What are grace and sin?

God created man for intimate union with his Creator. Since God is radically different from us (transcendent, infinite, etc.), such union is only possible if God elevates our nature by participation in the divine. That supernatural life which God imparts to our souls is called sanctifying grace, because it is a gratuitous gift which makes us holy and pleasing to God. The union we can enjoy with God here and now is called the indwelling, because God himself comes to dwell in our souls. If we die in this state, we will enjoy a more perfect union in Heaven, called the beatific vision.

God created the first man and woman in the state of grace, but they turned away from God to enjoy created things without reference to their Maker. Consequently, their descendants have a weakened nature and a tendency to turn to created goods as ends in themselves. This tendency (called concupiscence) is not sinful in itself, but we sin when we yield to it.

To provide for man in his fallen state, God instituted sacrifice and sacraments, which draw their efficacy from Jesus Christ, God Incarnate. Under the New Law, men enter the state of grace through baptism. We can lose this happy state by severing our friendship with God through serious and deliberate sin; and it can be recovered only in the sacrament of Penance, or by a special gift whereby we experience profound sorrow for having offended so good a God. If we die in the state of sin, we will be forever deprived of union with God, and instead will suffer everlasting torments proportionate to our sins.

In addition to sanctifying grace, God gives us many helps to aid us in avoiding Hell and attaining Heaven, usually in the form of light to the mind or strength to the will. These helps are called actual graces, or collectively, actual grace. Without actual grace we could not turn to God or receive sanctifying grace. Although God gives us grace of his own initiative, some graces he only gives or continues with our cooperation. We can obtain actual grace, and increase sanctifying grace, through prayer, the sacraments, and the exercise of virtue.


Todd Aylard