Sanctifying GRACE, What it is, What it does

Anthony Zimmerman
December 31, 2002
Reproduced with Permission

Taught by Gabriel we salute Mary often in the day with the greeting: "Hail Mary, full of grace." We rejoice with Gabriel, with all mankind, with the angels, that the Lord has made her so beautiful by filling her with grace.

Grace elevates us to a new dimension in the cosmic pecking order of what is honorable, what is splendid, what is most near to God's surpassing glory. Grace is the wedding garment that we will wear in heaven. Those not clothed in the garment will be barred from the banquet and cast out, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Genesis indicates that God first made Adam become a living being, and thereafter put him inside God's private family garden: "Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed" (Gen 2:7-8). In the garden God lived intimately with man before the Fall. For example: "They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day" (Gen 3:8).

CCC No. 54 teaches that they were then in the state of grace: "And furthermore, wishing to open up the way to heavenly salvation, he manifested himself to our first parents from the very beginning." He invited them to intimate communion with himself and clothed them with resplendent grace and justice." Perhaps the inspired author indicates that the Garden of Eden symbolizes the state of grace, rather than being a localized piece of real estate. Andre Marie Dubarle OP declares that the sacred author "had no intention of describing any magic state, supposing other physical or psychological laws than those now in force" when employing the Garden of Eden as a symbol of the state of grace (The Doctrine of Original Sin, Herder and Herder, New York, 1963, p. 234).

Fr. John A. Hardon aptly describes grace in general, and specifically sanctifying grace as follows:

GRACE: The gifts of grace are essentially supernatural. They surpass the being, powers, and claims of created nature, namely sanctifying grace, the infused virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and actual grace. They are the indispensable means necessary to reach the beatific vision."

SANCTIFYING GRACE: The supernatural state of being infused by God, which permanently inheres in the soul. It is a vital principle of the supernatural life, as the rational soul is the vital principle of a human being's natural life. It is not a substance but a real quality that becomes part of the soul substance. Although commonly associated with the possession of the virtue of charity, sanctifying grace is yet distinct from this virtue. Charity, rather, belongs to the will, whereas sanctifying grace belongs to the whole soul, mind, will, and affections (Modern Catholic Dictionary, Eternal Life, Bardstown, Kentucky, 1999).

Christ taught clearly that grace is a re-birth to a new life, one that is apart and over and above the endowment of natural birth; He taught also that grace is necessary for entrance into heaven; He implied that Baptism endows us with grace; finally He taught that one cannot ascertain the presence of grace in the soul with natural sense perception:

Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born anew.' The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit."

Before He ascended into heaven, Christ mandated the Apostles to baptize the peoples of all nations and to teach them all that He had taught them: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28: 19-20). Baptism, then, is the ordinary instrument by which God confers grace upon man.

The Catechism teaches that God's call to eternal life is supernatural and gratuitous (1998) that it is participation in God's life (1999), that sanctifying grace is a permanent disposition to enable us to live in God's friendship, whereas actual grace is a new initiative by God to help us on our way:

CCC 2000 Sanctifying grace is an habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love. Habitual grace, the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God's call, is distinguished from actual graces which refer to God's interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification.

By mortal sin, however, man loses the state of sanctifying grace. To regain it, a new initiative is needed on the part of God to enable man to be restored to the state of grace:

CCC 1856 Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us - that is, charity - necessitates a new initiative of God's mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation.

May we meet in heaven wearing the wedding garment of sanctifying grace.