Ex opere operato

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Ex opere operato is a Latin phrase meaning "from the work performed" and, in reference to sacraments, signifies that they derive their efficacy, not from the minister or recipient (which would mean that they derive it ex opere operantis, meaning "from the agent's activity"), but from the sacrament considered independently of the merits of the minister or the recipient. According to the ex opere operato interpretation of the sacraments, any positive effect comes not from their worthiness or faith but from the sacrament as an instrument of God. [1] [2] "Affirming the ex opere operato efficacy means being sure of God's sovereign and gratuitous intervention in the sacraments." [3] For example, in confirmation the Holy Spirit is bestowed not through the attitude of the bishop and of the person being confirmed but freely by God through the instrumentality of the sacrament. In order to receive sacraments fruitfully, it is believed necessary for the recipient to have faith. [4] It is in those who receive them with the required dispositions that they bear fruit. [5]

In antiquity

In antiquity, the idea led to a schism among the Donatist Christians. [6] The Donatists held that "one of the three bishops who had consecrated Caecilian [7] was a traditor", and therefore Caecilian's consecration was invalid. [6] Furthermore, they held "that the validity of such an act depended on the worthiness of the bishop performing it" and Caecilian and his followers "responded that the validity of the sacraments and of other such acts cannot be made to depend on the worthiness of the one administering them, for in that case all Christians would be in constant doubt regarding the validity of their own baptism or of the Communion of which they had partaken." [6]

In the Catholic Church

According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, to receive the fruits of the sacraments requires that a person be properly disposed. This means the efficacy of grace via the sacraments is not automatic. There must be, at least in the case of an adult, an openness to use the sufficient grace which is available in a sacrament. When the recipient is properly disposed, "the sacraments are instrumental causes of grace." [8]

This principle holds that the efficacy of the sacrament is a result not of the holiness of a priest or minister, but rather of Christ himself who is the author (directly or indirectly) of each sacrament. The priest or minister acts in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), even if in a state of mortal sin. Although such a sacrament would be valid, and the grace efficacious, it is nonetheless sinful for any priest to celebrate a sacrament while himself in a state of mortal sin.

The principle of ex opere operato affirms that while a proper disposition (openness) is necessary to exercise the efficacious grace in the sacraments, it is not the cause of the sufficient grace. Catholic Christians believe that what God offers in the sacraments is a gift, freely bestowed out of God’s own love. A person's disposition, as good as it may be, cannot merit supernatural grace or divine life, which remains a gift of God.


The teaching of the church regarding the sacramentals is that their efficacy comes ex opere operantis Ecclesiae (i.e., from what the doer, the Church, does), not ex opere operato (from what is done): [9] i.e., as the Second Vatican Council said, "they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual kind, which are obtained through the Church's intercession". [10] They "do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the church's prayer they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it". [11] Sacramentals dispose the soul to receive grace [12] and may remit venial sins when used prayerfully. [13]

In the Anglican Communion

In the Anglican Communion, the principle of ex opere operato is made conditional upon worthy reception. Article XXVI of the Thirty-Nine Articles (Of the unworthiness of ministers which hinders not the effect of the Sacrament) states that the ministration of the Word (scripture) and sacraments is not done in the name of the priest or minister and that the efficacy of Christ's sacraments is not taken away, nor God’s grace diminished by the sinfulness of clergy. This is because sacraments have their efficacy due to Christ’s promise to his church.

See also

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Donatism Christian sect

Donatism was a Christian sect leading to schism in the pre-Great Schism, Christian Church, in the region of the Church of Carthage, from the fourth to the sixth centuries AD. Donatists argued that Christian clergy must be faultless for their ministry to be effective and their prayers and sacraments to be valid. Donatism had its roots in the long-established Christian community of the Roman Africa province in the persecutions of Christians under Diocletian. Named after the Berber Christian bishop Donatus Magnus, Donatism flourished during the fourth and fifth centuries.

According to Roman Catholic Church teaching, a sacramental character is an indelible spiritual mark imprinted by three of the seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders.

Confirmation Christian religious practice

In Christian denominations that practice infant baptism, confirmation is seen as the sealing of the covenant created in baptism. Those being confirmed are known as confirmands. For adults, it is an affirmation of belief.

Real presence of Christ in the Eucharist Doctrine that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, not merely symbolically or metaphorically

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Body of Christ

In Christian theology, the term Body of Christ has two main but separate meanings: it may refer to Jesus' words over the bread at the celebration of the Jewish feast of Passover that "This is my body" in Luke 22:19–20, or it may refer to all individuals who are "in Christ" 1 Corinthians 12:12–14.

The means of grace in Christian theology are those things through which God gives grace. Just what this grace entails is interpreted in various ways: generally speaking, some see it as God blessing humankind so as to sustain and empower the Christian life; others see it as forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Eucharistic theology Branch of Christian theology

Eucharistic theology is a branch of Christian theology which treats doctrines concerning the Holy Eucharist, also commonly known as the Lord's Supper. It exists exclusively in Christianity and related religions, as others generally do not contain a Eucharistic ceremony.

Donatus Magnus

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Traditor, plural: traditores (Latin), is a term meaning "the one(s) who had handed over" and defined by Merriam-Webster as "one of the Christians giving up to the officers of the law the Scriptures, the sacred vessels, or the names of their brethren during the Roman persecutions". It refers to bishops and other Christians who turned over sacred scriptures or betrayed their fellow Christians to the Roman authorities under threat of persecution. During the Diocletianic Persecution between AD 303 and 305, many church leaders had gone as far as turning in Christians to the authorities and "handed over" sacred religious texts to authorities to be burned. Philip Schaff says about them: "In this, as in former persecutions, the number of apostates who preferred the earthly life to the heavenly, was very great. To these was now added also the new class of the traditores, who delivered the holy Scriptures to the heathen authorities, to be burned".

Anglican sacraments

In keeping with its prevailing self-identity as a via media or "middle path" of Western Christianity, Anglican sacramental theology expresses elements in keeping with its status as a church in the catholic tradition and a church of the Reformation. With respect to sacramental theology the Catholic tradition is perhaps most strongly asserted in the importance Anglicanism places on the sacraments as a means of grace, sanctification and forgiveness as expressed in the church's liturgy.

Eucharist in the Catholic Church Catholic liturgy

Eucharist here refers to Holy Communion or the Body and Blood of Christ, which is consumed during the Catholic Mass or Eucharistic Celebration. "At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood, ... a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet 'in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.'" As such, Eucharist is "an action of thanksgiving to God" derived from "the Jewish blessings that proclaim – especially during a meal – God's works: creation, redemption, and sanctification."

Catholic liturgy

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Mass in the Catholic Church Central liturgical ritual of the Roman Catholic Church

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In persona Christi is a Latin phrase meaning "in the person of Christ", an important concept in Roman Catholicism and, in varying degrees, to other Christian traditions, such as Lutheranism and Anglicanism. A priest is In persona Christi, because he acts as Christ and as God. An extended term, In persona Christi capitis, “in the person of Christ the head,” was introduced by the bishops of the Vatican Council II in the Decree on the Ministry and Live of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis, December 7, 1965.

The sacrament of holy orders in the Catholic Church includes three orders: bishop, priest, and deacon. In the phrase "holy orders", the word "holy" simply means "set apart for some purpose." The word "order" designates an established civil body or corporation with a hierarchy, and ordination means legal incorporation into an order. In context, therefore, a group with a hierarchical structure that is set apart for ministry in the Church.

Canon 915, one of the canons in the 1983 Code of Canon Law of the Latin Church of the Catholic Church, forbids the administration of Holy Communion to those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared or who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin:

Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

Sacraments of the Catholic Church Catholic visible rites

There are seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, which according to Catholic theology were instituted by Jesus and entrusted to the Church. Sacraments are visible rites seen as signs and efficacious channels of the grace of God to all those who receive them with the proper disposition. The sevenfold list of sacraments is often organized into three categories: the sacraments of initiation, consisting of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist; the sacraments of healing, consisting of Penance and Anointing of the Sick; and the sacraments of service: Holy Orders and Matrimony.

Sacrament Christian rite recognized as of particular importance and significance

A sacrament is a Christian rite recognized as of particular importance and significance. There are various views on the existence and meaning of such rites. Many Christians consider the sacraments to be a visible symbol of the reality of God, as well as a channel for God's grace. Many denominations, including the Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, and Reformed, hold to the definition of sacrament formulated by Augustine of Hippo: an outward sign of an inward grace, that has been instituted by Jesus Christ. Sacraments signify God's grace in a way that is outwardly observable to the participant.

Canon 844 is a Catholic Church canon law contained within the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which defines the licit administration and reception of certain sacraments of the Catholic Church in normative and in particular exceptional circumstances, known in canonical theory as communicatio in sacris.


  1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  2. Feingold, Lawrence (2018). "Five". The Eucharist: Mystery of Presence, Sacrifice, and Communion. Emmaus Academic. ISBN   9781945125744.
  3. Scampini, Jorge A. (688). "The Sacraments in Ecumenical Dialogue". In Boersma, Hans; Levering, Matthew (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Sacramental Theology. Oxford University Press. p. 688. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199659067.013.41.
  4. Fahey, Michael A. (2009). "Sacraments". In Tanner, Kathryn; Webster, John; Torrance, Iain (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  5. Elizabeth M. Dowling, W. George Scarlett, Encyclopedia of Religious and Spiritual Development (SAGE 2006), p. 391, cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church , 1131
  6. 1 2 3 Gonzalez, Justo L. (10 August 2010). The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. HarperCollins. p. 175. ISBN   9780061855887. According to the Donatists, one of the three bishops who had consecrated Caecilian was a traditor--that is, had delivered scriptures to the authorities--and therefore the consecration itself was not valid. Caecilian and his party responded by claiming, first, that the bishop was not a traditor and, second, that even had he been one, his action in consecrating Caecilian would still have been valid. Thus, besides the factual question of whether or not this particular bishop--and others in communion with Caecilian--had yielded, there was the additional issue of whether an ordination or consecration performed by an unworthy bishop was valid. The Donatists declared that the validity of such an act depended on the worthiness of the bishop performing it. Caecilian and his followers responded that the validity of the sacraments and of other such acts cannot be made to depend on the worthiness of the one administering them, for in that case all Christians would be in constant doubt regarding the validity of their own baptism or of the communion of which they had partaken.
  7. bishop of Carthage in 311 AD.
  8. "Dictionary : EX OPERE OPERATO". Catholic Culture. Retrieved 2016-01-31.
  9. Chupungco, Anscar J. (1992). Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity, and Catechesis. Liturgical Press. ISBN   978-0-8146-6120-8.
  10. "Sacrosanctum concilium". www.vatican.va. Retrieved 2020-03-03.
  11. "Catechism of the Catholic Church - Sacramentals". www.vatican.va. Retrieved 2020-03-03.
  12. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1667, 1670, 1677.
  13. "Sisters of Carmel: Information on Sacramentals". www.sistersofcarmel.com. Retrieved 2016-01-22.