Today I received an email from a regular anonymous reader:
Do you have time to answer a question on the sacraments?
I was discussing the Sacrament of Reconciliation with someone. This person said that during reconciliation we don’t receive any extra grace. God’s grace is everywhere and the sacraments are to celebrate what already exists. In Sacramental Confession we celebrate the forgiveness of God that has already occurred (The sacraments are primarily a celebration.)
QUESTION: Where does this idea come from?
ANSWER: I don’t know. Outer Space? It doesn’t come from the Catholic Catechism at least!
I suggest the person with these ideas is lacking a solid grounding in what Grace is. In short, you should refer him or her to the Catechism, paragraphs 2000-2005, or the Compendium paragraphs 423 and 424. There you will find that Catholic theology distinguishes the workings of God’s grace into four separate kinds of operation:
Sanctifying grace: the habitual grace and a permanent disposition which enables us to live and act in keeping with our Christian calling to holiness.
Actual graces: God’s interventions in our lives to enable us to perform particular salutary actions. This grace is not permanent & lasts only until the action is complete.
Special graces: “Charisms” or “gifts” of the Spirit to carry out a particular service or ministry, eg. Speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy; but also teaching, administration, music, encouragement etc. (cf. Romans 12:6-8 and Called and Gifted program)
Sacramental graces: the gifts proper to each sacrament.
Of course, sanctifying grace is that grace which justifies us by faith and which pervades our whole life in Christ. But each sacrament has graces proper it, and the graces proper to the sacrament of reconciliation are also listed in the Catechism (1468-1470) under the heading “The Effects of this sacrament” (there is a section like this for the treatment of each sacrament). The special sacramental graces of Reconciliation are then also listed in the “In brief” section at the end of this chapter in paragraph 1496:
1496 The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:
– reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace [ie. sanctifying grace];
– reconciliation with the Church;
– remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
– remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin; – peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
– an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.