Today’s oration underlines the need we have of Divine Grace. “May Thy grace, O Lord, always go before us and follow after us, and give us to be intent upon performing good works”.
This oration contains in germ all the Church’s teaching on actual grace. Actual grace could be defined as that created spiritual gift that God gives to a soul to help it repent, avoid sin, and keep the commandments. This is distinguished from habitual, or sanctifying grace, which is the created spiritual gift God infuses into the soul to make it pleasing to Him. When we refer to “being in a state of grace”, we mean that a soul is pleasing to God, has been forgiven its sins, and is therefore capable of having Him dwell within as a Divine Guest and Friend.
Actual grace, to which our oration refers, is something different. We could perhaps make a comparison and liken it to the food and drink that a human body needs to stay alive. When a baby is born, the body has everything it needs to be alive, but if it is not nourished, it will die. So, a soul in God’s sanctifying grace, still needs actual grace on a daily basis in order to persevere and be saved.
God gives what we call “prevenant graces” to a soul who is ignorant of Him and in a state of sin, in order to help it open up to conversion and salvation. But the soul already in God’s sanctifying grace, that is, in God’s friendship, also needs actual graces in order to persevere, ward off temptations and perform good works.
So how is this grace made available to us? Quite simply: it is there for the asking. Our daily prayers are like the daily food we take for our bodies. If on a given day we do not eat, our body will feel weak. If on a given day we do not pray, our soul will be weak and could easily fall prey to temptation.
The most powerful sources of grace are the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, received when in the state of sanctifying grace (you can’t feed a dead body, nor can the Eucharist feed a dead soul!). The sacrament of the Lord’s Body is the most powerful source of actual grace, because it contains the author of grace Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ. The sacrament of penance too brings with it abundant grace to overcome the future temptations we may have and uproot the evil tendencies within us.
There are also the sacramentals, such as holy water, blessed medals, scapulars, indulgenced prayers. But any prayer, even the shortest, obtains actual grace. That is why St Alphonsus, who is the patron of moral theologians, teaches that in the moment of temptation one is morally obliged to pray: in the heat of battle one must, absolutely MUST make use of the weapons we have at our disposal. Only a fool throws off his weapons and armour in the heat of battle!
So let us open up the arsenal given to us by Holy Mother Church. Let us remember that we always, always and everywhere have the actual grace to pray, and our perseverance and the obtaining of further actual graces is dependent upon our making use of the first grace to pray. If you pray, you will not fall. Sin is never unavoidable. Ever. And one is never obliged to choose between two sins. Prayer opens a path to freedom and to the heroic practice of virtue. With prayer all things are possible.