mercredi, juin 09, 2010

The nature of Sacramental Grace

The Nature of Sacramental Grace (I)
With Special Reference to the Priesthood
By Father Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.
(From The Priest in Union with Christ)

It is difficult to determine accurately the nature of sacramental grace, and the question is rarely given a sufficiently systematic treatment. Yet it does help to bring out in a greater relief the dignity of our priesthood. We will begin by noting what is more well known and certain about this question from Revelation.
At once we discover that more is known with certainty about the purpose of this grace than about its nature. In fact, the same holds true of habitual grace (sanctifying Grace); what is primarily known with certainty about this gift is that it is the seed of glory of eternal life. But we know that this eternal life is a sharing in God’s own intimate life through the Beatific Vision and an unceasing act of love – acts which necessarily presuppose a share in the divine nature. Therefore, habitual grace must be some kind of participation in the divine nature or Godhead, in order to be the seed of glory.

And so it is the purpose of sacramental grace which is first made known to us by Revelation through Sacred Scripture and Tradition. It is conferred on man to help him exercise worthily and in close union with God those actions which he can perform validly by reason of the character he has received. Hence, the sacramental grace of the priesthood is intended for the worthy and increasingly holy fulfillment of our priestly duties – consecration and sacramental absolution. This much is admitted as certain by all theologians.

But what of the nature of this grace? This can be deduced from its purpose, which is the primary cause of any being; an agent only acts with a definite end in view and produces a perfection which corresponds to that end. St. Thomas asks whether the sacramental grace adds anything further to habitual grace, which he calls “the grace of the virtues and gifts,” since the infused virtues and the seven gifts (of the Holy Ghost) have their origin in that grace – that was true even of Adam before his fall, and of the Angels, although they had not received the Sacraments. He replies that it must add something, otherwise there would be no point in conferring the Sacraments on those who already possess the grace of virtues and gifts. (Cf IIIa, Q.62, art 2)

Confirmation and the Eucharist are received by persons already baptized, but such Sacraments are meaningless unless they produce some special effect. To suggest that they merely produce an increase of grace is not sufficient, for the frequent repetition of one and the same Sacrament would have a similar effect. Certainly there would never be any need for more than three Sacraments: Baptism for the reception of the first grace, Penance for those who had lost their baptismal grace, and a third Sacrament for the increase of the grace in a just. So any solution of the problem along those lines could never explain why there are seven Sacraments specifically distinct from each other, which must, therefore confer a special grace if they are not to be pointless. The whole question depends on this notion of “purpose.”

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