Monday, January 15, 2007

ex opere operating

I have a theory why my evangelical brothers are weary when one proposes a higher view of the sacraments, for example, as in the Lord's Supper. I think they are weary of ex opere operato, ie, the idea that mere action perfomerd merits the participant brownie points with God. Clearly this would of course be getting brownie points by works but not by grace. In this sense, one can say - God give me favor because I have done this action.

Here is an exerpt from the RC Catechism

1127 Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify.48 They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies. The Father always hears the prayer of his Son's Church which, in the epiclesis of each sacrament, expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power.

1128 This is the meaning of the Church's affirmation49 that the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: "by the very fact of the action's being performed"), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that "the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God."50 From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.

1129 The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.51 "Sacramental grace" is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament. The Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature52 by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.

Contrast this now from Luther's Small Catechism

How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?

It is not the eating and drinking, indeed, that does them, but the words which stand here, namely: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins. Which words are, beside the bodily eating and drinking, as the chief thing in the Sacrament; and he that believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins.

Who, then, receives such Sacrament worthily?

Fasting and bodily preparation is, indeed, a fine outward training; but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins.

But he that does not believe these words, or doubts, is unworthy and unfit; for the words For you require altogether believing hearts.

As can be seen Luther, was quite precise as to where faith is directed. Whereas in the RC, faith is not defined and is rather vague, which allows for wiggle room in 1128. In 1128, there is the "nevertheless" clause which is confusing, because on the one hand it does not depend on the rigteousness of the recipient yet it depends on his disposition. If the RC does not object any longer to Luther's catechism, perhaps they have reformed themselves in this area and conceded they were wrong. Similarly in in 1129, the sacraments (and the RCs have more than 2 to 3 , I remember 7) are necessary for salvation. My Reformed brothers do have the right to be alarmed at such a talk. In fact the Apology registered these protests (just examples)...

III. 155 Just as,therefore, the Lord's Supper does not justify us ex opere operato, without faith, so alms do not
justify us without faith, ex opere operato.
III. 165 In this manner they also distorted the Sacraments, and most especially the Mass, through which
they seek ex opere operato righteousness, grace, and salvation.
XII. 11 They falsely assert that the Sacrament itselfconfers grace ex opere operato, without a good disposition on the part of the one using it; no mention is made of faith apprehending the absolution and consoling the conscience.

1128 is now a compliance to XII. 11 but again, there is no official definition of what that "disposition" is supposed to be, you may correct me if I miss such definition or clarification in the RC Catechism. When I contemplate that section of the RC Catechism I quoted, I come out confused. Somehow I can not help but think of double talk and I mean no disrespect, just an honest frank opinion. It seems such wording allows the RC to say -- we have not changed since the old terms are there, ie. justifying ex opere operato, and in the other sense, they can say - they have changed since they added more clarifications on the teaching that sounds Lutheran.

In logic, we have a maxim that says, from a contradiction you can prove anything. That is right, you can prove anything you like under the sun.

In summary, Lutherans do not believe in ex opere operato on sacraments. I hope my Reformed friends take note of that.


Jeff Tan said...

I'm glad you think that things are squared between Luther's concerns in XII and 1128 in the Catechism. You are correct that that particular clause does not state what disposition is, but as a Catholic, my personal impression about proper disposition is as simple as a state of grace (not in a state of willful, deliberate, unrepented and grave sin, i.e., mortal sin).

I am not from the 16th century so I cannot say for sure how the average Catholic back then would have thought about a proper disposition. I don't have a copy of Church writings in the 15th and early 16th century handy right now, but I'm certainly curious enough to look into it when I have time. :-)

BTW, in your discussions with Calvinists who reject sacraments wholesale, you might be interested to show them early Church writings. For example, the Didache (, dating back to AD 60 or so, states:

9:5 And let none eat or drink of your Eucharist but such as have been baptized into the name of the Lord, for of a truth the Lord hath said concerning this, Give not that which is holy unto dogs.

Which, of course, simply repeats St. Paul's warning about an unworthy manner of eating or drinking of the Eucharist.

St. Justin Martyr in his first apology ( wrote:

"And this food is called among us Eukaristia, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh."

I prefer not to go into whether or not Church teaching had reformed in response to Luther's protests. My best guess is that it was certainly better defined, as a result, which makes the conclusion of the Protestant reformation something tragic. The initial results were not altogether bad, I suppose, as a better definition of what we believe and how we should live them is always a good thing. But the western Church breaking up into pieces -- some very tiny indeed -- was not the intent of anyone.

I have an Evangelical friend who said that the splintering of the Church was entirely inevitable, and the continued splintering is entirely without remedy. I have to object to such a mindset as it puts aside the Lord's will and does not give enough credit to the Holy Spirit. I agree that the reformation itself was inevitable, but the conclusion, which saw the western Church fragmented so, and moreso, its perpetuation for the last 500 years -- this cannot but be a great sorrow for our Lord.

So I invite you and your readers to pray with the Catholic Church for unity: ut unum sint! Signs are positive, but there is a long road yet, and meanwhile, the world that is devouring itself can do with one shining city on the top of a hill proclaiming one Gospel and one Lord!

L P Cruz said...


It was the Protestant charges I think that made it better defined.

By the way, is it still a mortal sin to miss mass? I was taught that as a child.

In Gal 1:8, the Gospel can be corrupted. The thing with the Gospel is that once you added something to it, you have actually repudiated it. A maxim is when you add you have subtracted.

Also the RC in Canons of Trent Session 13
Canon II. If any one saith, that in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the
bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that
wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread unto the body, and of the whole
substance of the wine into the blood—the species only of the bread and wine remaining—which conversion
indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation: let him be anathema.

This condemns the Lutheran view of conjoined existence, ie the bread is in fellowship with the body - so there is still bread and there is also body, not just body and no more bread. Has this been abolished?

I will pray for the unity in the Gospel.


Kelly Klages said...

Regardless of current RC positions, I think you're right... I don't know what strict Calvinists think of Lutherans and if they're ex opere operato, but your garden-variety evangelical certainly thinks that anyone who believes in baptismal regeneration is Catholic and therefore seeks to earn merit in part by some outward work, by virtue of the action itself. I don't think that the whole "faith has to have an object" thing really sinks in too easily in that crowd; it's assumed that infants don't have faith, for example, and so they see infant baptism as an ex opere operato act separated from faith. Lutherans teach nothing of the sort, of course, but how often are evangelicals bound to take an in-depth look at Lutheran theology? It's just so much easier to assume that they're Catholics who were too wimpy to break away from quite all of the "unbiblical" stuff of the Catholic church; they just made it part way.

L P Cruz said...

Indeed Mt 18:6 says that babies believe. Standard Reformed take reject baptismal regeneration but some are open at

Jeff Tan said...

"It was the Protestant charges I think that made it better defined."

That is correct.

Regarding consubstantiation versus transubstantiation, I don't see a difficulty. Bread and wine remain as the accidents, but the body and blood are the substance. Accidents should not translate directly as "appearance", because the latter suggests only what can be seen. In all physical properties, e.g., using chemical analysis, they are bread and wine. Just as the Incarnation himself, Jesus of Nazareth, remained physically quite human. But it nevertheless remains that, in substance, he is divine, just as in substance the Eucharist is divine.

I think the nitty-gritty difference is this: Transubstantiation was the systematic definition of the process. Consubstantiation was the systematic definition of the product.

This is my theory only, but I think it's a case of Catholic and Lutheran dogma talking past each other. In any case, when you ask either Lutherans and Catholics, you should get the same answer: as our Lord says: "this is my body" and "this is my blood".

I ought to read the relevant Aquinian and Lutheran texts one of these days..

Jeff Tan said...

BTW, sinfulness of missing Mass, un-qualified, "yes". That rule will never change, I think.

This pertains only to deliberately foregoing Mass during Sundays (or the Saturday evening "vigil" Mass) or holy days of obligation (currently just one in Australia, I think: Christmas day) for trivial reasons, e.g., not in the mood.

This is considered sinful because it rejects the Lord's command to keep holy the Sabbath day.

L P Cruz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
L P Cruz said...


I am glad that I did not mis-represent the teaching then. My days at San Sebastian and before that at Saint Mary's college I figured gave me much teaching and one of them is that it is mortal sin to miss mass.

As such, missing worship service is not sin however, we sin everyday in our thoughts, words and deeds So he does not escape in his unrighteousness even if a Protestant does not miss divine service.

By the way Jeff, read the Augsburg Confession. Now some like Mr. Shutz, think that these protestations no longer apply and that the RC Church has reformed it self since then, I think differently.

Jeff Tan said...

"Now some like Mr. Shutz, think that these protestations no longer apply and that the RC Church has reformed it self since then, I think differently."

You're right. It hasn't conformed 100% with what the 95 theses demands. Nevertheless, may your position concerning the Catholic Church be more positive one day. This, I pray. :-)

L P Cruz said...


I am greatful that it is through the Roman Catholic church I learned about the things of God. I am also greatful to the providence of God to have been brought up in an environment where God is in the consciousness. I am thankful for there are things she thought me that were accurate and conforms to the Word of God. For those positive things, I must not deny that God have used them as starting points to know more about Him and His wonderful message of forgiveness in Christ.

There are in the RC true brothers and sisters in Christ (you are one of them) while in the Protestant Churches there are also false bretherens too as the Bible says.

Please read the sermon of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa on the 3rd Friday of Advent (Dec 16 2005) given to Pope Benedict. If Fr. Canatalamessa preaches more like this, I should think I like to sit down and in the pew and listen.


Jeff Tan said...

"There are in the RC true brothers and sisters in Christ (you are one of them)"

Thank you. I consider you the same, also, as with all who sincerely follow Christ as the Holy Spirit leads them. "Ut unum sint" was not a futile prayer of the Lord's, for what proceeds from the mouth of the Lord will not return to him in vain. The Spirit of unity has not been slumbering, either. It will come!

As for Fr. Cantalamessa, be assured that he has preached like this for years and years, and he has never been censured by the Church, for the Church agrees. Think on that with hope. :-)

My wife, who is an Evangelical, has not run out screaming from Mass yet (although she misses the liveliness and upbeat pacing of Evangelical services). Another sign that stereotypes of the Catholic faith are largely exagerated, and that the cause for divisions are amplified without cause.

L P Cruz said...


When the RC has changed and assures people that man is saved by faith alone in Christ alone's finished work, that will mean that those practices that detract from this such as those to do with Mary should go. Then that means they have united with us on the Gospel.

The evangelicalism that we get in PI is American Revivalism and are pietistic in practice. But seriously, evangelicals are really functioning RC except no sacraments. There are functional sacraments like prayer, fasting, quiet time they are just different from RC, they are a bit semi-pelagian as well.