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In the Catholic Church (at least, according to the Church's teaching today), a validly ordained priest retains the powers of the priesthood for life, even if he is excommunicated or laicized and thus forbidden to use them. Therefore, an excommunicated or laicized priest who celebrates the Mass does so validly (the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ as they would were he not excommunicated or laicized) but illicitly (he celebrates the sacrament in a manner against Church law). However, in such cases, it is assumed that the priest celebrates the Mass according to an order of Mass that either is approved or has once been approved by the Church. For example, a validly ordained priest who is a member of the illicit Society of St. Pius X celebrates Mass validly in spite of using the Tridentine order of Mass, which is not the order of Mass endorsed in the current Roman Missal. Regarding the necessity of proper matter and form, true bread and true wine must be used (proper matter), and I believe the part of the anaphora that is integral to proper form (and thus to valid consecration) is the words of institution (in the Catholic Church, "this is my body" and "this is my blood").

Luther's case (and by extension the case for all other priests of the day who would come to celebrate his revised Mass) is unique in that although he was a valid priest who could theoretically continue to celebrate Mass illicitly according to the order of Mass in use in his day, did his consecrations remain valid even after he made notable changes to the Eucharistic liturgy that were not ever approved by the Church? Perhaps most crucial to consider here is that although he retained the words of institution, he translated them into German. Would that be enough to invalidate the sacrament?

Also to be considered are Luther's intentions when celebrating the Mass after his alterations of the Mass order. It is notable that among the early reformers he is one of few, according to Hendrix, who maintained throughout his life that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly "present in" the bread and wine, though he was never too keen on elaborating in what fashion this was so. The biography never explicitly portrays Luther as denying the formulation that the bread and wine "become" the Body and Blood of Christ (transubstantiation), but the former formulation is used by him more frequently. What is certain, however, is that Luther explicitly rejected the sacrificial character of the Mass according to Hendrix (see the second list point below for citation): while he intended, then, to make the body and blood of Christ present in the Mass, he did not intend to make the sacrifice of Christ's body and blood present, which is integral to proper intention according to this report, which elucidates Apostolicae Curae (see quotation of the relevant paragraph in Ken Graham's answer). What is clear from this is that Luther's defective intention would have invalidated his Mass; what I would like answered in the question is whether, all other conditions being adequate for a valid consecration, Luther's revised order of Mass would have invalidated his consecrations.

Other alterations that Luther made to the Mass which may be pertinent to take into consideration include:

  • Its translation in whole or in part into German (although he permitted most of the Mass to remain in Latin depending on the scruples of a given congregation, he always spoke the words of institution in German), and
  • The removal of the "long prayer of consecration that implied the mass reenacted the sacrifice of Jesus." (Hendrix 128, 129; elsewhere in the biography Hendrix mentions Luther's distaste for the canon of the mass, to which he is likely referring with "long prayer" here. Clearly Luther retained the words of institution, albeit in German, but if I were to guess, he would have at least done away with the preface, the oblation, the epiclesis, and the intercessions [see anaphora]. Of course, if someone else knows more specifically what was changed, that would be good to know.)
  • 1
    One point of clarity, the Tridentine Mass is still permitted within the Catholic Church and is now known as the Extraordinary Form of the Mass , thanks to Pope Benedict's Apostolic Letter of July 7, 2007: Summorum Pontificum. It is also to be considered permitted, valid and current according to definition. The Masses celebrated by the Society of St. Pius X are valid yet illicit. – Ken Graham Aug 5 '17 at 23:52
  • @KenGraham Why would they be illicit? – Geremia Aug 6 '17 at 2:01
  • @Geremia "As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church... In order to make this clear once again: until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church." - Pope Benedict XVI, March 10,2009. – Ken Graham Aug 6 '17 at 3:13
  • Are you simply asking: "According to Catholicism, were the masses of Luther after his excommunication valid?" ? – Geremia Aug 6 '17 at 3:33
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Martin Luther's alterations to the order of the Mass did not invalidate his consecration of the elements. If his Mass was invalid, it would have been through some other reason such as a lack of intention as is mentioned in Geremia's answer.

Unlike Pope Leo XIII's condemnation of all Anglican Orders due to a "defect in form" in his Apostolic Curae (De Ordinationibus Anglicanis) of September 15, 1896, one can not find a similar condemnation from Rome of Martin Luther's Mass due to the alterations he made to the liturgy.

Apostolicæ Curæ presents a theological defense of this tradition of Vatican rejection of the validity of Anglican orders. It is based on the argument that the Church of England ordinal was defective in 'intention' and 'form'. By 'defect of intention' Leo XIII meant that by the omission of any reference to the Eucharist as a sacrifice and to a sacrificing priesthood in the ordination ritual of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, the Church of England intended to introduce a radically new rite into England, one markedly different from those approved by the Roman Catholic Church. By 'defect of form' Leo XIII meant that the words of the Anglican ordination prayer, 'Receive the Holy Ghost', did not signify definitely the order of the Catholic priesthood with its power to consecrate and offer the body and blood of Christ in the eucharistic sacrifice. - Anglican Orders

This question deals more with form than with intention and as such one can not find any condemnation from the Vatican due to the alterations to the Mass by Martin Luther. Yes, he made changes to the Mass, but their form has never been condemned by any pope. His wording of the consecration remained valid. However, such was not the intention of the Church and such usage would make the celebration of the Mass illicit.

As said above, other factors could invalidate a Mass, such as matter and intention. Here is an excellent read: What Constitutes a Valid Consecration?

As for celebrating the Mass in other languages, Rome has allowed the Tridentine Mass to be said in various languages through the use of indults.

Here are a few concessions that have approved:

a) During the fourteenth century the Roman Liturgy in its Dominican variant was translated into Greek for use by the Dominican missionaries in Greece.

b) Permission had been granted to celebrate the Dominican Liturgy in the Armenian classical language in Armenia.

c) At the end of the sixteenth century missionaries of India of the Latin rite were allowed to celebrate Mass in Syriac.

d) In the seventeenth century the Discalced Carmelites were granted permission to use Arabic in their mission foundation in Persia.

e) In the seventeenth century the Theatine Clerics were granted permission to use Georgian or Armenian in their mission foundation in Georgia.

f) In the nineteenth century the Franciscans in the Holy Land were granted permission to use Arabic.

g) In 1958, an indult was granted India to use Hindi.

h) Five Latin priests in the Holy Land were granted permission to use Hebrew.

i) In 1959, the Holy See renewed Germany's privilege to use the vernacular in the Epistle and Gospel after they are recited in Latin. - Liturgical Languages

Addendum: The "Question" of Lutheran Orders

During the first years of the Reformation in Sweden, a validly ordained bishop continued ordaining after the split with Rome. But on the issue of the elimination of all sacrificial language, the reformed ordinals of Norway and Sweden were no different from their Anglican counterparts.

Conclusion: the orders of even "high-church" Lutheran pastors and bishops must be held invalid in virtue of the same principles Leo XIII applied to Anglicans.

  • This answer was made prior to the revision of the question and may still be of interest to some. – Ken Graham Aug 6 '17 at 12:50
  • Thanks for your answer. It is illuminating: if intention is not explicitly considered, it would appear that the form was not necessarily out of bounds of a valid consecration. However, given Luther's murky position on transubstantiation, do you know of any sources that might highlight how much a priest's intention must deviate for invalid form to be declared? To give Luther the benefit of the doubt given the details Hendrix mentions, let's extrapolate that Luther's intention was to make present the true body and blood of Christ, though without making present his sacrifice on the cross. – InquisitiveCatholic Aug 6 '17 at 13:16
  • Presumably, Anglican services, if said by a validly ordained priest, would also be valid. – AthanasiusOfAlex Aug 6 '17 at 13:39
  • @AthanasiusOfAlex Absolutely! – Ken Graham Aug 6 '17 at 13:40
  • @KenGraham, I was going to mention: one issue that Lutherans have is that, even though they maintain a theology of the Eucharist that is somewhat similar to Catholics’, they still have the problem (from our perspective) of invalid Holy Orders. (The first generation of Lutherans did not even attempt to obtain its Holy Orders from validly ordained bishops, so they do not have validly ordained presbyters either.) – AthanasiusOfAlex Aug 6 '17 at 13:49
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Intention to do as the Church does required for validity

Assuming Luther used the proper forms of consecration, his altered Masses still would have been invalid due to a lack of proper intention. Luther—an excommunicated heretic who denied transubstantiation and the sacrificial nature of the Catholic Mass and the ministerial priesthood—did not have the proper intention, when attempting consecration, to do as the Church does.

Pope St. Pius V's De Defectibus, which has been printed at the beginning of missals since the time of his Tridentine Missal of 1570, discusses defects that may occur in the celebration of Mass. Here is what he says regarding intention:

  1. The intention of consecrating is required. Therefore there is no consecration in the following cases: when a priest does not intend to consecrate but only to make a pretense; …

Also, Latin is not strictly necessary for validly consecrating because, as St. Thomas discusses, there is no created power in the words of the forms of consecration that causes consecration (Summa Theologica III q. 78 a. 4).


Courtesy Ken Graham's comment below, here is what Pope Leo XIII wrote in his encyclical Apostolicae Curae on the nullity of Anglican orders:

  1. With this inherent defect of “form” [in the Angelican rite of ordination] is joined the defect of “intention” [of Anglican "bishops"] which is equally essential to the Sacrament. The Church does not judge about the mind and intention, in so far as it is something by its nature internal; but in so far as it is manifested externally she is bound to judge concerning it. A person who has correctly and seriously used the requisite matter and form to effect and confer a sacrament is presumed for that very reason to have intended to do (intendisse) what the Church does. On this principle rests the doctrine that a Sacrament is truly conferred by the ministry of one who is a heretic or unbaptized, provided the Catholic rite be employed. On the other hand, if the rite be changed, with the manifest intention of introducing another rite not approved by the Church and of rejecting what the Church does, and what, by the institution of Christ, belongs to the nature of the Sacrament, then it is clear that not only is the necessary intention wanting to the Sacrament, but that the intention is adverse to and destructive of the Sacrament.
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    "Not even lack of belief by the celebrant invalidates the sacrament: "A person who has correctly and seriously used the requisite matter and form to effect and confer a sacrament is presumed for that very reason to have intended to do what the Church does. On this principle rests the doctrine that a sacrament is truly conferred by the ministry of one who is a heretic or unbaptized, provided the Catholic rite be employed" (AC 33). "- What Constitutes a Valid Consecration? – Ken Graham Aug 6 '17 at 3:33
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    @KenGraham Lack of belief ≠ rejection of a belief. Luther knew what transubstantiation was, yet he rejected it, thinking it was idolatry. He had no intention of doing what the Church does. This is different from a priest who intends to do as the Church does yet does not understand transubstantiation. – Geremia Aug 6 '17 at 4:41
  • @KenGraham thanks for the Apostolicae Curæ quote. I've added the full §33 to my answer. – Geremia Aug 6 '17 at 4:56
  • @Ken Graham, thank you also for bringing Apostolicae Curae to Geremia's attention. The full quote that he provides in his answer satisfies me on the question of whether Luther's alterations to the physical order of the mass would have been sufficient to invalidate his consecrations (evidently it would have been), however: would Luther's intentions truly have been deviant enough for them to also be a factor in the invalidity of his consecrations? See my revised question for details on Luther's intentions according to the biographer I mentioned. – InquisitiveCatholic Aug 6 '17 at 12:02
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    @Geremia The Roman Catholic Church recognises Protestant baptism as valid regardless of the belief of the minister as to baptismal regeneration, for example.. All that matters is that he has the intention to baptise. His interpretation of what that actually means is entirely irrelevant.to its validity. Provided then that Luther intended to consecrate the elements, why is his understanding of what that means relevant?. He intended to confect the sacrament just as a baptiser intends to baptise. (I'm not saying you are wrong, but the argument needs bolstering.) – davidlol Aug 6 '17 at 22:19

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