El Greko AnnunciationON THE MEANS OF GRACE.



1. Can we, by our own natural strength, keep the Commandments and be saved?

No; we cannot, without the grace of God.

"Without me you can do nothing,' says Christ" (John 15:5). "I will put my Spirit in the midst of you, and l will cause you to walk in my commandments." (Ez. 36:27).

[CCC1949 "Called to beatitude but wounded by sin, man stands in need of salvation from God. Divine help comes to him in Christ through the law that guides him and the grace that sustains him..."][See Summa Theologica on necessity of Grace.]

 [<-This detail of El Greko's Annunciation shows a river of golden light descending on Mary as she hears the Angel's message. This light is God's grace assisting her.]

2. What do we understand by the grace of God?

By the grace of God we understand here an internal supernatural help or gift, which God communicates to us, through the merits of Jesus Christ, for our eternal salvation. [See also Grace in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913).]


3, How many kinds of this supernatural help and gift, or of Grace properly so. called, are there ?

There are two kinds, 1. The grace of assistance, called also actual or transient grace; and 2. The grace of sanctflcation or justification, called also sanctifying or habitual grace.

The grace of assistance is called actual and transient, because it acts transiently upon the soul, whereas the grace of sanctification or justification remains habitually in the soul, beautifies it, and makes it holy and just in the eyes of God.

["I answer that, As stated above (110, 2) grace may be taken in two ways; first, as a Divine help, whereby God moves us to will and to act; secondly, as a habitual gift divinely bestowed on us. " St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica.]


§ 1. On the Grace of Assistance.


4. In what does Actual Grace, or the Grace of Assistance, consist ?

Actual Grace consists in this: that God enlightens our understanding, and inclines our will to avoid evil, and both to will and to do what is good.

'Give me understandting, and I will search Thy law, and I will keep it with my whole heart.. . . incline my heart unto Thy testimonies,' etc. (Ps. cxviii. 34, 36 DR; Ps 119:32ff NAB).


5. How far is the assistance of grace necessary to us?

It is so necessary to us that, without the grace of God, we can neither begin, continue, nor accomplish the least thing towards our salvation.

 'For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish' . (Philip.2:13; NAB).


6. Why is grace so indispensable to everything that relates to salvation ?

1. Because eternal salvation is a good of a supernatural order, and, consequently, can be obtained only by a supernatural power and help, that is, by grace;

2. Because by grace alone we enter into connection with Christ, and partake of his infinite merits, which are the source of everything that leads to salvation. 

1. 'Not that we are sufficient to think anything [conducive to salvation] of ourselves, as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God' (2 Cor 3:5).
2. '1 cast not away the grace of God; for if justice be by the law, then Christ died in vain' (Gal. 2:21); i.e., if the observance of the law alone, without being united by grace with Christ, did justify us, or lead us to eternal salvation, it would not have been necessary for Christ to die in order to merit salvation for us.
By this, however, it is not meant that man is naturally quite incapable of performing any action that is morally good, but only that by such morally good actions as proceed from his naturally good will he can neither merit, nor in any way obtain, grace or salvation; by them he can only prepare himself for grace, in so far as he does not, by bad actions, still increase the obstacles of it. 'No man can come to me,' says Christ, 'unless it be given him by my Father' (John 6:66, see NAB).


7. Does God give His grace to all men?

Yes ; God gives to all men suffcient grace to enable them to keep, as they are in duty bound, the Commandments, and to work out their salvation.

 The Son of Man is come to save that which was lost' (Matt. 18: 11). 'God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth' (1 Tim. 2:4, NAB). 'God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.' (1 Cor. 10:13). 'God does not command impossibilities: but, when commanding, He admonishes us to do what we are able, and to pray for what we are not able to do, and aids us, that we may be able' (Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Ch. xi.)



8. But what must we do on our part, in order that the grace of God may conduce to [result in] our salvation?

We must not resist it, but faithfully cooperate with it.

 'We exhort you, that you receive not the grace of God in vain' (2 Cor. 6:1). God stretches forth His hand to save us; if we really wish to be saved, we must take hold of it, and not reject it. - Example of St. Paul: 'I have labored more abundantly than all they; yet not I, but the grace of God with me' (1 Cor. 15:10).



9. Is it, then, also in our power to resist the grace of God?

Most certainly ; for God's grace does not force the human will, but leaves it perfectly free.


"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!" (Matt. 23:37NAB). 'Today, if you shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts' (Ps. 95:7-8).

Application. Pray daily to God to give you His grace, and take particular care not to close your heart against it. 'Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with me' (Apoc. 3:20). In order to make His grace operate the more easily in the human heart, God often connects it with exterior events; as sudden death, diseases, good and bad fortune. Do not heedlessly disregard such divine warnings; for nothing is more dangerous than not to know the time of the visitation of God. Example: Jerusalem (Luke 19:44 DR; compare NAB).


§ 2. On the Grace of sanctification or Justification..


10. What is Sanctifying Grace?

Sanctifying Grace is a gratuitous supernatural gift, which the Holy Ghost communicates to our souls, and by which from sinners we are made just, children of God, and heirs of Heaven.

 [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."]

Together with sanctifying grace 'the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us' (Rom. 5:5). With it God enters into our hearts, according to the words of Jesus: 'If any one love me, my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him' (John 14:23). Through it we are born again children of God, and our soul receives supernatural life: 'Behold what manner of charity the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called, and should be the sons of God' (1 John 3:1...).



11. Why is sanctifying grace called 'a gratuitous' gift'?

Because it is an entirely free gift, flowing from the compassionate love of God.

"For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus..." (Rom. 3:23-24).

[CCC 2023 "Sanctifying grace is the gratuitous gift of his life that God makes to us; it is infused by the Holy Spirit into the soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it."]


12. Why is sanctifying grace also called 'Grace of Justification'?

Because by sanctifying grace man is justified - that is, passes from the state of sin to the state of righteousness and holiness.

 [See the Council of Trent on Justification.] [CCC 1987 "The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ" and through Baptism..." See Grace and Justification in the Catholic Catechism.]

13. What, then, does the justification of the sinner include ?

Justification includes, 1. Cleanness from all grievous [mortal] sins at least, together with the remission of eternal punishment; and 2. The sanctification and renewal of the interior man.

[CCC 1989 "The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus' proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. "Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man." See Council of Trent, Session 6, chapter 7.]

'You are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God' (1 Cor 6:11).


14. What first gives rise to the justification of the sinner?

Preventing grace, which enlightens the sinner, and excites him to turn to God.

[Editor: "Preventing grace" is probably the initial grace of conversion.]


15. What must the sinner do on his part, in order to attain to justification?

He must, with the assistance of grace, voluntarily turn to God, and believe all that God has revealed, especially that we are justified by Jesus Christ. [Cf. CCC1814, 1842, 2087-89]


16. What effect has this belief on the sinner?

1. The sinner is struck with a wholesome fear of the justice of God, but hopes to obtain pardon from His mercy [CCC 1453.]

2. Then be begins to love God, is sorry for his sins, resolves to lead a new life, agreeable to God, and receives the Sacrament of Baptism, or, if he is baptized, the Sacrament of Penance.

 [See Interior Penance.]


17. What does the sinner receive in the Sacrament of Baptism or Penance?

He receives sanctifying grace, and together with it the remission of his sins and interior sanctification, by which he is really made just, acceptable to God, a child of God, and heir of Heaven (Council of Trent, Sess. 6).


18. How long does sanctifying grace remain in the soul of the justified man?

As long as he does not commit mortal sin.


19. What fruits does the justified man produce by the help of grace?

He produces good - i.e., meritorious - works; 'for every good tree bringeth forth good fruit' (Matt. 7:17f) [See also James 2:14ff on faith and works, and Merit.]


20. Cannot a man who is in mortal sin do good?

He can do good, but without any merit for Heaven. (John 15:4, 5).

[CCC1874 "To choose deliberately - that is, both knowing it and willing it - something gravely contrary to the divine law and to the ultimate end of man is to commit a mortal sin. This destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is impossible. Unrepented, it brings eternal death."]


21. Is, then, the good done in mortal sin useless?

No; it is, on the contrary, very useful to obtain from the Divine mercy the grace of conversion, sometimes also the averting of temporal punishment.

''Redeem thou thy sins with alms, and thy iniquities with works of mercy to the poor: perhaps He will forgive thy offences' (Dan. 4:24). Example: Manasses (2 ParaL xxxiii. 12). 'Achab (3 Kings xxi. 29); the Ninivites, see Jonah 3.


22. What do we merit by the good works which we perform in the state of grace?

We merit, 1. An increase of sanctifying grace; and 2. Eternal salvation (2 Tim. iv. 8; NAB 6-8).

'If any one shall say that the justified man by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace and eternal life, let him be anathema'. (Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Can. 32).


23. Whence do such good works derive their intrinsic value or meritoriousness ?

From the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, whose living members we are through sanctifying grace. [See merit.]

 'I am the vine, you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit; for without me you can do nothing' (John xv. 5. Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Ch.16).


24. Is every Christian bound to do good works?

Yes; for 'every tree that doth not yield good fruit shall be cut down, and cast into the fire' (Matt. 3:10). [Cf. CCC 1815. See Matt. 25:31-46]

[See eg. Deut. 15:11; the Works of Mercy, and in the Catechism of the Council of Trent: "The pastor, therefore, should encourage the faithful to be willing and anxious to assist those who have to depend on charity, and should make them realise the great necessity of giving alms and of being really and practically liberal to the poor, by reminding them that on the last day God will condemn and consign to eternal fires those who have omitted and neglected the duty of almsgiving, while on the contrary He will praise and introduce into His heavenly country those who have exercised mercy towards the poor."]


25. What good works should we perform before all others?

1. Those the performance of which is commanded to all Christians by the Commandments of God and of the Church; and 2. Those which are necessary or useful to fulfil the duties of our state of life. [Religious life, married life, etc.]


26. What other good works are especially recommended to us in Holy Scripture?

 Prayer, fasting, and alms; by which, in general, are understood the works of devotion, mortification, and charity.

"Prayer is good with fasting and alms, more than to lay up treasures of gold'"(Tob. 12:8, see footnote 4 in the NAB). [See also, Mark 9:29 and footnote 7; Lk 11:41, and in general Scripture on Almsgiving.]


27. What does God especially regard in our good works?

Our good intention, by which we may obtain from God great reward even for small works.

'Whosoever shall give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, amen f say to you, he shall not lose his reward' (Matt. 10:42). Example of the Poor Widow (Mark 12:41-44).


28. What is a good intention?

The purpose or positive act of the will to serve God,

[See the Sources of Mortality, espcially 1752 and 1753. See also "intention" in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Acquinas also discusses intention.]


29. How may we make a good intention?

We may say, for instance, thus: 'O my God, I offer up to Thee all my thoughts, words, and deeds, for Thy honor and glory'; or: 'My Lord and my God, all for Thy honor.'

[This is also known as the Morning Offering. Additional versions are given at the Prayer E-Book.]

30. When should we make a good intention?

It is very useful to make it several times a day, and especially every morning.


31. What means must we particularly use in order to obtain grace?

The Holy Sacraments and Prayer.

[For more on prayer see Awaken to Prayer and part four of the catechism. The sacraments are discussed in part two of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.]


32. Do both these means give us grace in the same manner and in the same measure?

No; for, 1. The Sacraments produce grace in us; Prayer obtains it for us; 2. Through the Sacraments we obtain those special graces for which they were instituted; but through Prayer we receive all sorts of graces, except those which can only be obtained by the Sacraments.

Application. Strive most carefully to preserve sanctifying grace continually in your heart by avoiding sin and performing good works. "Anyone who rejects the law of Moses 15 is put to death without pity on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Do you not think that a much worse punishment is due the one who has contempt for the Son of God, considers unclean the covenant-blood by which he was consecrated, and insults the spirit of grace?" (Hebr. 10:28-29 NAB).

Joseph Deharbe, S.J., Full Catechism of the Catholic Religion, Dchwartz, Kirwin & Fauss, NY (1876) Imprimatur, + N. Cardinal Wiseman, 7/29/1862. The text presented here is for religious and educational purposes only. All rights reserved. Any copyrighted material is used in reliance on 17USC107. The imprimatur above only applies to the orginal text , not the material in brackets.

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