The new Code of Canon Law makes provisions that lay persons or religious
can be licensed by the local ordinary to perform marriages, and to perform
baptisms in a regular fashion (as opposed to under emergency
circumstances). No other sacrament can be performed except by a priest or,
in the case of orders, a bishop.
Under contemporary canon law and sacramental theology this is possible
based on some post-Tridentine theological assumptions having to do with who
the minister of the sacrament it. In baptism, any person can be minister
of the sacrament, though it is ordinarily a priest or deacon. Baptism does
not require sacramental power (the power to "confect" the sacrament)
imparted by holy orders. Which is why Catholics recognize baptisms
performed by Protestant ministers, so long as the trinitarian formula is
used; their orders are not considered valid, so when they perform
sacraments whose validity requires powers conferred by holy orders, those
sacraments are considered invalid: Eucharist, penance, orders, anointing of
the sick, confirmation. Again, this is why baptism by unbelievers is
permissible: it requires no sacramental power on the part of the minister
of the sacrament, only the use of the trinitarian formula and H2O (not,
say, rose petals or something). (Conversely, though a denomination like my
own, the Society of Friends, makes a great deal of the notion of baptism of
the Spirit -- not the same thing the pentecostalists mean, BTW -- we do not
practice water baptism and are therefore considered under Canon Law to be
unbaptized, unless of course baptized elsewhere.)
Marriage likewise does not require powers conferred by holy orders. The
ministers in the sacrament of matrimony are the couple who make the vows.
The priest is a witness only. Therefore, laity can be licensed by their
ordinary under certain circumstances to perform marriages, and marriages
performed by Protestant ministers is considered valid and binding -- in
fact, every monogamous human marriage that requires vows (I'm not sure of
the precise language of the new code here) is valid, because the ministers
of the sacrament are the couple, not a member of the clergy.
I apologize for not providing proper references to the Code. I don't have
a copy of the new Code handy, and it's been a little while since I've
studied this matter. I hope colleagues will correct me where I have made
errors and will provide references to the text if others ask for them. I
can get hold of the new Catechism if need be.
I fear I've caused us to stray from the Middle Ages, but the medieval
precedents for all these matters is, I think, moderately clear, and the
subject of some historical interest both theologically and canonically.
>--- Patrick Nugent <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> And indeed the position stands today, in practice.
>> Two of my siblings who
>> died shortly after birth were baptized by my
>> mother's Jewish obstetrician
>> (in rural, Baptist, North Carolina, no less)
>> Patrick Nugent
>Is this the case with any of the other sacraments, for
>example the last rites?
Patrick J. Nugent
Richmond, Indiana 47374 USA
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