• Maybe you think of the hymn, “Amazing Grace.”
  • Or you might think about saying “grace” before meals.
  • A familiar phrase, such as “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” might pop into your head.
  • Or you might recall that you need to be in “a state of grace” in order to receive Communion.

All of these are common usages of the word “grace.”   But what if someone asked you to explain the Catholic concept of grace?

If you’re like many Catholics, you might not know what to say!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that grace is “the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life” (CCC, 1996).  

As we know from the hymn, grace is what saves us.  It transforms us into what St. Paul called “a new creation.”  It makes us holy, because God is holy. 

When we are filled with God’s grace, we share in the life of God.  Grace allows us to call God as our Father.  It makes us want to follow in the footsteps of Christ. It opens us to the inspirations of the Spirit.   It helps us to resist sin.  It opens the door to eternal life with God.

We receive sanctifying grace at Baptism.  It is a pure gift from God.  We can’t do anything to earn or merit this amazing gift. God never forces us to receive his grace.  It remains in our souls unless we purposely do something to sever our relationship with God. 

While we cannot earn grace, we can grow in grace.  Sanctifying grace increases in our souls through prayer and receiving the sacraments. 

There is also another kind of grace, called actual grace, in which God gives us special assistance for a particular purpose.  These are the times that we look back upon as “graced moments” in our lives.  These are the times when we know that God was with us in a special way.  Actual grace helps us to live our lives according to God’s will.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was talking about actual grace when he said, “Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.”

Now is a great time to reflect on God’s grace.  How open are you to God’s grace?  How are you growing in God’s grace?   How have you been helped by God’s grace?   How is God accomplishing things in you through his grace?

That’s a lot to think about!   And if anyone ever asks you to explain the meaning of grace, it’s safe to say that grace – whether it is sanctifying grace or actual grace – is a pretty amazing gift!