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Ex opere operato is a Latin phrase meaning "from the work worked" referring to sacraments deriving their power from Christ's work (ex opere operato Christi) rather than the role of humans. The phrase is commonly misunderstood to mean that sacraments work automatically and independently of the faith of the recipient. However, in order to receive sacraments fruitfully, it is believed necessary for the recipient to have faith. In modern usage, the phrase often refers to the idea that sacraments are efficacious in and of themselves rather than depending on the attitude either of the minister or the recipient. For example, Confirmation might be held to bestow the Holy Spirit regardless of the attitude of both the bishop and the person being confirmed.
In antiquity, the idea led to a schism among the Donatist Christians. The Donatists held that "one of the three bishops who had consecrated Caecilian was a traditor", and therefore Caecilian's consecration was invalid. 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."
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."
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.
While the efficacy of a sacrament comes from what is done (ex opere operato), the recipient of a sacrament has an at times negative ex opere operantis (from what the doer does) effect. In the 20th century, discussion of this, the only factor that limits the amount of grace conferred ex opere operato, brought it into greater prominence and proved helpful in determining precisely what active role the laity play in offering the Eucharist.
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): i.e., as the Second Vatican Council said, "they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual kind, which are obtained through the Church's intercession". 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". may remit venial sins when used prayerfully.
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.
- Augustine of Hippo
- List of ecclesiastical abbreviations
- List of Latin phrases
- Synod of Arles
- Fahey, Michael A. (2009). "Sacraments". In Tanner, Kathryn; Webster, John; Torrance, Iain (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
- 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.
- bishop of Carthage in 311 AD.
- "Dictionary : EX OPERE OPERATO". Catholic Culture. Retrieved 2016-01-31.
- Hanley, P. L. (1967). "Ex Opere Operantis". New Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2020-01-04.
- Anscar J. Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity, and Catechesis (Liturgical Press 1992), p. 59
- Sacrosanctum Concilium, 60
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1670
- "Sisters of Carmel: Information on Sacramentals". www.sistersofcarmel.com. Retrieved 2016-01-22.