We can learn things through images, through scripture passages, through homilies, through prayers, etc. This weekend’s Mass has beautiful prayers that teach us about the Sacraments of Initiation and the grace that we receive in these Sacraments. Our Collect Prayer, especially, talks about these sacraments and provide us something to reflect upon. The prayer goes as follows:
God of everlasting mercy,
who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast
kindle the faith of the people you have made your own,
increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed,
that all may grasp and rightly understand
in what font they have been washed,
by whose Spirit they have been reborn,
by whose Blood they have been redeemed.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
When we receive the sacraments, we receive God’s grace. There are two types of grace that we can receive: Sanctifying and Actual Grace. Sanctifying Grace is the grace that makes us Children of God. This is the grace that we have, as long as we remain in a state of Grace, that is in right relationship with God. We cannot add or subtract Sanctifying Grace. It is not something that you can receive more. You are either in a State of Grace, that is right relationship with God, or you are not in a State of Grace; so, you either have Sanctifying Grace or you do not have Sanctifying Grace. Actual grace is a grace that we receive from God that enables us to act as people in right relationship with God. We can receive more and more Actual Grace. It is Actual Grace that helps us to deepen our relationship with God, live the virtues, faithfully live the Christian life. We can only receive Actual Grace when we are in a State of Grace, that is in right relationship with God and possessing Sanctifying Grace. If we do not have Sanctifying Grace, no matter how hard you try, you cannot receive Actual Grace.
We receive these graces from God and the surest way that we can know that we are receiving these graces is in the Sacraments but God, who is the one that gives His graces, is not bound to give His graces in the Sacraments. God can give them to anyone anyway that He desires. Take for example someone desiring to be Baptized. They decide in August that they want to receive the Sacrament of Baptism and begin to prepare for the Sacrament. They spend the next 9 months preparing to receive the Sacrament but they die unexpectedly before they receive the Sacrament of Baptism. We believe that they would have received the graces of Baptism, that is Sanctifying Grace, that puts them into right relationship with God and in a State of Grace, and Actual Grace, that helps them to live the Christian life that they entered into, at their deathbed through the power, and mercy, of God. So, God is not bound to give us His graces in the Sacraments but we, as faithful Catholics, are bound to celebrate the Sacraments as a way to receive His grace, especially Sanctifying grace, when we desire to become Catholic or when we have lost Sanctifying grace due to sin.
So, it is in the Sacrament of Baptism – as the Collect prayer says “in what font they have been washed” – that we receive God’s Sanctifying Grace that puts us into right relationship with God. It is this relationship that opens to us all the graces God has won for us on the Cross of Christ. It is also this relationship that helps us become more like God and, God willing, to ultimately join God one day in eternal life.
In Holy Communion – as the Collect prayer says “by whose blood they have been redeemed” – we receive Actual Grace that nourishes us in our spiritual journey to heaven. These graces enable us to continue to live the Christian life, to grow in virtue, and to deepen our relationship with God. We don’t, however, receive these graces if we are not in a state of grace, in right relationship with God, and possessing Sanctifying Grace. So, if we receive Holy Communion without possessing Sanctifying Grace, we do not receive nourishment for the spiritual journey and, as Paul says, we receive Communion unto our own condemnation.
In Confirmation – as the Collect prayer says “by whose Spirit they have been reborn” – we receive the Actual Grace that strengthens us to be witnesses of God. These graces, just as in Holy Communion, and all the other Sacraments, help enable us to continue to live the Christian life, to grow in virtue, and to deepen our relationship with God. But, if we do not possess Sanctifying Grace and are not in the state of Grace or the right relationship with God, we do not receive the grace of Confirmation.
While we are currently unable to receive the Sacraments, we are not prohibited from receiving the grace of God. We can receive the Actual Grace of God through the power of God outside of the Sacrament, just as God does for someone desiring the Sacrament of Baptism but dying before receiving the Sacrament, and this Actual Grace will enable us to continue to live the Christian life, to grow in virtue, and to deepen our relationship with God.
So, this weekend as we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, take a few moments to ask God for the graces of the Sacraments that He offers to us. His mercy transcends our human limitations and so, God can give us the Actual grace we desire even though we are currently prohibited from receiving the Sacraments. If you realize that you do not possess Sanctifying Grace and are not in the State of Grace or in right relationship with God, ask Him for the gift of conversion. It is this gift that enable us, as sinners, to go to the Sacrament of Confession and confess our sins to the priest and, more importantly, it is this gift that allows us to ask God for the forgiveness of our sins. It is the gift of conversion that allows us to return to right relationship with God and, most surely experienced in the Sacrament of Confession, to return to the State of Grace and to receive again the Sanctifying Grace, which we initially gained at our baptism but that we lost by our mortal sins.