What is the difference between Actual and Sanctifying Grace?

Recently on The Patrick Madrid Show listener Patrick called in to ask host Patrick what the difference is between Sanctifying Grace and regular grace, and how we can receive Sanctifying Grace.

Patrick began by defining “Sanctifying Grace”. “The Church would describe it in terms like this: it’s the very life of God Himself that is communicated to our souls. And the par excellence way of communicating His grace to your soul is through the sacraments.” He continued, saying that sacraments are not the only way, but they are the primary way we can receive it. When you receive Holy Communion worthily, for example, it intensifies the sanctifying grace in your soul.

St. Paul used the analogy of describing grace like it is a liquid, and when we receive the sacraments, His life is “poured out into our hearts.” To be clear, there is no physical volume to grace, but the idea is that our reception of it will expand or intensify God’s life within us.

When the life of your soul is killed by the performance of a grave or mortal sin, you need to go to confession to reintroduce that life into it. That is why you need to be in the state of grace before receiving the Eucharist.

“Now whoever is conscious of mortal sin, has within him an obstacle to receiving the effect of this sacrament; since he is not a proper recipient of this sacrament, both because he is not alive spiritually, and so he ought not to eat the spiritual nourishment, since nourishment is confined to the living…” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Q. 79, Article 3)

Patrick then explained the idea of Actual Grace, the other type of grace that is often mistaken with the general concept of non-descript grace. Actual Graces are bestowed upon a recipient when they do things like read from scripture, pray the rosary, make the sign of the cross, use holy water, etc. What these graces do is help your soul be more receptive to sanctifying grace because of their outward, external nature.

“They have a contributing effect but they themselves are not Sanctifying Graces,” said Patrick. “Think of it this way. Sanctifying Grace is in you. It’s in your soul. It’s what the Lord is doing in your soul. Actual Graces are graces that God sends you as prompts or helps or reminders or nudges or little movements of grace that will help you be more disposed to Sanctifying Grace.”

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John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.