With surreal two weeks behind him, St. Lawrence associate pastor wants to help others affected by ‘strange and painful’ sacramental fallout

UTICA — The first emotion was shock. Then came sadness. And the third — two weeks later — was déjà vu.

The past two weeks have been a roller coaster for Fr. Matthew Hood, who was ordained to the priesthood — some might say for the second time, but in reality, for the first — on Aug. 17, 2020, for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Fr. Hood’s world was turned upside down Aug. 6, when the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a doctrinal note ruling that baptisms using an altered formula — specifically, those using the phrase, “We baptize you …” instead of the Church’s ancient prayer, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” — are invalid.

Frequently asked questions regarding the possibility of invalid sacraments

Thirty years ago, that was the formula a deacon used to baptize Fr. Hood — then an infant — at St. Anastasia Parish in Troy.

“It was devastating for me to find that out,” Fr. Hood told Detroit Catholic. “It meant I wasn’t baptized, and I hadn’t received any of my other sacraments — first Communion, confirmation or ordination to the diaconate or the priesthood.”

In other words, he wasn’t actually a priest.

According to sacramental theology, only a baptized Catholic can validly receive the other sacraments, since baptism is the means by which a person enters the Church and is incorporated into the body of Christ.

Finding out he wasn’t a priest was a painful realization, but it also came with the grace of knowing God’s providence in His life, Fr. Hood said. “I would have never known this if it wasn’t for God’s intervention,” he said. “I’m just overwhelmed by God’s providence in this and so thankful to the Lord that I know this now.” (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

“It’s such a strange circumstance, because it felt like nothing had changed. We don’t always feel the effects of the sacraments,” said Fr. Hood, who since July has served as associate pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Utica and before that at Divine Child in Dearborn since 2017. “Now, things are back to normal. I was ordained last night. It seems like a restoration, but it’s actually for the first time.”

While Fr. Hood has now received his sacraments — he was baptized, confirmed and received the Eucharist on Aug. 9, ordained a transitional deacon Aug. 15 and a priest on Aug. 17 — his bigger concern now is those who received their sacraments from him — or thought they did.

At Pentecost, he attempted to confirm several people at Divine Child who had completed RCIA; those people now will need to contact the Church to complete their sacraments, he said. The Archdiocese of Detroit has set up a webpage for anyone who believes they received an invalid sacrament, who can be contacted by a priest to learn what steps need to be taken. The parishes of those affected will also be reaching out.

“My heart goes out and breaks for those for whom I’ve celebrated Mass, Mass intentions I’ve offered, the confessions I’ve heard, and especially the sacraments of anointing of the sick that I’ve celebrated for people on their deathbeds, my grandmother included among them,” Fr. Hood said.

God works through the sacraments, but isn’t bound by them

While the sacraments he celebrated might not have been valid — with the notable exception of baptism, which, ironically, doesn’t require a priest as long as the words, matter and intention are present — Fr. Hood said people can rest assured knowing God didn’t abandon them in their time of need.

St. Thomas Aquinas once famously said, “God binds Himself to the sacraments, but He himself is not bound by them.” In other words, God has promised, and the Church can be certain, that He will work in predictable ways when the sacraments are properly conferred — and people should still seek out a valid sacrament, whether it’s confirmation or marriage or confession — but the Lord is still merciful and fully capable of imparting grace even when human error occurs, he said.

Fr. Matthew Hood, center, smiles Aug. 17 as he is vested after being ordained — some might say again, but in reality, for the first time — to the priesthood at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. For Fr. Hood, the past two weeks have been a surreal journey of emotions after finding out his baptism as a child, and thus his original ordination to the priesthood, were invalid. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

“Even though the sacraments were invalid, we take comfort knowing God was still able to work in those moments,” Fr. Hood said. “God doesn’t repent of our desire for Him and this call that He’s given to us to follow Him and be faithful to Him.”

Fr. Hood understands those impacted will feel the news with a sense of shock — that’s how he felt.

“As a priest, I want to be able to reach out to them and tell them this is something that’s very strange and probably painful, but I’ve gone through this as well, and I want to help you to remediate this problem so we can be certain you’ve received the grace of the sacraments,” Fr. Hood said.

To be sure, Fr. Hood doesn’t blame the Vatican. He understands the importance of sacramental theology, including the words, water and actions that comprise baptism, which imparts sanctifying grace to the soul — effectively making one a Christian.

After all, for three years, he thought he was a priest.

“All of this might give the impression of an administrative act, but it’s something that needs to be taken seriously because the sacraments are so serious,” Fr. Hood said. “The sacraments come from Christ, and they’re entrusted to the Church. It’s important to celebrate the sacraments according to the precepts of the Church.”

Finding light in a dark situation

The fact that he even discovered the problem in the first place was a stroke of divine providence, Fr. Hood asserts.

“At the beginning of the COVID quarantine, the archbishop talked about how there are special graces in these moments that we can’t expect,” Fr. Hood said. “One of those graces for me was that my dad had free time to go through old family videos. One of those videos was my baptism, and he sent it to me.”

Fr. Matthew Hood, 30, now the Archdiocese of Detroit’s newest priest, thumbs through the missal at the altar of St. Lawrence Parish in Utica, where he serves as associate pastor. Parishioners at St. Lawrence and Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, where Fr. Hood served from 2017 until July 2020, will be notified this weekend. (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

Although Fr. Hood has long had an interest in the sacrament of baptism — he once wrote a paper about the words of baptism in his canon law class at Sacred Heart Major Seminary — it wasn’t until he watched the video in April that alarm bells began to go off.

“When I heard the words, at first, I thought, ‘That doesn’t sound right,’” Fr. Hood recalled. “So I reached out to a professor at the seminary, Dr. (Robert) Fastiggi, and I also sent it to Michael Trueman (the Archdiocese of Detroit’s chancellor) and Msgr. (Ronald) Browne, a canon lawyer, just to ask.”

At the time, there was no clarification from the Vatican, and given the Church’s longstanding practice of presuming validity of the sacraments unless shown otherwise, the four decided Fr. Hood was likely safe.

Four months later — a timetable Fr. Hood attributes to God’s good timing — he had his answer.

“What are the chances that I would even be able to find this out in the first place? That my dad had my baptism filmed? That I was able to watch it? That I was able to understand that this was invalid?” Fr. Hood said.

“The fact that this came out so closely to when this question came up for me personally is a sign of God’s particular care for me. I would have never known this if it wasn’t for God’s intervention. I’m just overwhelmed by God’s providence in this and so thankful to the Lord that I know this now.”

As soon as the document came out, Fr. Hood contacted Fr. Robert Spezia, the archdiocese’s vicar for clergy, who immediately began the process of arranging for Fr. Hood to receive his sacraments.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, right, prays over Fr. Hood during his ordination Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Aug. 17. The whole ordeal has given him a renewed appreciation for the priesthood, he said, as well as a deep respect for the sacraments God has given His Church. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)
Fr. Hood genuflects toward Christ in the tabernacle at St. Lawrence. (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

On Aug. 9, three days after the Vatican document was released, Auxiliary Bishop Gerard W. Battersby baptized, confirmed and gave Fr. Hood his first Communion. After a five-day retreat, Bishop Battersby ordained him to the diaconate, and Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron ordained him a priest two days later at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

“From the beginning, the response from the archdiocese has been very quick,” Fr. Hood said. “The archbishop called me, and I could tell he was even more concerned about it than I was, and I was very concerned. To know of his pastoral care for me, for my vocation, was a huge grace from the very beginning.”

A whole new man — and a brand-new priest

Even though it felt like little had changed, Fr. Hood knows that, sacramentally, he is a whole new person now than he was at the beginning of August. Whether he felt it or not, he became a Christian for the first time on Aug. 9.

As the bishop poured the water of baptism over his head, he realized the power God had over his life — and the incredible love with which the Father pours out His spirit.

And that meant his sins were forgiven.

“A lot of it felt like déjà vu, like this was already something I’d received,” Fr. Hood said. “But looking back at it, I was able to recognize the particular grace that was given. Especially for me, the grace of baptism includes the forgiveness of sins. So any doubt that I ever had of confessing my sins or confessing them fully or properly, that grace has been given by the Lord. That’s something to be thankful for.”

The most painful part of the past two weeks, without a doubt, he said, was realizing he wasn’t a priest yet — something to which he’d dedicated his entire life. But even that difficult realization came with a special grace, Fr. Hood said.

Fr. Hood said he doesn’t harbor anger against anyone, but said his heart “breaks” for those whose sacraments were affected by his situation, including his own grandmother, whom he attempted to anoint as she was on her deathbed. Still, he said, the Church entrusts her to the mercy of God, who can still work even when human beings fail. (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

“At least for three days, I couldn’t receive the Eucharist. Priests would come and help and say Mass for me, but at those Masses I couldn’t even read. I couldn’t be a lector at Mass,” Fr. Hood said.

Listening to the priests recite their private prayers — prayers with which he was intimately familiar — struck a powerful chord.

“It gave me a renewed sense of appreciation for the priesthood,” he added. “During my retreat, I realized that even though I came to the Church to receive something and wasn’t given it, God didn’t repent of the call that He gave me, especially to the priesthood. Even though, sacramentally, things needed to be fixed, the movement of the Lord in my life was true from the beginning.”

He’s also forgiven the deacon who attempted to baptize him.

“I’m not angry at anybody,” Fr. Hood said. “I don’t think he acted in bad faith. I think there might have been mistakes in terms of formation and understanding of the sacraments. But this was a problem that was addressed, and it was ended.”

While everything is back to “normal,” Fr. Hood said he knows that as a young priest, this is a story he’ll carry for the rest of his — admittedly brand-new — priesthood.

As a validly ordained priest, Fr. Hood said he hopes to help those who have come to him for sacraments in the past to rectify their situation. After all, he said, no one understands what they’re going through like he does. “While the sacraments were invalid, we take comfort knowing God was still able to work in those moments,” he said. “It’s incredibly painful, but I’d like to be present to help address the pain of these people who are going through the same thing I have.” (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

And in some ways, that’s invaluable.

“All of this might seem at first like bad news, finding out that the baptism was invalid. But for me, this is profoundly good,” Fr. Hood said. “It’s much better to have known and been able to fix the issue. Now I’ve received, certainly, the grace of the sacraments, and that’s something to be thankful for.”

“When I found out the news, I still felt like a priest,” Fr. Hood said. “Now, to have absolute certainty that I am validly ordained, that’s a special grace.”

Frequently Asked Questions

For answers to frequently asked questions, or to contact the archdiocese if you believe you have received an invalid sacrament, visit https://www.aod.org/sacramentsupdate.

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