Monday, August 27, 2007

A question from a Reader: Sacramental Graces

Today I received an email from a regular anonymous reader:
Do you have time to answer a question on the sacraments?

I was discussing the Sacrament of Reconciliation with someone. This person said that during reconciliation we don't receive any extra grace. God's grace is everywhere and the sacraments are to celebrate what already exists. In Sacramental Confession we celebrate the forgiveness of God that has already occurred (The sacraments are primarily a celebration.)

QUESTION: Where does this idea come from?
ANSWER: I don't know. Outer Space? It doesn't come from the Catholic Catechism at least!

I suggest the person with these ideas is lacking a solid grounding in what Grace is. In short, you should refer him or her to the Catechism, paragraphs 2000-2005, or the Compendium paragraphs 423 and 424. There you will find that Catholic theology distinguishes the workings of God's grace into four separate kinds of operation:
Sanctifying grace: the habitual grace and a permanent disposition which enables us to live and act in keeping with our Christian calling to holiness.

Actual graces: God's interventions in our lives to enable us to perform particular salutary actions. This grace is not permanent & lasts only until the action is complete.

Special graces: “Charisms” or “gifts” of the Spirit to carry out a particular service or ministry, eg. Speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy; but also teaching, administration, music, encouragement etc. (cf. Romans 12:6-8 and Called and Gifted program)

Sacramental graces: the gifts proper to each sacrament.
Of course, sanctifying grace is that grace which justifies us by faith and which pervades our whole life in Christ. But each sacrament has graces proper it, and the graces proper to the sacrament of reconciliation are also listed in the Catechism (1468-1470) under the heading "The Effects of this sacrament" (there is a section like this for the treatment of each sacrament). The special sacramental graces of Reconciliation are then also listed in the "In brief" section at the end of this chapter in paragraph 1496:
1496 The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:
- reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace [ie. sanctifying grace];
- reconciliation with the Church;
- remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
- remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin; - peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
- an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.

6 Comments:

At Tuesday, August 28, 2007 11:11:00 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sanctifying grace: the habitual grace and a permanent disposition which enables us to live and act in keeping with our Christian calling to holiness.

Doesn't mortal sin extinguish sanctifying grace in our souls? Don't we have to go to sacramental confession to receive sanctifying grace back into our souls and regain the merit which we lost because of mortal sin?

 
At Tuesday, August 28, 2007 12:52:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

There’s a kernel of truth buried in there, and it lies in the statement that “God’s grace is everywhere”. In the widest sense of ‘grace’ – the things freely given to us by God this is of course true. Creation is a grace. Life is a grace. We are immersed in grace. Our whole existence is a grace. And, even if we take a more limited understanding of ‘grace’ and focus on, say, the grace of repentance and reconciliation, this is always and everwhere available.

But it doesn’t follow that the sacraments only ‘celebrate’ the grace of God. A fundamental point about sacraments is that they do not simply signify, celebrate or point to grace; they both signify it and effect it.

Is there a tension between saying that grace is universal and ubiquitous, but that sacraments make it effective? Well, yes, there is, and that is why the sacraments are essentially mysteries. The way I think of it – and this could be heretical, for all I know – is that sacraments connect us in a real way to the life of grace to which we are called.

An analogy – and I stress that this is only an analogy – is with the mystery through which, in the Eucharist, bread and wine are incorporated in a real way into the Body and Blood of Christ. There is no physical change in the bread and wine, but there is a change in them which is Real at a more fundamental level than physics.

In the same way in the eucharist and in other sacraments, things which on the face of it are merely physical – actions, substances – become the means through which Real connections are made, and Real effect is given, to the grace of God.

 
At Tuesday, August 28, 2007 5:51:00 pm , Blogger Jeff Tan said...

Just a quick word now, and hopefully more later, but the idea of sacramental confession as a celebration only sounds suspiciously like a half-step between sola fide and the sacraments. I'd been accused once by a Lutheran (who used to be Catholic) that when I talk about grace and justification, I gave the impression that I am an Evangelical trying to remain Catholic. Not true, of course.

In any case, that half-baked understanding of sacraments rang a bell. It sounded like a politically correct way to explain what sacraments are -- so as not to offend sola fide adherents.

Hopefully I can pitch in some more later. This sounds interesting.

 
At Tuesday, August 28, 2007 5:54:00 pm , Blogger Jeff Tan said...

Oh and sanctifying grace being a permanent disposition doesn't mean it isn't severed by mortal sin. I think it is permanent in the sense that it isn't something lost accidentally, but only by a willful act of mortal sin (grave, deliberate, with full knowledge).

 
At Tuesday, August 28, 2007 9:03:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Well done, class. Great discussion. Full marks to you all.

Anonymous is, of course, quite right, when he said that "mortal sin extinguish[es] sanctifying grace in our souls", and hence the need for the specific sacramental grace of reconciliation and restoration of sanctifying grace. Jeff Tan is thus also correct when he says that "sanctifying grace...is permanent in the sense that it isn't something lost accidentally, but only by a willful act of mortal sin (grave, deliberate, with full knowledge)."

I would like to assure Peregrinus that he is not being heretical when he suggests that the sacraments "connect us in a real way to the life of grace to which we are called." I have, in the past, titled my course in Sacraments "Connecting with God". Of course, creation, life and our whole existence are graces. Trees and mountains are graces. BUT, I do not have access to God's sanctifying grace in the trees and mountains. I go to the sacraments precisely because this is where God's ubiquitous (ie. everywhere) grace is accessable and applicable directly to me. It is like saying "God is everywhere", but he makes himself accessible in his Word and Sacraments.

Regarding the "physical change" of bread and wine in the sacrament of the Eucharist, Peter Holmes has an interesting discussion of this on his blog (http://cumgranosalis70.blogspot.com). Paul VI was able to describe the real presence of Christ as "physical". Not chemically physical, but still physical, because body and blood are physical things. We will be physical in heaven--although spiritually physical (1 Cor 15). Same with the sacrament.

Sola Fide and the Sacraments? There is a deeper connection here than at first glance, Jeff. The Sacraments are (according to the Catechism) "Sacraments of faith". That is, the benefits are received by faith. But the reality of the sacraments are independant of my personal faith, and dependant upon the promise and word of God. Yet even in this affirmation, there is something very "evangelisch".

 
At Wednesday, August 29, 2007 2:51:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

But the reality of the sacraments are independant of my personal faith, and dependant upon the promise and word of God.

Yes, and what a great comfort that is.

 

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