What Is Sacramental Grace?

A lesson inspired by the Baltimore catechism

Pope Benedict baptizes a child. (L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Benedict XVI baptizes a child in the Sistine Chapel on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, January 8, 2012. L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Pool/Getty Images

There are many different types of graces that Christians receive in different situations in their lives. Most, though, fall under the categories of sanctifying grace—the life of God within our souls—or actual grace, the grace that prompts us to act in accordance with God's Will and helps us to carry out such actions. But there's another type of grace that's a little harder to explain. What is sacramental grace, why do we need it, and does it differ from sacrament to sacrament?

What Does the Baltimore Catechism Say?

Question 146 of the Baltimore Catechism, found in Lesson Eleventh of the First Communion Edition and Lesson Thirteenth of the Confirmation Edition, frames the question and answer this way:

Question: What is sacramental grace?

Answer: Sacramental grace is a special help which God gives, to attain the end for which He instituted each Sacrament.

Why Do We Need Sacramental Grace?

Each of the sacraments is an outward sign of a grace that God grants to those who receive the sacrament worthily. Those graces, though, are not what the Church means when She speaks of "sacramental grace." Rather, sacramental grace is a special grace which, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes (para. 1129) is "proper to each sacrament." The purpose of sacramental grace is to help us to gain the particular spiritual benefits (including other graces) conferred by each sacrament.

If this seems confusing, it may help to think of sacramental grace by analogy. When we eat dinner, the object of our action—that which we're trying to attain—is our food and all of the benefits that come with it. We could simply use our hands to eat our food, but a fork and a spoon are a more efficient means of doing so.

Sacramental grace is like the silverware of the soul, helping us to gain the full benefit of each sacrament.

Do the Different Sacraments Give Different Graces?

Since every one of the sacraments has a different effect upon our souls, the sacramental grace that we receive in each sacrament is different, which is what "proper to each sacrament" means. So, for instance, as St. Thomas Aquinas notes in the Summa Theologica, "Baptism is ordained unto a certain spiritual regeneration, by which man dies to vice and becomes a member of Christ: which effect is something special in addition to the actions of the soul's powers." That's a fancy way of saying that, in order for our soul to receive the sanctifying grace that Baptism provides, it must be healed by the sacramental grace of Baptism.

To take another example, when we receive the Sacrament of Confession, we also receive sanctifying grace. But the guilt for our sins stands in the way of our reception of that grace until the sacramental grace of Confession removes that guilt and prepares our souls for the infusion of sanctifying grace.

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Richert, Scott P. "What Is Sacramental Grace?" ThoughtCo, Mar. 11, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-sacramental-grace-541728. Richert, Scott P. (2017, March 11). What Is Sacramental Grace? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-sacramental-grace-541728 Richert, Scott P. "What Is Sacramental Grace?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-sacramental-grace-541728 (accessed December 13, 2017).