It is not surprising that one sedevacantist attack upon the adequacy of the Botte-Bugnini Pontifical validly to confer the Episcopate is headed with words from Leo XIII's bull condemning Anglican Orders: "Absolutely Null and Utterly Void". Nor that it draws the methodology of that bull into its argument. There is material for understandable Anglican amusement in this. But the entire approach to 'validity' which is employed by such sedevacantist writers is excessively, grossly, legalistic and fails to take account of the older, broader, more humane approach of earlier Catholic theologians. In order to summarise this tradition, I will quote from the well-judged words of Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, the great and massively erudite Father of modern Canon Law. Perhaps I should explain that he was writing at a time when the universal opinion was that the Form of Episcopal Consecration was the formula Accipe Spiritum Sanctum, said by the consecrator as he imposed hands; but a time also when scholars had become aware that, in the ancient Roman Sacramentaries, the Form had been the ancient prayer structured as a Preface.
"Among all these rites which the Roman Pontifical prescribes in Episcopal Consecration, the common opinion is that the Matter is the imposition of the hands of the consecrating bishop (rather, of the consecrating bishops) and the Form is the related words Receive the Holy Spirit.
"We think ... that, in the hypothesis of the imposition of the bishop's hands with the Preface alone, without those words Receive the Holy Spirit, the Consecration is valid, just as it was valid in the ancient liturgy; for how could you prove that the Church had taken its consecratory power away from this Prayer?
"Equally, in the hypothesis of the imposition of the bishop's hands with those words alone Receive the Holy Spirit, without the Preface, we admit, with the common opinion, that the ordination is valid, since, although those words alone, considered in themselves, are indeterminate and do not sufficiently express the conferring of the episcopal order, nevertheless they are made sufficiently determinate not only by the Preface but by the caeremonia itself without the Preface."*
That generously sensible approach is, I think, more than sufficient to put paid to scaremongering nonsense about the orders of the post-conciliar Church. But it is not enough for us simply to be able to dismiss a sedevacantist argument. There is a great deal more to be said.
It ought never to have been made so easy for a small group of disaffected schismatics to mount such a plausible attack. It ought never to have been made possible for the ancient and venerable sacramental formulae of the Roman Church to be dumped like so much rubbish by a committee of opinionated and self-important academics. It ought never to have happened that the transient scholarly opinion of a single academic generation became the basis of a liturgical revolution. It ought never to have happened that one man, Bugnini, was able to manipulate and deceive a Roman Pontiff and thereby debauch the euchology of the Roman Church. Credence should never have been given to the notion that a Roman Pontiff, even if working on the basis of a conciliar mandate, could do anything.
Now ... where have I read that view before? And from whose pen?
*This common sense approach is not, I think, a million miles from the attitude of Fr Eric Mascall; that a rite is a means of doing something, not a theological statement of the nature of what is being done [for example, the word baptizo says nothing about regeneration or the deletion of Original Sin]; that a valid ordination rite can be recognised by its declared purpose of conferring a specified one of the three orders of the historic ministry. Perhaps I might also add that the argument which Cardinal Gasparri here deploys is also, of course, the reason why this same Mgr Gasparri had so much trouble understanding why the Order for Consecrating Bishops in the Anglican Ordinal should be thought incapable of validly conveying the Order of Episcopate (he was less positive about the Anglican forms for the Presbyterate and Diaconate.) Come to think of it, the sedevacantist attack on the validity of post-conciliar Roman Orders, historically, has similarities with Cardinal Vaughan's campaign against the validity of Anglican Orders. In each case, if the allegation of invalidity can be substantiated, this in itself renders the ecclesial body concerned a mere pseudo-Church, and renders superfluous the much more complex ecclesiological considerations which would otherwise be necessary. Both approaches are convenient polemical short cuts.