LICEITY, the legitimacy of a human act as opposed to its validity.
VALIDITY, the reality of the consequences of a human act as opposed to its legitimacy.
EX OPERE OPERATO, the effect of a human act is real by virtue of the act having been performed even if the act was illegitiate.
EX OPERE OPERANTIS, the reality of a human act depends for its validity on the intention of the one acting.
The seven sacraments are a complexus of sacred signs established by Jesus Christ or his Church which both signify and convey sacramental grace.
Some of the seven sacraments convey sacramental grace to the recipient of the sacrament when the sacrament is celebrated validly regardless of the subjective disposition of the recipient of the sacrament. Such is the case of the Sacrament of Baptism conferred on an infant and the Sacrament of the Sick conferred on a comatose patient. In those cases the subjective will is supplied by parents, sponsors, or others who participate in the administration of the sacrament.
Some of the sacraments depend to a large extent on the will of the recipient. It is doubtful if the Sacrament of Holy Orders would be licitly and validly conferred on a person who does not believe in the Sacrament and interiorly rejects the grace of the sacrament.
The seventh sacrament, marriage, has a dual character, it is both a sign established by Jesus Christ or his Church and it is a human contract and so its legitimacy and validity depend on both the objective and subjective aspects of a contract for both its validity and legitimacy. The Sacrament of Marriage must be the subject of a different article and hopefully will be adequately treated by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops that begins meeting in Rome on October 5. 2014.
The ex opere operato conferral of sacramental grace can best be seen in the case of infant baptism. It is difficult to imagine, except in the case of a member of a satanic cult, that anyone baptizing an infant “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” would do so without having the intention of joining the infant with Jesus Christ and so the baptism would be both licit and valid and the infant would received the sacramental sanctifying grace Jesus Christ intended for the sacrament to convey when he established the sacrament and when the infant was baptized.
For a variety of reasons, lack of understanding of the nature of a sacrament, social pressures, sin, whatever, some people put all the emphasis on the subjective element of the conferral/reception of a sacrament and neglect or even intentionally disregard the objective, ex opere operato conferral of the sacramental grace.
This seems to be the case with non-Catholic Christians who do not practice infant baptism as the early Church did and the Orthodox and Catholic Church does to this day.
When one hears “Well, we want him/her to make their own decision when they are adults,” one can safe assume that the speaker does not believe in the reality of sanctifying grace. It does not make sense otherwise. Why would parents condemn their child to spend 15, 16, 17, or more years of their life without the sanctifying grace of Jesus Christ indelibly implanted in their soul all the while hoping that, they might, in spite of all the pressures our modern hedonistic society places on children and adolescents, somehow desire to be baptized. That it happens at all, and the child is ultimately baptized, is more a sign of Divine love than parental love.
The same is true of the Sacrament of Confirmation. From the earliest times it was the practice of the Church to give the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Holy Spirit to children, and after Saint Pope Pius X it became the law that the Sacrament would be conferred closely following the Sacrament of First Confession and First Holy Communion at the age of reason, usually around the seventh year.
Children then growing up with the sacramental grace of Baptism, First Penance, Holy Communion and Confirmation were armed with the graces needed to survive the onslaught of hedonistic society. If that were true of earlier times, how much more true is it now of the sex saturated, dope addicted, pornographic, materialistic secular society that children have to survive to reach adulthood.
In previous decades middle school was a safe time for children. Now sex education is taught in many primary schools and middle school students are plied with narcotics, contraceptives and encouraged to have abortions.
Our brothers and sisters in Orthodoxy wisely give all three sacraments to infants. We Latin Christians have fallen in love with the secular culture of non-believing Jews and others who see their bar-mitsvah or quincianera ceremony as sort of a graduation from adolescence to young adulthood.
The whole question of baptizing the children of bad parents gets hung up on the bad conduct of the parents. It is time we started placing the emphasis on the grace of the Sacrament of Baptism as the necessary aid the child needs to grow to be an adult Christian regardless of the spiritual condition of the child’s parents. Our experience has been that in many cases baptized children grown up to be practicing Catholics who bring their bad parents into full communion with Christ and his Church.