Q&A on Indulgences

What is an indulgence?

An indulgence cancels before God the temporal punishment due for forgiven sins.

Forgiven sins can have punishments?

The forgiveness of sin absolves its eternal punishment; that is, restores our friendship with God and saves us from Hell. However, “temporal punishment” remains for sin for the purpose of the soul’s rehabilitation and to satisfy justice. This is why the priest in the confessional gives you a penance to do after you leave with all your sins absolved. Recall what Nathan told King David after the Lord forgave him (2 Samuel 12:9-14.) Even after forgiveness, there may be punishments to be paid.

What is the difference between a “plenary” & “partial” indulgence?

A plenary indulgence remits all temporal punishment due to sin, while a partial indulgence remits some of it. Note that sin’s temporal punishments are not synonymous with all of sin’s consequences. For instance, even after a plenary indulgence, we all still experience in our flesh the primeval consequence of sin: physical death.

How can the Church offer to do this?

The Church has authority from Christ to loosen and to bind, on earth and in Heaven. (Matthew 18:18) Thus, after sins are forgiven, she can satisfy remaining debts by drawing on and applying before God the superabundant merits won by Christ and his saints.

So the Church still grants indulgences?

In the 1500’s, some indulgences were granted for performing the charitable act of donating to the Church. The way some used the “sale” of indulgences as a fund-raising strategy scandalized many (including Martin Luther.) The Church abolished this means of gaining indulgences, but other means remain available.

How do I gain a plenary indulgence?

All plenary indulgences require the following:

  1. Go to confession.
  2. Receive the Holy Eucharist.
  3. Pray for the pope’s intentions (e.g., an Our Father & a Hail Mary)
  4. Do the indulgenced act in a state of grace and intending to gain the indulgence.
  5. And have no intention to sin again, even venially.

      (Note: One confession can be utilized for indulgences twenty days before or after, but each indulgence requires a distinct holy communion.)

What acts carry a plenary indulgence?

They include, among others:

  1. Visit the Most Blessed Sacrament for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Read the Bible for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Pray the Stations of the Cross.
  4. Pray one Rosary (five decades) in a church or as a family group.
  5. Pray the “Prayer Before a Crucifix” on a Friday in Lent after communion.
  6. Adore the crucifix liturgically on Good Friday.
  7. Visit a cemetery and pray for the dead on any day between November 1st and 8th.
  8. Worship at a First Communion Mass.
  9. Worship at a priest’s Mass of Thanksgiving (aka, “First Mass”)
  10. Hear sermons at a parish mission and be present for its solemn close.

Many other acts can also gain partial indulgences.

How often & for whom can I gain an indulgence?

One plenary indulgence can be gained daily and applied to oneself or to a deceased person. There is no limit for how many partial indulgences you can gain for yourself or a deceased person, and this type does not require the conditions of confession, communion, or prayers for the pope’s intentions. (Thanks to Pussywillowpress for the clarifying note below.)

2 Responses to “Q&A on Indulgences”

  1. pussywillowpress Says:

    Hi Father :),

    When I click the link about partial indulgences, I get a “404 page not found”.

    Also–although you can only get one *plenary* indulgence per day, you can get as many partial indulgences as you want (Manual of Indulgences, N18) & partials don’t require the conditions of Confession/Communion/prayers for the pope’s intentions (ibid, N20), so they’re a lot easier to get if you think to ask for them :).

  2. Fr. Victor Feltes Says:

    Thanks for the tip on partials.

    [Link fixed]

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