"FULL OF GRACE"
IF we would appreciate the claim of our Blessed Lady to the title " Mother of Divine Grace," we must understand as clearly as possible what is meant by Grace; what are its nature and effects; and what is signified by the term " full of Grace " as applied to the Mother of God.
Taken in its widest sense, Grace means a gift or favour freely and gratuitously bestowed by one person on another. Hence, in this sense, our nature, faculties, activities, and existence are graces which God has bestowed upon us, for we must all of us acknowledge that u He hath made us," as we are and what we are, and that He has given us these gifts freely and fully without any claim on our part to receive them.
In theological language, Grace is taken to mean that supernatural assistance given by God to man by which human life is uplifted to the sphere of the supernatural, and human actions are rendered worthy of God's acceptance, to become under its influence the means by which man wins everlasting life and recompense. It is the gift which establishes proportion between human energy and God, as the Object of human intelligence and will, known and loved in a supernatural manner. We know that man can love God by his own natural power without the assistance of any supernatural energy; but such love is purely natural, and the natural outcome of the heart which recognises God as the Author of nature, and the Primal Cause of all things. 1
Love is consequent upon knowledge, and the man who does not recognise that God is the Supreme Cause of all things, and therefore worthy of supreme love, is, as the Apostle tells us, inexcusable, since " the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity. " 2 But this knowledge and love, because purely natural, will not render man worthy of supernatural reward. There is no proportion between the act and the recompense. That which establishes the proportion is Divine Grace.
Grace is a supernatural gift, freely conferred by God upon the soul, uplifting it to the supernatural sphere, making it pleasing in God's sight, and rendering each action performed under its influence worthy of God's acceptance. Grace does these things because, as St. Thomas teaches, it is " a certain participation in the divine nature," 3 and as the Prince of the Apostles had already taught long before*the Angel of the Schools 4 This gift far exceeds the natural exigencies of the soul. Its office is to uplift the soul to the region of the divine, and since it is " a certain participation in the divine nature " it achieves its purpose fully.
Grace is external and internal. The former does not directly affect the soul. It is an exterior impulse to good, such as good example, preaching, or some miraculous occurrence. Internal Grace, however, which is Grace properly speaking, directly affects the soul, either as a permanent abiding quality, as in the case of Habitual Grace, or by stirring up the mind and will, as Actual Graces do.
This internal Grace comprises the two great divisions: Gratia gratum faciens, or Sanctifying Grace, that makes us pleasing to God and acceptable in His sight; and Gratia gratis data, Grace that is bestowed gratuitously, not so much for the personal sanctification of the recipient as for the well-being of others.
Gratia gratum faciens is either habitual—that is, it becomes a supernatural temper of soul, from the fact that it abides and inheres in the soul permanently, and makes for the soul's continual progress in virtue and perfection—or it is an actual supernatural energy, conferred at a particular time and for a particular purpose. Habitual Grace means constant friendship with Godwin that the soul continually enjoys the " participation in the divine nature "; and it confers upon us the right, not indeed the strict and rigorous but the conditional right, to the kingdom of heaven.
Another aspect of Grace is that of Preventing and Subsequent Grace. " The first effect of Grace in the soul," says St. Thomas, " is that of healing. The second effect is the soul's desire for good. The third, that the good which is desired is efficaciously striven for. The fourth, that the soul perseveres in well-doing. The fifth, that the soul reaches heaven Grace, therefore, in that it produces in us the first effect, is called Preventing Grace in relation to the second effect; but in so far as it causes the second effect, it is called Subsequent Grace in relation to the first effect." 5
Grace is not Charity, for Grace is the effect of God's love, while Charity is the virtue by which we love Him, and it presupposes the presence of Grace in the soul. Neither is Grace identical with the Theological virtues of Faith and Hope, nor with the acquired or infused virtues. Acquired virtues pertain to the Natural, Grace to the Supernatural, order; 6 Infused virtues are the resultants of Grace, and spring from it as from their source and principle; while a sinner may still possess the virtues of Faith and Hope though by his sins he has forfeited the Grace of God. The difference between Grace and Charity is well put by Cardinal Cajetan, O.P.: " Grace is as the root, Charity the fruit. Grace constitutes us sons of God formally, Charity makes us sons of God in act; for Grace is the principle of our participation in the divine nature, while Charity is the principle of our activity according to that participated nature." 7
From - Mother Of Divine Grace: A Chapter in the Theology of the Immaculate. By Father Stanislaus. M. Hogan, O.P.
1 Cf. Sum. Theol:, I.-II., Q. CIX., A. 3.
2 Rom. i. 20.
3 Sum. Theol., I.-II, Q. CXII, A. 1.
4 " By whom he hath given us moat great and precious promises; that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature " (2 Pet. i. 4).
5 Sum. Theol., I.-II, Q. CXI., A. 3: cf. Billuart, Summa Sancti Thomӕ, tome iii., De Gratia., diss, v., a. 1.
6 Acquired virtues may also pertain to the supernatural order if the motive which urges their acquisition is a supernatural one. Thus, patience may be a purely natural virtue, acquired by repeated acts; but if anyone sets himself to acquire this virtue because it is pleasing to God, it is lifted to the sphere of the supernatural and so merits a supernatural reward.
7 Comment in I.-II, Q. CXI., A. 3.