In response to Vatican note clarifying baptism formula, Fr. Matthew Hood realized he wasn’t properly baptized — which meant he wasn’t a priest

DETROIT — The Archdiocese of Detroit is seeking to contact anyone who may have received invalid sacraments after a priest of the archdiocese learned his own baptism as an infant 30 years ago was invalid.

On Aug. 6, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a note clarifying that baptisms using an improper formula — namely, those using the phrase “We baptize you ...” instead of the Church’s ancient formula, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” — are not valid.

Frequently Asked Questions regarding the possibility of invalid sacraments

After reading the note, Fr. Matthew Hood, associate pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Utica, contacted the Archdiocese of Detroit after discovering that his own baptism, captured on video in 1990, was attempted using such a formula.

Because the sacraments of confirmation and holy orders can only be conferred upon validly baptized Catholics, Fr. Hood was “devastated” to learn that not only was he not baptized or confirmed — he also was not a validly ordained priest.

“It was devastating for me to find that out,” Fr. Hood told Detroit Catholic. “There was definitely shock and sadness at finding out 30 years later that I was never baptized. It was an alienating sense that even though I was following the Lord, I wasn’t a Christian, and I wasn’t a priest, and I wasn’t a deacon.”

Despite finding out his baptism — and, as a consequence, his ordination — was invalid, Fr. Matthew Hood said the Archdiocese of Detroit worked quickly to rectify the situation, and he was validly ordained a priest Aug. 17 (pictured) at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, just two weeks after he discovered the issue. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic) 

As a tragic consequence, Fr. Hood lacked the ability to confer most sacraments since he thought he was ordained in 2017, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said in an Aug. 22 letter to the faithful.

“The parishes where Fr. Hood has been assigned — Divine Child in Dearborn and St. Lawrence in Utica — will be working with the Archdiocese to contact those who sought out the sacraments with Fr. Hood, so that each individual’s circumstance may be examined and rectified,” the archbishop said.

According to a news release from the archdiocese, in 1990, Fr. Hood’s family presented him for baptism at St. Anastasia Parish in Troy, where Deacon Mark Springer was presiding. Deacon Springer attempted to baptize him using the words, “We baptize you ...” instead of the Church’s prescribed formula.

Although there had been questions about the altered formula, the Vatican’s doctrinal note put all confusion to rest.

A graduate of Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Fr. Hood was “shocked” when he learned the consequences, and immediately reached out to the archdiocese, which worked quickly to remedy the situation. On Aug. 9, he was validly baptized, confirmed and received the Eucharist, and after a week on retreat, he was ordained a transitional deacon and a priest two days later on Aug. 17.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron lays his hands on Fr. Hood to ordain him to the priesthood Aug. 17 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Fr. Hood, a graduate of Sacred Heart Major Seminary, originally had approached the Church for ordination in 2017, when he graduated from the seminary. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

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

Archdiocese contacting those affected

Now, the archdiocese is attempting to contact anyone else who might have been invalidly baptized by Deacon Springer, who served at St. Anastasia from 1986-99, or who received invalid sacraments from Fr. Hood, who served at Divine Child Parish in Dearborn from July 1, 2017, to July 1, 2020, and since then at St. Lawrence. Deacon Springer is retired and is not currently in active ministry.

Although Fr. Hood was not able to validly perform some marriages, celebrate Mass, grant absolution, administer confirmation or anoint the sick, any baptisms he performed are presumed valid, since a priest is not required to baptize so long as the correct formula, matter and intention are present, said Fr. Stephen Pullis, director of evangelization and missionary discipleship for the archdiocese.

“Some of the things Fr. Matthew did were invalid, but his baptisms were valid because you don’t need to be a priest to perform baptism,” Fr. Pullis said, although the Church strongly prefers a priest or deacon except in cases of emergency. “If someone was baptized by Fr. Matthew, they should have no doubt their baptism was valid.”

For other sacraments, people can use an online form to contact the archdiocese to learn whether any action is needed. The archdiocese also has a list of frequently asked questions.

Fr. Hood prays before the tabernacle at St. Lawrence Parish in Utica, where he serves as associate pastor. While he might not have been a validly ordained priest for the past three years, “God didn’t repent of the call that He gave me,” Fr. Hood said. (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

“People can submit questions, and myself or another priest will be able to accompany the individual in walking through how to understand whether this was a valid sacrament or not,” Fr. Pullis said.

Though some might be tempted to view the matter as a technicality, the language used in conferring a sacrament is deeply important, Fr. Pullis said.

“When someone is baptized, it’s not just a symbol or recognition of something that’s already happened. It’s actually making a change in the person,” Fr. Pullis said. “Because the sacraments actually bring about an effect, we have to be very precise in both the words, the form, and the matter, the objects, that we use.”

“That means we have to do it in the way the Church tells us to do it,” Fr. Pullis continued. “We can’t use Mountain Dew or milk instead of water, and we can’t use other words, like ‘I baptize in the name of the Creator …’ or ‘We baptize …’ instead of the words the Church gives us.”

The Church uses the phrase “I baptize” to signify that the person baptizing is standing in the place of Christ, Fr. Pullis said, not the community.

“It is always a personal act of the Church when a sacrament is conferred,” Fr. Pullis said. “God uses individuals to communicate the grace that the sacraments offer — in this instance, the sanctifying grace that baptism offers.”

God isn’t bound by the sacraments, but we are

A valid sacrament “places sanctifying grace in the soul, which is necessary for a soul to spend eternity in heaven,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “This grace is a treasure of treasures and we must do everything we can to protect the integrity of the sacraments through which we receive it.”

While it’s important for those who believe they’ve received a sacrament invalidly to rectify the situation if they can, for those worried about a particular sacrament, such as anointing of the sick for a dying person who is now deceased, it’s important to remember that while God binds His Church to the sacraments, He is always sovereign and merciful, Archbishop Vigneron said.

Even though God has promised to work through the sacraments when they are validly performed, it’s a comfort to know the Lord is still sovereign and merciful when human error occurs, Archbishop Vigneron said. While people should still seek out a valid sacrament if they have received an invalid one, they should not despair if that option isn’t available, such as in the case of a loved one who has died. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

“The Church, following the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, recognizes that God has bound Himself to the sacraments, but He is not bound by the sacraments,” the archbishop wrote. “This means that while we can have certainty that God always works through the sacraments when they are properly conferred by the minister, God is not bound by the sacraments in that He can and does extend His grace in a sovereign way.

“We can be assured that all those who approached Father Hood, in good faith, to receive the sacraments did not walk away empty-handed,” the archbishop added. “We know that Our Lord, in his unending love for us, supplied some measure of grace. God is drawn to hearts that are open to Him in love.”

Archbishop Vigneron apologized for the “human error” that led to the disruption of the sacramental life of some of the faithful, but pledged to rectify the situation.

While Fr. Hood is still bewildered, he said his heart “aches” for those whose sacraments were invalid because of his situation, but said he wants to help in any way he can — especially now that he’s a validly ordained priest.

“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.

While he might not have been a priest for the past three years — or even a Catholic, for that matter — that doesn’t mean God was silent or absent, Fr. Hood added.

“It’s a grace to realize that God is not a liar. Any experience of the sacraments, even if they were celebrated invalidly, God was still active in some mysterious way, and God still honors the dispositions of those who were there in some way,” 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. That grace in their lives has been at work. This is part of continuing that and strengthening that 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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