Grace: What it is & What it does


Descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles on Pentecost - by TIZIANO Vecellio - from Santa Maria della Salute, Venice
The Role of Sanctification of all Angels and Men is attributed to the Holy Spirit, by means of His Holy Grace

 

Grace is from God (Person of the Holy Spirit), and Works-in the Depth-of the Soul, whose Powers it employs. It is a Light which Issues-forth to do Service, under the Guidance-of the Holy Spirit. The Divine Light permeates the Soul, and Lifts it above the Turmoil-of Temporal Things, to Rest-in God.

Meister Johannes Eckhart, Dominican Mystic

 

Grace: What it is & What it does

from Catholic Answers (San Diego: Catholic Answers)

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If you went through CCD, you at least remember that there are Two (2) Kinds of Grace, Sanctifying and Actual. That may be all you recall. The names being so similar, you might have the impression Sanctifying Grace is nearly identical to Actual Grace. Not so!

Supernatural Order

Human Being/Person
(A Unity (1) of Body and Soul)

Natural
Order

Supernatural
Order

Natural Body/
Lower Powers
(Subordinate-Partner)

Natural Soul/
Natural Virtues
Intellect/
Will

Sanctifying Grace/Infused Virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit

 

 

Sanctifying Grace stays in the Soul. It's what makes the Soul Holy; it gives the Soul Supernatural Life. More properly, it is Supernatural Life.

A_DONKEY.gif (4460 bytes) Actual Grace, by contrast, is a Supernatural Push or Encouragement. It's Transient. It doesn't Live in the Soul, but Acts on the Soul from the Outside, so to speak. It's a Supernatural kick-in-the-pants. It gets the Will and Intellect moving so we can Seek Out and Keep Sanctifying Grace.

Imagine yourself transported Instantaneously to the Bottom of the Ocean. What's the very First Thing you'll do? That's right: Die. You'll Die because you aren't equipped to live underwater. You don't have the right Breathing Apparatus.

If you want to live in the Deep Blue Sea, you need equipment you aren't provided with Naturally -- you need something that will Elevate you above your Nature, something Super - (that is, "above") Natural, such as Oxygen Tanks.

It's much the same with your Soul. In its Natural State it isn't fit for Heaven. It doesn't have the right equipment, and if you Die with your Soul in its Natural State, Heaven won't be for you. What you need to live there is Supernatural Life, not just Natural Life. That Supernatural Life is called Sanctifying Grace. The reason you need Sanctifying Grace to be able to live in Heaven is because you will be in Perfect and Absolute Union with God, the Source of all Life (cf. Galations 2:19, 1Peter 3:18).

If Sanctifying Grace indwells your Soul when you Die, then you have the Equipment you need, and you can live in Heaven (though you may need to be Purified First in Purgatory (cf. 1Corinthians 3:12-16). If it doesn't indwell your Soul when you Die -- in other words, if your Soul is Spiritually Dead in the State of Mortal Sin (1John 5:16-17) -- too bad for you. You then have to face an Eternity of Spiritual Death; the utter Separation of your Spirit from God (Ephesians 2:1, 2:5, 4:18). The Worst Part of this Eternal Separation will be that you yourself would have caused it to be that way.

 

Spiritual Suicide

You can obtain Supernatural Life by yielding to Actual Graces you receive. God keeps giving you these Divine Pushes, and all you have to do is go along.

For instance, He moves you to Repentance, and if you take-the-hint you can find yourself in the Confessional, where the Guilt for your Sins is Washed-Away (John 20:21-23). Through the Sacrament of Penance, through your Reconciliation to God, you receive Sanctifying Grace. But you can lose it again by Sinning Mortally (1John 5:16-17).

Keep that word in mind: Mortal. It means Death. Mortal Sins are Deadly Sins because they Kill-Off this Supernatural Life, this Sanctifying Grace. Mortal Sins can't coexist with the Supernatural Life, because by their Nature such Sins are saying "No!" to God, while Sanctifying Grace would be saying "Yes".

Venial Sins don't Destroy Supernatural Life, and they don't even Lessen it. Mortal Sins Destroy it outright. The Trouble with Venial Sins is that they Weaken us, making us more Vulnerable to Mortal Sins.

Grace is a Gift from God
Sanctifying Graces
Actual
Grace
(Transient, comes and goes)
Sanctifying
Grace
(Permanent, lives in Soul, lost by Mortal Sin)

When you lose Supernatural Life, there's nothing you can do on your own to regain it. You're reduced to the merely Natural Life again, and no Natural Act can Merit a Supernatural Reward. You can Merit a Supernatural Reward only by being made able to Act above your Nature, which you can do only if you have Help.

To regain Supernatural Life, you have to receive Actual Graces from God. Think of these as Helping Graces. Such Graces differ from Sanctifying Grace in that they aren't a Quality of the Soul and don't abide in it. Rather, Actual Graces enable the Soul to perform some Supernatural Act, such as an Act of Faith or Repentance. If the Soul responds to Actual Grace and makes the appropriate Supernatural Act, it again receives Supernatural Life.

 

Really Cleansed

Sanctifying Grace implies a Real Transformation of the Soul. Recall that the Reformers denied that a Real Transformation takes place. They said God doesn't actually Wipe-Away our Sins. Our Souls don't become Spotless and Holy in themselves. Instead, they remain Corrupted, Sinful (full of Sin). God merely throws-a-cloak over them and treats them as if they were Spotless, knowing all the while that they're not.

Human Being/Person
(A Unity (1) of Body and Soul)

Natural
Order

Supernatural
Order

Natural Body/
Lower Powers
(Subordinate-Partner)

Natural Soul/
Intellect/Will
(Dominant Partner)

Sanctifying Grace/Infused
Supernatural
Life and Virtues

The Supernatural Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity are also Lost (along with Sanctifying Grace) through Mortal Sin.

 

But that isn't the Catholic View. We believe Souls really are Cleansed by an Infusion of the Supernatural Life. Paul writes of us as "a New Creation" (2Corinthians 5:17), "created after the likeness of God in True Righteousness and Holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). Of course, we're still subject to Temptations to Sin -- we still suffer the effects of Adam's Fall in that sense (what Theologians call " Concupiscence") -- but God removes the Guilt from our Souls. We may still have a tendency to Sin, but God has removed the Sins we have, much like a mother might wash the dirt off of a child who has a tendency to get dirty again.

Our Souls don't become something other than Souls when God cleanses them and pours His Grace into them (what the Bible refers to as "infused" [= "poured"] Grace cf. Acts 10:45, Romans 5:5, Titus 3:5-7); they don't cease to be themselves. When Grace elevates Nature. Our Intellects are given the New Power of Faith, something they don't have at the merely Natural Level. Our Wills are given the New Powers of Hope and Charity, things also absent at the merely Natural Level.

 

Justification and Sanctification

Let's move on. We've mentioned that we need Sanctifying Grace in our Souls if we're to be equipped for Heaven. Another way of saying this is that we need to be Justified. "But you were Washed, you were Sanctified, you were Justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1Corinthians 6:11). Unlike Protestants, who misunderstand Scripture's teaching about Justification and confuse things by separating Justification and Sanctification, the Catholic Church has always recognized that in Scripture, Justification and Sanctification are Two (2) Ways of speaking about the Same Thing. You're Justified (made Righteous by God's Grace) so long as you're Sanctified (made Holy by His Grace). You cease to be Justified when you cease to be Sanctified. The Protestant misunderstanding of Justification lies in their claim that Justification is a merely a Forensic (i.e. purely Declaratory) Legal Declaration by God that the Sinner is now "Justified". If you "accept Christ as your personal Lord and Savior", He declares you Justified, though He doesn't really make you Justified or Sanctified -- your Soul is the same as before -- but you're eligible for Heaven.

You're expected thereafter to undergo Sanctification (don't make the Mistake of thinking Protestants say Sanctification is unimportant), but the degree of Sanctification you achieve is, ultimately, immaterial to the question of whether you'll get to Heaven. You will, since you're Justified, and Justification -- as a purely Legal Declaration -- is what counts. Unfortunately, this scheme is a Legal Fiction. It amounts to God telling an Untruth by saying the Sinner has been Justified while all along He knows that the Sinner is not really Justified, but is only covered under the "cloak" of Christ's Righteousness.

 

Can Justification Be Lost?

Most Fundamentalists go on to say that Losing Ground in the Sanctification Battle won't Jeopardize your Justification. You might Sin Worse than you did before "getting saved", but you'll enter Heaven anyway, because you can't undo your Justification, which has nothing to do with whether you have Supernatural Life in your Soul.

Calvin taught the Absolute Impossibility of Losing Justification. Luther said it could be Lost only through the Sin of Unbelief -- that is, by Undoing the Act of Faith and Rejecting Christ -- but not by what Catholics call Mortal Sins.

Catholics see it differently, of course. If you Sin Grievously, the Supernatural Life in your Soul Disappears, since it can't co-exist with Serious Sin. You then Cease to be Justified. If you were to Die while Unjustified, you'd go to Hell. But you can become Re-Justified by having the Supernatural Life Renewed in your Soul, and you can do that by responding to the Actual Graces God sends you.

 

Acting on Actual Graces

He sends you an Actual Grace, say, in the form of a Nagging Voice that whispers, "You need to Repent! Go to Confession!" You do, your Sins are Forgiven, you're Reconciled to God, and you have Supernatural Life again (John 20:21-23). Or you say to yourself, "Maybe tomorrow," and that Particular Supernatural Impulsion, that Actual Grace, passes you by. But Another is always on the way, God never Abandons us to our own Stupidity (1Timothy 2:4).

Once you have Supernatural Life, once Sanctifying Grace is in your Soul, you can increase it by every Good Action you do: receiving Communion, saying Prayers, performing the Corporal Works of Mercy. Is it worth increasing Sanctifying Grace once you have it -- isn't the minimum enough?

Yes and no. It's enough to get you into Heaven, but it may not be enough to sustain itself. It's easy to Fall from Grace, as you know. The more solidly you're wed to Sanctifying Grace, the more likely you can withstand Temptations.

And if you do that, you maintain Sanctifying Grace. In other words, once you achieve the Supernatural Life, you don't want to take it easy. The minimum isn't good enough because it's easy to Lose the minimum. We must continually seek God's Grace, continually respond to the Actual Graces God is working within us, inclining us to turn to Him and do Good. This is what Paul discusses when he instructs us: "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own Salvation with Fear and Trembling; for God is at work in you, both to Will and to Work for His Good Pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be Blameless and Innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as Lights in the world, holding fast the Word of Life, so that in the Day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain" (Philippians 2:12-16).