Rorate Caeli

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A Refutation of Fr. Cekada’s “Proof” of the Invalidity of the New Episcopal Ordination Rites

Brother Ansgar Santogrossi, OSB *

Since the beginning of the traditionalist movement, various authors have questioned the validity of certain sacramental rituals revised by the postconciliar reform. For the sacrament of Holy Orders, it has been claimed that the apostolic constitutions Apostolicae Curae of Leo XIII and Sacramentum Ordinis of Pius XII demand certain conditions for validity which are absent from the new rites of ordination promulgated by Paul VI in 1968. One of the strongest claims of invalidity of the ordination of bishops in the 1968 rite is the study published by Fr. Anthony Cekada, who is also a sedevacantist. Despite extensive documentation from theological manuals and recent studies of the history of the liturgy, Cekada’s work nevertheless errs by a manifestly exaggerated approach to language, signification and univocity. It also ignores several elements of the Church’s Tradition which are echoed by Paul VI´s formula and which ensure its validity, independently of whether or not one thinks the Roman ordination texts and rituals needed to have been revised in the first place.

The present study, already published in a less complete form in the French monthly Objections and in The Remnant, responds to Fr. Cekada’s original article and his reply, both of which can be found at

As mentioned, Fr. Cekada is a sedevacantist. He would not accept the starting point of the present study, namely that in 1968 it was a Pope, protected by the charism of infallibility in the domain of validity of sacraments, who declared a certain form of words to be efficacious for the ordination of a bishop. (Indeed, on the basis of his approach to language and signification, Cekada claims that the act of Paul VI—promulgation of a manifestly invalid sacramental form--would have been sufficient to manifest his lack of papal authority.) By contrast the present author first receives the formula as valid from the Church, and then presents historical, linguistic and theological considerations which plead in its favor and which at the very least refute Fr. Cekada’s purported demonstration of its invalidity.


Fr. Cekada’s position is basically quite simple: the Tradition of the Church recalled by Pius XII in 1947 requires that a sacramental formula signify the sacramental effects in a univocal manner, in this case the power of the order conferred and the grace of the Holy Spirit; the part of the traditional episcopal consecratory prayer which Pius XII defined as essential and required for validity, namely “Complete in your priest the fullness of your ministry, and adorned in the raiment of all glory, sanctify him with the dew of heavenly anointing”, provides this univocal signification. Now the formula prescribed by Paul VI, a prayer for the pouring out of the Spiritum principalem, variously translated as “excellent Spirit” or “governing Spirit”, is obscure and equivocal, and in no way signifies the episcopal order’s priestly-sanctifying power (distinct from the power of jurisdiction bestowed by canonical mission). Even if it does signify the Holy Spirit, which he concedes is probable in the context of the new rite, Fr. Cekada considers it nevertheless invalid since it could at most refer to the grace of the Holy Spirit but not the power of order of the episcopate.

The expression “Spiritum principalem” is present in the consecratory prayer for the ordination of a bishop in the Coptic rite, but Fr. Cekada denies that this provides any basis for accepting it as sacramentally efficacious in Paul VI’s rite, since in his view it cannot be sacramentally efficacious by itself even in the Coptic rite. A declaration of the Coptic Catholic Synod of 1898 designates the long consecratory prayer as the form of sacramental episcopal ordination, without stipulating any particular portion of this prayer as essential and necessary for validity, as was done by Pius XII in 1947 for the traditional Roman consecratory prayer and Paul VI in 1968 for his revised rite. Fr. Cekada concludes that a valid ordination results from the entire Coptic consecratory prayer, or at least the parts of it enumerating distinct powers of bishops such as ordaining priests and establishing churches. Even though “Spiritum principalem” can be understood as the Holy Spirit, and even though pre-Vatican II theology manuals (especially after Pius XII’s apostolic constitution of 1947) were already teaching that the essential form of ordination is certainly invocation of the Holy Spirit (and not the formula expressing the power to offer Masses for the living and the dead), Fr. Cekada maintains the invalidity of the phrase for episcopal ordination, since “principalem” can signify any office of authority at all and is therefore equivocal, not univocal as required by Pius XII. Even if it did univocally signify episcopal authority or power of jurisdiction, which comes from canonical mission and not the sacrament, it would still fail to signify the sacramentally bestowed power of order (the power to confirm and ordain) and thus be invalid. Only the traditional Roman formula canonized by Pius XII, with its mention of the fullness (summa) of the ministry, and not “Spiritum principalem”, signifies the power of the order of episcopacy.

At this point in our exposition, it is necessary to bring together in somewhat shotgun fashion a number of aspects of the issue which are neglected by Fr. Cekada. Once these have been set forth, Fr. Cekada’s questionable presuppositions about sacramental signification will be evident.

First, a comparison of Paul VI´s episcopal formula with the formulas for the other orders as they were fixed by Pius XII. Paul VI’s formula for the bishop: “So now pour out upon this chosen one that power which is from you, the governing Spirit whom you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Spirit given by him to the holy apostles, who founded the Church in every place to be your temple for the unceasing glory and praise of your name.” The part of the formula for the priesthood, defined by Pius XII and retained by Paul VI, which is pertinent here: “Give, we ask, omnipotent Father, . . . the dignity of the priesthood (presbyteratus ).” The traditional formula for the diaconate specified by Pius XII: “Send forth in him, we ask, Lord, the Holy Spirit, that he might be sanctified by Him with the gift of your sevenfold grace for the work of faithfully accomplishing your ministry.” We will shortly examine whether the traditional formulas for the priesthood, diaconate and episcopate reach the degree of univocal signification of their effects which Fr. Cekada finds lacking in Paul VI’s episcopal ordination formula.

In Paul VI’s episcopal formula, the adjective “principalem” qualifies the noun “Spiritum”, and it is the Latin translation of the Greek hegemonikon, a word which normally signifies power, dominion or governing. The complete phrase, pneuma (Spirit) hegemonikon, signifies a divine gift in the Greek Psalm 50 and is therefore used in numerous Oriental consecratory prayers for the conferral of offices and blessings. All of these offices have something do with authority, and one finds that the semantic field naturally associated with the concept—the field containing such terms as prince or head—is clearly in the minds of the Fathers and medieval writers when they characterize bishops as “princes”, “first”, or “heads” in the Church. In fact, the Greek and Latin patristic dictionaries cited by Fr. Cekada himself associate hegemonikon and principalis with the episcopal office. Furthermore, the first thing the Council of Trent teaches about bishops as a distinct order (Decree on the Sacrament of Order, chapter 4) is that it is they who belong principally (praecipue) to the hierarchy, and that they have been established by the Holy Spirit to rule the Church—the episcopal duty of government is mentioned before the power to confirm and ordain. And the Introit of the common of Confessor Bishops refers to the holy bishop commemorated with the words “principem fecit eum”—“[God] made him a prince”.

Let us now apply the data of the two previous paragraphs to the question at hand. If one were to apply the principle of univocity of signification to the traditional Latin formulas with all the rigor Fr. Cekada demands for an episcopal ordination formula, one would be forced to draw an absurd conclusion: that Pius XII specified a sacramental form for priestly ordination which cannot be valid. For if the episcopal formula must signify the plenitude of the power of order or sanctification qua distinct from the power of jurisdiction, as Fr. Cekada requires, then the priestly ordination formula would logically have to mention the power to offer sacrifice, or at least sacerdotium. But such is not the case in the traditional priestly ordination formula. The Greek word “presbyter”, found in its derivative presbyteratus in the essential form of ordination, signifies “elder” and not “one who sacrifices” (hiereus in Greek, sacerdos in Latin). While it is true that in both Christian Greek and Christian Latin “presbyter” refers to an office-holder whose principal duty is the Eucharistic sacrifice, it is not simply a synonym for sacerdos. It only signifies sacerdotal power through the idea of office or rank which stands out in the meaning of the word. The fact that presbyters in the Church of Christ have sacerdotal power, a fact known by liturgical practice and other sources in Tradition, does not imply that the word “presbyter” directly signifies sacerdotal power. (An analogy for this: when I say “victor at Austerlitz” I mean Napoleon, but “victor at Austerlitz” cannot be defined as “vanquished at Waterloo”.) The traditional form thus signifies the sanctifying power of order univocally and implicitly, but not explicitly. Cekada observes that the idea of government present in “Spiritum principalem” does not distinguish a Catholic bishop from even his Mormon counterpart, but that is even more true with regard to the word “presbyterate” defined by Pius XII as an essential substantive in the form of priestly ordination. Again, “presbyter” in the Christian context signifies the one who offers sacrifice, and not only generic office placed over a community, but Fr. Cekada’s own patristic dictionary tells him something similar happens with the words hegemonikon and principalis : although originally very general terms for primacy and power, in the Christian context they are capable of a more specific reference to the power of bishops. If by usage and association “dignity of the presbyterate” signifies sanctifying power of order, then “principalis” can signify the power of the prime order of the hierarchy, the episcopate. Fr. Cekada notes that “second rank” also makes the traditional form signify the power of order, but once again the signification involves a certain amount of implicitness which he rejects when it comes to “Spiritus principalis” for the episcopate: why should “second” signify the sanctifying power of a priest if “principalis” cannot signify the sanctifying power of a bishop, first in the hierarchy as he is?

But that is not all: the traditional Latin formulas for the diaconate and episcopate taken together also fall short of Fr. Cekada’s required degree of univocity in a sacramental formula : the deacon is said to receive the Holy Spirit for “the work of the ministry” while the bishop receives the “fullness (summa ) . . . of your ministry”. Even though a bishop receives the plenitude of the sanctifying power of the priesthood, the formula itself does not say “priesthood”, but rather “ministry”, a generic term also used for the non-sanctifying (non-priestly) power of order a deacon receives. According to his own principles, how does Fr. Cekada know that the formula “plenitude of the ministry” univocally signifies a bishop and not an archdeacon, since diaconate is also, and even etymologically (diakonos—minister), ministry? Traditional writings sometimes use ministerium in a sense which excludes priesthood, as when the famous medieval commentator Amalarius justified a certain detail of ordination ceremonies by the observation that a deacon is consecrated “not for sacerdotium, but for ministerium”. It will not do for Fr. Cekada to reply that the theologian who drafted Pius XII’s apostolic constitution wrote in an article that the formula signifies episcopal order, for Paul VI said the same for his new formula by entitling the rite “episcopal ordination”. Not admitting that his requirements for univocity invalidate the traditional rite as well as Paul VI’s, Fr. Cekada points out that in the old Roman formula the consecrator refers to the ordinand as a priest, so that the phrase “plenitude of your ministry” signifies the fullness of priesthood. But still, “fullness of your ministry” does not in itself indicate that this ministerial fullness is specifically different from the non-priestly ministry the same ordinand had once received when he was ordained deacon. So once again we see that Fr. Cekada’s particular understanding of univocity of sacramental signification logically implies that a formula specified by Pius XII does not signify univocally.

Clearly Fr. Cekada’s understanding of the principle of univocity of sacramental signification—total explicitness--leads to absurdity. By contrast, in ordinary communication in the Church, the meaning of a liturgical phrase is often determined by an entire domain of implicit background knowledge not explicitly stated in the formula itself but nevertheless naturally associated, by everyone, at least potentially, with the public intention of the prelate “to ordain a bishop (or priest or deacon)”. We proceed now to show that it is just such a field of implicit significations which gives an episcopal signification to the phrase “Spiritum principalem” when used in the context of a manifest intention to “confer episcopacy”, in the same way that the traditional formula said with the public intention of “conferring episcopacy” confers episcopacy and not archdiaconate. In other words, we will show that as the traditional formulas are not as explicit as Fr. Cekada would like to think, so the Paul VI formula when actually used is not as ambiguous as he claims it to be.


Let us recall that everything which is principalis has something to do with primacy, that is to say being first in some respect, which in turn founds the fact of being a source, origin and principle of direction, at least according to traditional perennial philosophy. A principle or a prince directs by his or by someone’s knowledge of the good and of the ways in or through which the good can be accomplished. In the case at hand, we are dealing with a primacy and a power of direction according to the Holy Spirit, in the Church whose end is the supernatural divine Good and whose efficacious means is the divine Word which instructs, commands and efficaciously accomplishes (when the words are sacramental). Therefore the one who receives a spiritual and Holy Spirit-derived character of the first order, or the character which is principalis, becomes the principal source of the Spirit in the Church—even baptism must be conferred in hierarchical communion with the bishop if it is to be legitimately as well as validly conferred. In other words, he is episkopos, bishop, the one who oversees the flock through the light of the divine Word present to his mind, in order to be the Word´s authentic witness and teacher--power of magisterium; in order to bring out prudential laws necessary for putting the Word into practice—power of jurisdiction; in order to apply the Word efficaciously ex opere operato and completely—power of sanctification in the supreme degree which can confirm and ordain. That does not imply that a bishop receives the power of jurisdiction by his consecration alone, and one must admit that deacons and priests can also receive the power to teach publically—in medio ecclesiae—as well as a share in the power of jurisdiction. Nevertheless one must note a point completely neglected by Fr. Cekada, namely the fact that deacons and priests receive their share in teaching and jurisdiction by virtue of a character which is principalis and which they do not have, since their power depends on the consent of a higher order (the bishop), whereas by contrast the bishop receives his canonical power from another bishop, the bishop of Rome who holds a power over the whole Church which Vatican I called episcopal. Thus the episcopal character given by the Holy Spirit in ordination (“established by the Holy Spirit to rule the Church of God,” said St. Paul to his successors in the Acts of the Apostles) is principalis or hegemonikon par excellence--it is the episcopate as such which governs the Church, by divine right;--the pope cannot confer the government of dioceses habitually to simple priests . . . Thus there should be no grounds for doubt about validity when a prelate who manifestly intends “to ordain a bishop”—he is using an official book which says “ordination of a bishop” about the rite-- utilizes the expressions pneuma hegemonikon, Spiritum principalem, esprit qui fait les chefs (French translation), “guide” (initial German translation), or “governing Spirit” (English translation). (Even the provisional English translation, “the excellent Spirit”, could be understood in this light, because in a healthy metaphysics he who possesses something in the degree of excellence is apt to communicate and direct as a first cause in his own order, which is what a bishop does.)

Pius XII required that the formula signify the “power of order” in order to be valid, but Fr. Cekada has his own rigorist interpretation of this, at odds, as we have seen, with the traditional formulas themselves, when he requires that the formula signify the power of order/sanctification separately and qua distinct from rank and the power of jurisdiction received from canonical mission rather than the sacrament alone. In reality, just as sacerdotal power is indirectly signified through the idea of higher rank in the word presbyter, so the bishop’s plenitude of power of order is indirectly signified through the idea of overseeing in the word episcopus (“overseer”) or the idea of primacy in the word “principalis” in the form of ordination. Fr. Cekada is right to distinguish the sacramentally conferred character and power of order from the power of jurisdiction, but he completely overlooks their intimate relation whereby the character and the power of order constitute an aptitude or predisposition to receive power of jurisdiction from the Holy Spirit through the at least tacit designation by the Supreme Pontiff. Thus Pius XII did not say that episcopal power of sanctification has to be named separately, only signified univocally, and the episcopal character is distinguished from the other degrees of Order not only by the “principal” power to ordain and confirm, but also by the aptitude to receive and possess jurisdiction in a “principal” manner--that is to say not receiving it from a higher order—and thus participate in supreme and ordinary government of the Church. Thus by saying “Spiritum principalem”, the ordaining prelate implicitly but really and univocally signifies the episcopal power of order. If Fr. Cekada’s argument to the contrary is valid, then, as we have seen, he is logically forced to reject the formula Pius XII singled out as efficacious for the simple priesthood, since it doesn’t signify the priestly power of order explicitly.


It is true that on a page in a theological or patristic dictionary “principalis” and “Spiritus principalis” show multiple meanings. But words which are equivocal in the dictionary are generally rendered univocal in the moment of actual use, thanks to the manifest context and intention of the speaker. It is speakers, using words, who signify, not words by themselves. Consider the equivocal term “bank”: if my mother picks up her account book and says “I´m going to the bank”, this term at this moment univocally signifies the financial institution and not the shore of a river. Something similar though less obvious happens with the biblical and patristic phrase “Spiritus principalis” spoken by a prelate following a rite labeled “ordination of a bishop”: because of the manifest intention to ordain a bishop, it signifies the grace of the Holy Spirit and the power of episcopacy, even though past usage and dictionary entries refer “principalis” and “Spiritus principalis” not only to episcopacy but to a variety of offices and powers.

To clarify and summarize: the form of ordination must signify the grace of the Holy Spirit and the power of order. In Paul VI’s rite, the “governing Spirit” is invoked on the ordinand. Because of the traditional theology of grace and the patristic usage in which “Spirit” and “grace of the Spirit” can be interchangeable in certain contexts, “Spirit” here signifies the sanctifying grace and gifts bestowed on the ordinand. (Catholic theology goes on to teach that this grace is sacramental insofar as together with the impressed character it constitutes a further disposition to receive the graces of state necessary for fruitful exercise of the ministry received.) As for the power of episcopal order, the prime degree of sacred order, it is signified by “principalem” since as often happens with any potentially equivocal word, it is rendered univocal by the context and manifest intention of the speaker. The traditional theology of appropriation of divine works to distinct persons of the Trinity tells us that the “indwelling” Spirit’s holiness makes the just themselves holy, and so likewise the invoked Spirit’s “governing” or being “principalis” causes the episcopal power whereby the bishop is a “prince” in Holy Church.

Far from being ambiguous in a rite manifestly intended to ordain to episcopacy, the expression “Spiritum principalem” actually finds its primary signification in the bishop. Fr. Cekada gives a list of various ecclesiastical meanings of the word hegemonikon: abbot, patriarch and more. But in all these usages, there is a common element: some office of authority and a petition for the corresponding grace of state. Now every office in the Church is an office for the sake of spreading the Gospel Word which is theoretically, practically and sacramentally true and first of all entrusted to the bishops. They are endowed with all the characters which the Spirit can infuse, characters for performing sanctifying or consecrating actions but which are also so many dispositions to sanctifying grace and thereby to the graces of state for the spread of the Kingdom of Christ. (Note that the diaconal character does not involve a sanctifying power, but a “claim” and disposition to receive graces for more perfect accomplishment of official actions. This proves that when Pius XII said that an ordination formula must signify “potestatem Ordinis” he could not have been referring in a fully exclusive sense, as Fr. Cekada requires for a bishop, to the sanctifying power of order, since none exists in the deacon.) They are also obligated to the highest perfection of charity appropriated to the same Holy Spirit. The episcopal character calls upon God, so to speak, for a maximal effusion of the Holy Spirit—it is not for nothing that the signs and discourse of traditional Catholicism emphasize this maximal association of the bishop with the Holy Spirit (as well as associate the priestly character in general with the Holy Spirit: the lay faithful respond “And with your spirit ” because of the Holy Spirit). When we look at the natural order of things in the economy of revelation and salvation, and not only the dictionary, the bishop is seen to be the primary analogate of signification of the biblical and patristic phrase “Spiritum principalem”, since all other duties and authority in the Church, “principal” as they may be in their own domain, are under the oversight of the bishops. Not only is “Spiritum principalem” not ambiguous on the lips of a consecrating prelate; it even finds there its principal signification.


*Brother Ansgar Santogrossi, OSB, a monk of Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon (USA) taught for eleven years at Mt. Angel Seminary and is temporarily assigned to Monasterio Benedictino Nuestra Señora de los Angeles in Mexico; he teaches at the diocesan seminary of Cuernavaca, Mexico.


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