PIUS XII 1939-1958

The Material and Form of the Sacrament of Orders *

[Apostolic Constitution, “Sacramentum Ordinis,” November 30, 1947]


2301 1. The sacrament of orders instituted by Christ the Lord, by which spiritual power is handed down and grace is conferred to perform ecclesiastical duties properly, the Catholic faith professes to be one and the same for the universal Church. . . . And for these sacraments instituted by Christ the Lord in the course of the ages the Church has not, and could not substitute other sacraments, since, as the Council of Trent teaches, the seven sacraments of the New Law have all been instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord, and the Church has no power over the “substance of the sacraments,” that is, over those things which, with the sources of divine revelation as witnesses, Christ the Lord Himself decreed to be preserved in a sacramental sign. . . .


  1. It is established moreover, among all that the sacraments of the New Law, as sensible and efficient signs of invisible grace, owe and signify the grace which they effect, and effect the grace which the, signify. Indeed the effects which should be produced and so signified by the sacred ordination of the diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate namely, power and grace, are found to have been sufficiently signified in all the rites of the universal Church of different times and regions by the imposition of hands, and by the words that determine this. Furthermore, there is no one who does know that the Roman Church always considered valid the ordinations conferred in the Greek rite, without the handing over of the instruments, so that at the Council of Florence, in which the union of the Greeks with the Church of Rome was accomplished, it was not imposed on the Greeks that they change the rite of ordination, or that they insert in it the tradition of the instruments; rather, the Church wished that in the City itself (Rome) Greeks be ordained according to their own rite. From all this it is gathered that according to the mind of the Council of Florence the tradition of the instruments is not required for the substance and validity of this sacrament, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. But if, according to the will and prescription of the Church, the same should some day be held necessary for validity also, all would know that the Church is able even to change and to abrogate what she has established.


  1. Since these things are so, invoking divine light by Our supreme apostolic authority and certain knowledge We declare, and, according as there is need, decree, and determine that the matter of sacred orders of the diaconate, priesthood, and episcopate, and this alone, is the imposition of the hands; but that the form, and likewise alone, is the words which determine the application of this matter, by which the sacramental effects are signified with but one meaning, namely, the power of orders, and grace of the Holy Spirit, and which as such are accepted and applied by the Church. Hence it follows that in order to do away with all controversy and to preclude the way to anxieties of conscience, by Our Apostolic Authority We do declare, and, if ever it has been otherwise lawfully arranged, decide that the tradition of the instruments at least for the future is not necessary for the validity of the sacred orders of the diaconate, priesthood, and episcopate.


  1. But regarding the matter and form in the conferring of every order, by Our same supreme apostolic authority We decree and establish the following: In the ordination of deacons the matter is the one imposition of the bishop’s hand, which occurs in the rite of that ordination. But the form consists of the words of the “Preface,” of which the following are essential and so required for validity: “Send forth upon him, we beseech, O Lord, the Holy Spirit, by which for the work of faithfully performing your ministry he may be strengthened by the gift of Thy sevenfold grace.” In the ordination of priests the matter is the first imposition of the bishop’s hands which is done in silence, but there is no continuation of the same imposition by an extension of the right hand, nor the last to which these words are joined: “Receive the Holy Spirit: whose sins you shall forgive, etc.” But the form consists of the words of the “preface,” of which the following are essential and so required for validity: “Bestow, we beseech, almighty Father, upon this thy servant the dignity of the priesthood; renew in his vitals the spirit of sanctity, that he may obtain the gift of good merit acceptable to Thee, O God, and may by the example of his conversation introduce rigid judgment of morals.” Finally, in the episcopal ordination or consecration the matter is the imposition of the hands by the consecrating bishop. But the form consists of the words of the “Preface,” of which the following are essential and thus required for validity: “Fulfill in Thy priest the completion of Thy ministry, and adorned in the ornaments of all glorification sanctify him with the moisture of heavenly unguent.” . . .


  1. That no occasion for doubt may be offered, we command that in any conferring of orders the imposition of hands be made by physically touching the head of the one to be ordained, although even the moral touch suffices for performing a sacrament validly. . . . The disposition of this Our Constitution does not have retroactive force.

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