Dear Friends in Christ,
Receiving the Sacraments without receiving the Gospel leads to superstition rather than living faith, and the Church must therefore take great care to ensure that those who receive the Sacraments also receive the Gospel in its integrity and entirety. Consequently, before Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, and Marriage are administered, there must be in those who request these Sacraments clear evidence of knowledge of the Gospel and a serious intention to live the Christian life. This is the Sixth Principle of Evangelical Catholicism.
During the first three hundred years of Christianity, asking to receive a Sacrament of the New Covenant was never done lightly because during most of that time to be a Christian was to be a criminal. When practicing the Christian faith was a crime punishable by horrible penalties, no one asked to receive a Sacrament who was not prepared to live and die as a Christian. But in the middle of the fourth century, those circumstances changed dramatically, and Christianity went from being an outlaw sect to a tolerated minority to the official religion of the Empire in a few short decades. After that, being a European was almost the same thing as being a Christian, and for a thousand years and more the Church could assume that anyone who asked for a Sacrament believed in the Gospel and intended to live the Christian life. But that time has long since passed.
Today we live in an age of the “baptized pagan,” meaning someone who was brought to the font as an infant but then never evangelized, never catechized, never taught the truths of the Gospel, never formed for Christian living. These poor souls now number in the tens of millions in our nation alone, and they constitute the larger part of baptized Catholics in most nations of the world. And because of the lack of Christian formation among baptized pagans, the Church must once again look to the sacramental disciplines of the first Christian centuries to shape our answer to those who ask for a Sacrament (like the Baptism of a child or Marriage) without giving any evidence of a serious intention to practice the Catholic faith by (at a bare minimum) going to Mass each Sunday.
The Sacraments are not a reward for being good Catholics; they are, rather, the means of grace that change us and give us strength to become holy. But to administer the Sacraments to those who give no evidence of faith and who do not seek to live as disciples of the Lord Jesus is a sacrilegious fraud, and this must stop. Following the Sixth Principle of Evangelical Catholicism has immediate and profound consequences for the pastoral practice of a parish, and it is here perhaps more than anywhere else that cultural, cafeteria, and casual Catholicism collide with Evangelical Catholicism. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe, and the Sacraments are for those who believe the Gospel.