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If the sacrament ritual – matter and form – is done correctly, God promises to convey His grace. At the same time, those receiving the sacrament ought to be properly disposed to receive it. The Church’s tradition insists on that proper disposition under pain of grave sin, lest the sacraments be conceived of as rituals that confer benefits independent of the understanding and intent of the recipient, akin to magic. That’s why those not in a state of grace cannot receive Holy Communion. It’s why before baptism, catechumens – or the parents of a baby – must make a profession of faith. That’s why in Confession it is required that the enumeration of sins be complete and true contrition be present. If the subjective disposition is not present, the sacrament should not, and in some cases, cannot be administered. Pope Francis does not dispute this doctrine, but adopts a differing approach. He treats the sacraments as encounters with grace which the clergy either grants or withholds. To withhold a sacrament thus is akin to being inhospitable, or even hostile. That’s why in 2013 he could tell an Italian single mother during a short phone call that he would baptise her child without making any inquiries about her practice of the faith.

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