Monday, February 27
The other day I posted a question on whether an atheist could validly perform a sacrament, if he has been properly ordained. At the time, quoting Sacrosanctum Concilium ("the sacraments presume faith"), I thought that an atheist could not.
However, in the course of reading Schillebeeckx, who may have coined the pharse "sacraments presume faith" (he certainly uses it), he argues that an atheist could validly perform the sacraments, as long as he intended to act as the Church acts. This intention does not require, he says, a living faith; it requires only a vague knowledge of what it means to act in the name of the Church and a vague knowledge of what the act itself is intended to symbolize (and therefore to effect).
"All theologians agree that for validity it is not necessary that the minister
should believe personally in the msyery and the meaning of the sacraments. If
he does not believe, of course, the ministery cannot have the intention to
administer a sacrament precievesly as a sacrament... A non-believer, however,
can want to perform an act which has meaning only in the perspectice of the
ecoenomy of savlation, even though he cannot appreciate it in the that light
himself. In this case, in the performance of the visible eccelsial act he
fulfils the intention of Christ and of the Church as an outsider would. He must
have, therefore, at least some vague knwoledge of the fact that the act asked of
him is ecclesial. In this he might be acting out of respect for the religious
opinions of a fellow man who has asked him to do this... [even if he ridicules
the practice] as soon as he consents to the requst and performs the act
voluntarily [in the name of the Church] he performs an ecclesial symbolic act.
Thus the honest inward will to perform the Church's outward rite is sufficient.
So when a person has the inward intention truly to perform a visible act of the
Church (the intention to do what is accepted by the faithful as an act of the
Church, of which the minister must have a least an elementary awareness) what
is done is truly an act of the Church, and consequently valid."
(Christ the Sacrament: pp105-106)
My next question is whether an atheist could validly recieve the sacrament.