THE NATURE AND EFFECTS OF GRACE. MEANING OF THE TERM
"FULL OF GRACE"From the nature of Habitual Grace we learn that it is no mere external adornment of soul through belief and trust in Jesus Christ. It is something interior and intrinsic, something which abides and inheres in the soul. It is a permanent quality abiding in the soul, making forks continual renovation and perfection, cleansing and beautifying this "temple of God," by uprooting and destroying sin, by kindling the fire of divine charity, and by giving a certain spontaneity and facility to the practice of virtue. Through Grace we become members of the household of the saints, nay, members of the household of God, since, by conferring upon us the sonship of adoption, it makes us the " offspring of God."1
God, therefore, is the chief Efficient Cause of Grace. He alone can forgive sin, confer the sonship of adoption, and give the right to the eternal recompense, since He is the Creator and Ruler of mankind. But, as the Evangelist tells us: Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ; 2 and as our Lord Himself has said) " I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life? 3 it follows that He also is a Cause of Grace. The Sacred Humanity is the chief Moral Cause of Grace, for Christ merited it in the most absolute and rigorous sense. The Sacred Humanity is also the Physical Instrumental Cause of Grace. Every act of our Divine Lord was of infinite worth because of the union of the Divine and the Human natures in the One Person; and it is in view of the merits of Jesus Christ— merits which are of infinite value because He is the Word made flesh—that God has inclined towards us and has hearkened to our petitions. These petitions of ours ascend to Him weighted with " the strong cry," the yearning, the hardships, and weariness of the Man-God; weighted still more heavily with the cry for souls that was wrung from Him on the Cross. He has merited by His life and death that we shall be accounted His brethren, members of His mystical Body, children, therefore, of His Eternal Father, not strangers to Him. By the Grace which He has merited for us we are justified, as St. Paul says: Being justified freely by His Grace, through the redemption, that is in Christ Jesus 4 And Jesus Christ is also the Physical Instrumental Cause of Grace. In the days of His mortal life, Virtue went out from Him and healed all 5 It did not require actual physical contact with our Lord for the working of a miracle; the " virtue went out from Him," the Incarnate God, and the miracle was wrought. Thus did He cure the Ruler's daughter, 6 and raise Lazarus from his four days' sleep of death. 7 Thus is He the cause of Grace now. Virtue still goes out from Him," the Man Christ Jesus." He does not come into actual physical contact with the soul, but as the sun in the heavens makes the seed to germinate though it is hidden in the earth, and while it experiences the sun's influence, is not in actual touch with it, so does the human soul receive Grace through the " virtue," energy, power, of the Incarnate Word. 8
Through the Grace which Jesus Christ has merited for us, and of which He is the cause in the manner stated, we also are enabled to merit, because of the proportion that is established between the actions we perform under the influence of this Grace, and the supernatural reward that is held out to us. But while " of His fulness we have all received" 9 we have not all received in like measure. Some receive in fuller measure than others, for Grace is built upon the foundation of nature, and is given in view of the position to be occupied and the work to be accomplished. It transforms the soul and its powers, but it does not distort them; for though Grace is supernatural it is not unnatural. Amongst the countless thousands to whom God gives His Grace, there are some in whose souls it has full sway. These souls are so transfigured by Grace that their holiness becomes heroic. They are the Saints of God. Pre-eminent amongst them is she who is named the Queen of Saints, Mary, the Virgin Mother of God. Like a "cedar in Libanus," Mary Immaculate stands above all other creatures as one apart, alone in her sanctity and perfection, which is wholly due to the " fulness of Grace " she received from God, a plenitude of Grace that uplifts her to the very verge of the Divinity.
What our Blessed Lady is—the fairest product of God's creative power, always, of course, excepting the: Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ—is wholly and absolutely the effect of the Sanctifying Grace conferred upon her. It has made her " a living and smiling invitation to virtue. Around her, one already foresees the whole company of the elect. Distant or near, feeling her influence from afar or kneeling at her feet, all will receive through her the celestial gift: sinners rescued by at last yielding to her admonitions; innocents sanctified through the eager acceptance of all her counsels; all those who shall find her, shall find life, and shall partake of the Grace which proceeds from the Lord." 10
When the Angel made known to Our Lady God's choice of her to be the Mother of His Son, he addressed her as" full of Grace." What is the significance of this expression as applied to the Blessed Virgin ? Are we to understand that when Gabriel addressed her, our Lady had arrived at such a height of perfection that any further advance was precluded ?
There are different degrees of plenitude. There is Absolute Plenitude which does not admit of greater because it is infinite. Such plenitude is divine, and such plenitude belonged to Jesus Christ as the universal and efficacious principle of supernatural life for all men. No one can be saved except by and through Him; and we cannot conceive of greater fulness of Grace than that which the soul of Jesus received because of its union with the Word.
There is the Plenitude of Sufficiency, common to all God's servants, by means of which they are enabled to perform meritorious acts that will win eternal reward.
There is the Plenitude of Abundance, when the soul is so filled with Grace that it overflows upon others. This was the unique privilege of the Mother of God.
Furthermore, so long as we are wayfarers on the road to perfection, progress in perfection is possible. Our Blessed Lady was no exception. The words of St. Luke in regard to her Son may be applied to herself: She M advanced ... in wisdom and grace." Her initial perfection was not so great as her perfection when she became Mother of God; and her " fulness of Grace " at the end of her life was greater than the plenitude of Grace possessed by her at the instant of her Immaculate Conception, greater also than her plenitude of Grace when she " conceived of the Holy Ghost" and " the Word was made flesh " in her womb.
What the plenitude of Grace made for in the life of our Blessed Lady, what its effects were in her soul, we shall reverently attempt to discuss, for in doing so we shall learn that she is in very truth Mother of Divine Grace. One fact we must ever keep in view: Mary is Mother of God. This title, this position, explains everything; and in the words of St. Thomas of Villanova, we may truly ask: " What beauty, what virtue, what perfection, what grace, what glory is not befitting the Mother of God ? 11
From - Mother Of Divine Grace: A Chapter in the Theology of the Immaculate. By Father Stanislaus. M. Hogan, O.P.
1 Acts xvii. so. Cf. L'Habitation du Saint Esprit dans les Ames Justes, par Les Pere Froget, O.P., and ed., pp. a68, sqq. Paris, 1900.
2 John i. 17.
3 Ibid. xiv.6.
4 R0m.iii. 24.
5 Luke vi. 19.
6 John. iv. 47-52.
7 Ibid. xi. 1-45.
8 Cf. Billuart, op. cit., De Incarnatione, Diss. xiii, A. 2.
9 John ii. 16.
10 The Blessed Virgin Mary, by Rene-Marie de la Broise, S.J., English translation, pp. 23-4. London, 1917.
11 " Quanam . . . pulchritudo, quӕnam virtus, quӕ perfectio, quӕ gratia, quӕ gloria Matri Dei non congruit?" (Sermo II De Nativitate Virginis.)