscles of late and is keen to be back in the ring. Anyone can read a little article by him on the Web (http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt89.html) in which he relies heavily on a text of St Ambrose to bolster his claim that the Protestant ceremony he uses instead of Mass is sacramentally and sacrificially valid. I hope that Mr Omlor will accept it as homage to a master and not an attempt to displace him if this month I subject McCarthy’s article to a little analysis of my own. Readers should not hesitate to look at McCarthy’s article on-line in under to understand more fully the reply that follows.

As most traditional Catholics will know, one main objection to the validity of the vernacular Novus Ordo is that it falsifies the words “pro multis” by translating them “for all” or “for all men”.

If you try to save the orthodoxy of “for all” by understanding these words as relating to the sufficiency of the sacrifice, you have made a substantial change of meaning, and thereby rendered the sacrament invalid. If you understand “for all” as referring to the efficacy of the sacrifice, you have actual heresy in your form of consecration (universal salvation), which few will consider compatible with validity. If you maintain that the words “many” and “all” are interchangeable in one or more of the relevant languages, you merely make a fool of yourself in public without altering anything. Hence it is not surprising that those who wish to defend the validity of the Novus Ordo have generally resorted to the simple solution of saying that the words “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood” suffice for validity and that the other words printed in the missal and spoken by the priest as belonging to the form of consecration are not really necessary and can be ignored in any assessment of the validity of the Novus Ordo.

One very powerful argument against this defence is that St Thomas Aquinas carefully addresses in his Summa Theologiae the question of which words are necessary for valid consecration of the Precious Blood and concludes without the slightest ambiguity that the whole formula from “Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei” right through to “in remissionem peccatorum” is needed.

The task McCarthy has set himself is to re-interpret St Thomas so that he doesn’t mean what he says, or at least may not mean what he says.

An important part of McCarthy’s case is based on the fact that St Thomas, in his treatment of which words effect the consecration at Mass (S.T. III, q. 78), quotes with approval a passage from St Ambrose which gives as the formula of consecration of the chalice, “For this is My Blood.”

McCarthy: “In fact, the very authority which he [St Thomas] quotes for the sed contra of article 1 is precisely the De Sacramentis of St. Ambrose, according to which document the form for the consecration over [sic] the bread in the late fourth century was “For this is my Body, which will be broken for many,” and the form for the consecration over [sic] the wine was simply For this is my Blood. And this long form for the consecration over the bread corresponded to similar forms in all of the Eastern Rites. Thus a question that St. Thomas faced, even though he does not refer explicitly to it, was whether the short form of the then current Latin Rite was even valid, seeing that it omits all reference to the sacrificial character of the act.”

Having assured us that St Thomas “faced” a “question” which he nowhere mentions, on the basis of an alleged fact of palaeo-liturgy which St Thomas was allegedly aware of, McCarthy goes on to draw the following conclusion:

“It seems likely (although not obvious) to me that, in these three articles of question 78, St. Thomas has first defended the validity of the short form of consecration over the bread and then shown the fittingness of expressing the mystery of the Passion in the form for the consecration of the wine, while, at the same time, allowing that the sacrificial character and the fruits of the Passion could be expressed rather in a long form for the consecration of the bread, and thus not excluding the validity of the short form of consecration of the wine reported in his initial authority, the De Sacramentis of St. Ambrose.”

It is understandable that this might be found convincing by the reader relying on McCarthy for his information instead of actually consulting any of these texts and the views of solid Catholic scholars on them. But the reality is very different. On consultation of the sources, one does not know whether to laugh or to cry. The only defensible remark McCarthy makes is that his solution is “not obvious”. It sure isn’t!

Very simply, St Thomas enquires which words are necessary and decides that the whole form is necessary, giving abundant proofs of this fact. The few who have tried to call this into question in the past have recurred to the argument that St Thomas in fact uses the words “belong to the substance of the form” which, they suggest, may mean something different from “are essential to validity”.

But this argument does not succeed for a reason stated by McCarthy himself, on the authority of Doronzo: “it does not help to object that, for St. Thomas, the following words are not of the essence of the form, but only of the substance of the form…” because, in III, q. 60, art. 8, corp., St. Thomas, speaking about the sacraments in general, says: “It is clear that, if anything is subtracted of those things which are of the substance of the sacramental form (de substantia formae sacramentalis), the required sense of the words is taken away and, consequently, the sacrament is not accomplished.

No serious and unprejudiced reader of St Thomas can be left in any doubt that the Angelic Doctor believes the whole form to be necessary for validity. The whole of Question 78 article 3 is devoted to demonstrating that this is so.

But McCarthy decides to read things backwards. St Thomas in his treatment quotes a text of St Ambrose. Thus, for McCarthy, St Thomas implies his intention to agree entirely with St Ambrose. But St Ambrose, in quoting the words of consecration does not give the whole form of the consecration of the chalice as we now have it. So St Thomas perhaps (McCarthy is careful not to overplay his hand) may have intended to mean that the only words really necessary were those quoted by St Ambrose. St Thomas actually says the exact opposite of this, but of course if a possible indirect implication might mean (in McCarthy’s innovative opinion) the contrary of what he explicitly says, we should carefully consider rejecting the undoubted fact in favour of the far-fetched hypothesis…

From now on, McCarthy’s technique is one of subtle dishonesty by implication. Here are some examples:

  1. Wherever St Thomas uses the Latin verb “oportere”, which normally means “must” or “to be necessary”, McCarthy coyly adopts the ambiguous archaism “behoove” to weaken the natural sense.

  2. In a scriptural commentary, St Thomas says that it is not fitting to pretend that “This is the chalice of My Blood” is sufficient. Aha, cries McCarthy: it is not fitting to think that the N.O. is valid, but it may yet be valid if we could just overcome our repugnance for this unfittingness! Thus we first distort the meaning of St Thomas’s Scripture commentary and then use it to outweigh the entirely unambiguous Summa Theologiae.

  3. “St.Thomas does not deny that there can be variant liturgical expressions of this form.” Er, well, no, he doesn’t. But he would expect that for variant forms to be valid they would contain, at least as to substantial meaning, the words he thinks are necessary for validity, wouldn’t he? If McCarthy had consulted Archdale King’s collection of over one hundred variant forms of consecration from all nations and times, he would have been struck that “pro multis” appears in every form ever recognised as valid by the Catholic Church.

  4. “…the main point that St. Thomas seems to be making here is that the power of the Passion of Our Lord is more properly expressed in the transubstantiation of the wine”. So as long as we retain what McCarthy arbitrarily thinks is “the main point” we can cheerfully discard the rest.

Also noteworthy is the extraordinary role that the text of St Ambrose plays in McCarthy’s thinking.

He is so overjoyed by the discovery that this text does not contain “pro multis” that he manages in one unproved leap to decide that St Ambrose is quoting “the short form of the then current Latin Rite”. Thus he completely overlooks the distinction between the Roman Rite (the most ancient extant) and the Ambrosian Rite of Milan (the second most ancient in the West) and pretends to believe that the words of consecration of the Roman Canon as we now have them were not yet fixed even at Rome itself at the end of the fourth century (whereas the list of martyrs invoked, much more likely to be varied than the consecration, was clearly fixed over a century earlier). It would require the pen of a Dom Guéranger to give adequate expression to the outrage any Catholic will feel at the suggestion that the Church of Rome had not yet determined her words of consecration at the end of the fourth century and that in order to discover the words she was using we must consult the Church of Milan.

But above all what McCarthy overlooks is that the text of St Ambrose also furnishes no basis for thinking that St Ambrose was using a “short form” for the consecration of the chalice. The text in question is taken from St Ambrose’s De Sacramentis, Book 5. It is true that the saint quotes the text of the Milanese Canon, almost identical to our Roman Canon, and that the Milanese words of consecration which he quotes diverge somewhat, but to conclude that at Milan the words “pro multis” were omitted is impossible for the following reasons:

  1. The words “pro multis” are expressly included by St Ambrose in the form for the consecration of the Host, so we have no parallel either with their complete omission or with their being replaced by a heretical alternative as in the Novus Ordo.

  2. The text of St Ambrose was delivered orally and was taken down in note form by an unknown listener. There is therefore every possibility that it may contain omissions or errors.

  3. The passage in question actually quotes twice the context and words for the consecration of the Host. The first time it is, “Accipite et edite ex hoc omnes: Hoc enim est corpus meum.” The second time it is: “Accipite et edite ex eo omnes: Hoc enim est corpus meum.” Now it is impossible that these should both be accurate. It therefore follows either that St Ambrose was approximating and paraphrasing or else that he has been mis-transcribed.

  4. St. Ambrose stops, in quoting the consecration of the chalice, at, “Accipite et bibite ex eo omnes: Hic est enim sanguis meus.” He then intersperses his commentary. He nowhere states that he has quoted the entire form. The observation he makes is that the words which effect the consecration are Christ’s words; that the chalice contains wine and water until the words of Christ are pronounced, whereupon it contains the Precious Blood, as is proved by the words: “This is My Blood.” He has no need to quote any further to make his point.

  5. It is common for the Fathers, when referring to the words of consecration, to quote them as: “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood” simply as a convenient abridgement. St Thomas himself does this at III q. 78, a. 1, whereas in a. 3, when discussing exactly which words are needed he of course quotes them in full. Hence de la Taille, referring to the patristic evidence as to which words are essential, says: “I omit the objection made on the authority of the Fathers as though when the Fathers say, as they often do, that the consecration takes place at the words ‘Hoc est corpus meum, Hic est sanguis meus,’ we should think that they intend to determine exactly which series of formal words are required. In reality their sole meaning is that the action [consecration] announced takes place when the announcement takes place of the action. (…) In the same way St Thomas himself declares (q. 78 a. 1, ad 4um), in brief summary, that a priest would consecrate validly if he used just the words ‘Hoc est corpus meum, Hic est calix sanguinis mei’ without any previous narrative text. But in article 3 he states, in his specific examination of the question, that the words ‘Hic est calix sanguinis mei,’ do not suffice without the following words.” (Mysterium Fidei, Eluc. xxxv, n. 2)

  6. St Thomas was familiar with the words of St Ambrose, as he refers to them and quotes part of them, yet he obviously saw in them not even the shadow of an argument against his conviction that the long form is essential for validity. He is probably a safer guide to the interpretation of St Ambrose than is Mgr McCarthy.

  7. The Milanese church is notoriously attached to the Ambrosian liturgy and convinced of its apostolic antiquity. Its canon is substantially the same as the Roman Canon, but contains numerous minor variations, yet its words of consecration as found in its approved liturgical books are exactly the same as in the Roman Rite.

© John S. Daly 2006


Divi Ambrosii Episcopi Mediolanensis Opera, Paris MDLXIX, p. 1149

S. Thomae Aquinatis, Summa Theologiae, pars III, ed. Marietti, Italy, 1956

Abbot Prosper Guéranger: Les Institutions Liturgiques, vol. 1, Paris, 1878

P. Mauritius de la Taille, S.J., Mysterium Fidei, Eluc. xxxv, Paris, 1924