What Is the State of Grace?

Brief Primer on Grace

Grace is a supernatural reality. This means it is not physical, natural, or a substance. We cannot touch it, see it, or measure it with any natural instrument or human sense. Men cannot “create” grace or “give” grace to another. However, it is very real!

God is the Creator of all grace. All graces available for men were won (merited) by Jesus Christ on the Cross. This includes the graces given in the time of the Old Testament. (Since grace is not material it is not confined by space and time.) God gives His grace (to whom, how, when) as He chooses and thereby brings about the greatest possible good. We also know, from Scripture and Tradition, that God has chosen to always distribute His graces to men through the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is Mediatrix of All Grace.

According to the spiritual master, Fr. Adolphe Tanquerey, grace is a “mode of being, a state of soul, a quality inherent in the soul’s substance that transforms it and raises it above all natural beings, even the most perfect.”[1]

Grace makes us like unto God and unites us to Him in the closest possible manner. Very imperfect analogies have likened grace to “water,” which flows through channels and the bodies of living things, fostering life. Or again to “electricity,” which powers our modern machines. Some spiritual writers have even described it analogously, albeit imperfectly, as similar to the “blood of God” or “the very life of God.” Suffice it to say, the reality of God’s grace is a deep mystery.

In our tradition, we distinguish between sanctifying grace and actual grace. The only way we men know of that one can receive sanctifying grace is through the Sacraments, which are administered by His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church – outside of which there is no salvation. We know this because God Himself has promised to act thus and He can neither deceive nor be deceived. Certainly, God can choose to give His sanctifying grace to whomever He wishes and however He desires, but such knowledge is beyond our ken.

The traditional definition of sanctifying grace is “a supernatural quality inherent in the soul, which makes us partakers of the divine nature and of the divine life in a real and formal, but accidental manner.”[2] While actual graces come and go, Fr. Tanquerey explains that sanctifying grace is a permanent quality remaining in the soul. Therefore, it is frequently referred to as ‘habitual grace.’ If a soul has this habitual [sanctifying] grace, then it is in the state of grace. This sanctifying grace can only be lost through mortal sin.[3]

The State of Grace

The Father John Hardon Modern Catholic Dictionary provides a foundational layman’s working definition of the state of grace: “Condition of a person who is free from mortal sin and pleasing to God. It is the state of being in God’s friendship and the necessary condition of the soul at death in order to attain Heaven.” Note, in this definition, a soul can only be ‘pleasing to God’ when it has sanctifying grace, that supernatural quality which makes the soul resemble God, partake in His divinity, and bring the soul into close union with God.

Thus, one who is in the state of grace has no mortal sin on his soul and is capable of, if dying at that moment, avoiding hell for eternity. The soul may spend time (even a very long time) in Purgatory, but the soul is ultimately destined one day for Heaven. The presence or absence of the state of grace is the determining factor in whether a soul will go to hell or not. As such, ensuring we are always in the state of grace is of the utmost importance. Truly, compared to this, nothing else matters.[4]

Baptism as the Beginning of the State of Grace

Baptism is the means by which we are made children of God and have Original Sin removed from our souls. While all the Sacraments were instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ, Baptism itself is explicitly mentioned several times in Sacred Scripture: John 3:3-5, Matthew 28:19, and Acts 2:38-39 are but three examples.

Baptism not only removes Original Sin but also, for the first time, places our soul in the state of grace. Baptism also removes any actual sins (mortal or venial) committed by a person up to that point. It also removes all temporal punishment for any sins committed up to that point. And it infuses in the soul both the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost.[5]

Mortal Sin Causes the Loss of the State of Grace

There is only one way to lose the state of grace – committing a mortal sin. Father John Hardon again provides a clear definition:

“An actual sin that destroys sanctifying grace and causes the supernatural death of the soul. Mortal sin is a turning away from God because of a seriously inordinate adherence to creatures that causes grave injury to a person’s rational nature and to the social order and deprives the sinner of a right to Heaven.”

Consequently, avoiding mortal sin is the most important action we can take to save our souls. This is why so many of the martyrs would choose torture and death over worshiping false idols or consenting to adultery or fornication. We must be willing to choose death over sin.

Confession Restores the Soul to the State of Grace

Through the Sacrament of Confession and the ministry of the ordained priesthood, Our Lord restores a soul to the state of sanctifying grace after it has committed a mortal sin.

The Sacrament of Confession restores a soul to God’s friendship; and Christ, through the priest, will forgive a person’s confessed sins. But the Sacrament of Confession does not erase the temporal debt incurred due to that sin (unless it is administered in conjunction with Baptism). Hence, there is a need for Purgatory since “nothing unclean will enter Heaven.” Purgatory is a great work of mercy on God’s part since Heaven is possible for us even after we sin.

Am I in the State of Grace?

To this question, we can listen to the words of Fr. Paul McDonald, who reminds us that while we can not know with absolute certainty if we are in the state of grace, we can through self-examination discern if we have any unconfessed mortal sins on our soul.


Pray for yourself, your family, and all people to receive the Sacraments with fervor and devotion, and to receive the Holy Eucharist only ever in the state of grace. The same is true for Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders and Extreme Unction, which must only be received by a soul in the state of grace.

The Catechism of St. Pius X states:

“These five sacraments – Confirmation, Eucharist, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders and Matrimony – are on that account called sacraments of the living, because those who receive them must be free from mortal sin, that is, already alive through sanctifying grace.”


[1] Fr. Adolphe Tanquerey, S.S., D.D. The Spiritual Life: A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology. Translated by Fr. Hermand Brandris, S.S, A.M. Society of St. John the Evangelist, printers to the Holy See in Belgium, 1923, with nihil obstat and imprimatur. No. 106. This work was a standard textbook in seminaries prior to Vatican II.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Keep in mind that in addition to concerning grave matter, a mortal sin must always involve knowledge and full consent. Therefore, one can never unintentionally commit a mortal sin. Moreover, no one can commit a mortal sin for another. Not even the devil can force a human person to commit a mortal sin. Therefore, the loss of sanctifying grace by a baptized soul, a falling out of the state of grace, is always a volitional, intentional act.

[4] Saint Alphonsus Liguori frequently said: “Only one thing matters, to save your soul!”

[5] This is explained at much more length by the great Dominican, Fr. Reginald Garrigou Lagrange. For those who wish to learn more, I recommend reading a summary of his Three Ages of the Interior Life at https://www.catechismclass.com/shop/lessons_detail.php?id=134