What are Indulgences?

Steven PutmanAdult, News

What are Indulgences?

The Holy Father, Pope Francis, is granting special indulgences to the faithful during this difficult time. An indulgence is one of the great gifts of Christ’s Church.

In order to understand what an indulgence is, one must first understand purgatory. A soul goes to purgatory when one dies in the state of grace (not in the state of mortal sin) but still having disordered attachments to different goods.

What does that mean?

We all have attachments. Work, loved ones, possessions, food, comforts, admiration form others and so on. It is not sinful to have any of these things, but it is sinful, and an impediment to our perfection, if we place any of these things above God. That is why an attachment like this is called a “disordered attachment,” because the attachment is “not in the proper order.” In the end, the perfection we were all created for is complete detachment to everything but God. This way, we are completely aligned to God’s holy and loving will and would not hesitate to let go of anything for Him.

The soul’s time in purgatory removes all disordered attachments, thus perfecting our soul. The soul want’s this to happen, but during this time the soul is not “doing” anything to remove the attachments, this is all done by God’s grace. This is spiritually painful for our soul. The Church refers to time spent in purgatory as “temporal punishment.”

This is not punishment from God, but the result of our sinful attachments. Just as our body feels pain when we mistreat it and the healing begins, so it is with our soul as well.

An indulgence is the removal of temporal punishment. It comes from the authority of the Church to apply the good works of Christ and the saints to any of her members. It is akin to the healthy parts of the body working to heal the wounded parts. The Church is the Body of Christ and works in a similar way.

An indulgence is granted to a Catholic in the state of grace who:

  1. Perform a specific action prescribed by the Church (for instance, visiting a holy place or reciting a specific prayer).

  2. Prays for the intentions of the Pope (an Our Father and Hail Mary is acceptable)

  3. Receives the Sacrament of Confession.

  4. Receives the Sacrament of Communion.

While it is preferred that the prayers for the Pope’s intentions and Holy Communion be received on the same day the action is performed, doing so two weeks before or after the action is acceptable.

During this time of isolation and the temporary closing of churches, the indulgences the Holy Father is granting instead require that one has the will to receive Confession and Communion as soon as possible.

The Holy Father is granting something called a “plenary indulgence.” If all the above conditions are met, and you are also free from all attachment to sin, you would receive a plenary indulgence: the removal of all temporal punishment. If not, only a partial indulgence is received.

No one but God knows for certain when a plenary indulgence is actually gained, because only he knows whether a person’s dispositions are adequate. Particularly, the requirement that one be free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin, can only be known by God. If this dispositions are in any way less than complete, the indulgence will only be partial. The same provision applies to the three external conditions necessary to gain a plenary indulgence: sacramental confession, Communion, and prayer for the intentions of the Pope. If these conditions are not satisfied, an otherwise plenary indulgence becomes only partial.

A plenary indulgence can be gained only once a day. While receiving the Sacrament of Confession can cover multiple indulgences, prayers for the Pope’s intentions and reception of Holy Communion must be performed for each indulgence. For example, a person who performs four indulgences during this pandemic, would need to receive Holy Communion on the next four opportunities to do so.

Please read below the different Plenary Indulgences the Holy Father is granting during this time.