What Is Sanctifying Grace?

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Grace is ​a word that is used to signify many different things, and many kinds of graces—for instance, actual gracesanctifying grace, and sacramental grace. Each of these graces has a different role to play in the life of Christians. Actual grace, for instance, is the grace that prompts us to act—that gives us the little push we need to do the right thing, while sacramental grace is the grace proper to each sacrament that helps us to obtain all of the benefits from that sacrament. But what is sanctifying grace?

Sanctifying Grace: The Life of God Within Our Soul

As always, the Baltimore Catechism is a model of concision, but in this case, its definition of sanctifying grace may leave us wanting a bit more. After all, shouldn't all grace make the soul "holy and pleasing to God"? How does sanctifying grace differ in this respect from actual grace and sacramental grace?

Sanctification means "to make holy." And nothing, of course, is holier than God Himself. Thus, when we are sanctified, we are made more like God. But sanctification is more than becoming like God; grace is, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes (para. 1997), "a participation in the life of God." Or, to take it a step further (para. 1999): 

"The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it."

That is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church (also in para. 1999) notes that sanctifying grace has another name: deifying grace, or the grace that makes us godlike. We receive this grace in the Sacrament of Baptism; it is the grace that makes us part of the Body of Christ, able to receive the other graces God offers and to make use of them to live holy lives. The Sacrament of Confirmation perfects Baptism, by increasing sanctifying grace in our soul. (Sanctifying grace is also sometimes called the "grace of justification," as the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes in para. 1266; that is, it is the grace which makes our soul acceptable to God.)

Can We Lose Sanctifying Grace?

While this "participation in divine life," as Fr. John Hardon refers to sanctifying grace in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, is a free gift from God, we, having free will, are also free to reject or renounce it. When we engage in sin, we injure the life of God within our soul. And when that sin is sufficiently grave:

"It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1861).

That is why the Church refers to such grave sins as —that is, sins that deprive us of life.

When we engage in mortal sin with the full consent of our will, we reject the sanctifying grace we received in our Baptism and Confirmation. To restore that sanctifying grace and to embrace again the life of God within our soul, we need to make a full, complete, and contrite Confession. Doing so returns us to the state of grace in which we were after our Baptism.

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Richert, Scott P. "What Is Sanctifying Grace?" Learn Religions, Aug. 27, 2020, learnreligions.com/what-is-sanctifying-grace-541683. Richert, Scott P. (2020, August 27). What Is Sanctifying Grace? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-sanctifying-grace-541683 Richert, Scott P. "What Is Sanctifying Grace?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-sanctifying-grace-541683 (accessed June 1, 2023).