Indulgences; What are they? How to benefit from them?

Although men have often persecuted and even despised her, the Holy Church has never ceased to love them, offering them the most valuable aids for salvation. A prodigious example of this truth is the Indulgences, distributed by Divine Mercy through the Church. These have the power to erase our temporal punishments and lead us to the perfection of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Newsdesk (June 29, 2021, 13:46 PM, Gaudium Press) “To err is human!” One could well add to this famous saying through Christian words, “and to forgive is Divine.”

Whenever we commit a fault and offend the Divine Justice, Mercy is willing to forgive us in the sublime Sacrament of Confession.

However, there is still a magnificent splendor of God’s goodness little known by Catholics of our time, but very valuable for our sanctification: the Indulgences.

The Punishments of Sin

Every sin bears with it the guilt and penalties proper to the wrong act committed. In grave matters (mortal sin), the fault carries with it the eternal penalty. That is, a depriving of intimate union with God and making the soul deserving of hell – and the temporal punishment derived from disordered attachment to creatures and the effects of sin on the order of the universe.[1]

The pardon, granted through sacramental absolution, abolishes the eternal punishment. But, it still leaves the temporal penalty, which one must purify after death. This purification must take place after death, in the flames of Purgatory. Or even in this life, through true repentance, which in Gospel terms means metanoia. In other words, a change of mentality,[2] the abandonment of sin and the soul returning to God. Works of charity, sincere prayer, the practice of penance, and patience in adversity: all these are useful for the purification from temporal punishment.

However, we are not alone in this struggle to reach perfection.

The Communion of Saints in the fight against sin

The Holy Church is the depository of a boundless and mysterious treasure: the infinite merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Blessed Saints.

With this power, conferred by Jesus Christ on St. Peter and his successors, the Holy Church disposes of these merits for the benefit of the faithful. These merits erase before God the temporal punishment of sins already forgiven in the Sacrament of Confession.

The Church calls the use of this power: Indulgence.

“Indeed, in the Indulgence, the Church, using her power as an administrator of the redemption of Christ the Lord, does not content herself with praying, but by her authority opens to the conveniently disposed faithful, the treasury of the satisfaction of Christ and the Saints by the remission of the temporal penalty.”[3]

“An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by the power granted to her by Jesus Christ to bind and unbind, intervenes in favor of each Christian and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins.”[4]

Thus, when the Supreme Pontiff grants the gift of an Indulgence, “he dispenses the treasures of the mysteries of Jesus Christ and the Saints in his customary manner.”[5]

What are Indulgences?

The recent documents of the Magisterium define Indulgences as: “an indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”[6]

We have already mentioned the first elements of the definition above. It remains for us to deal with the division of Indulgences, who can receive them, and the “certain conditions” by which the faithful can attain them.

How are Indulgences divided?

“The Indulgence is partial or plenary, as it partially or totally releases from the penalty due to sins.”[7]

The Church grants the Plenary Indulgence to Catholics who perform some deeds accompanied by the proper conditions. They have the power to erase the entire temporal penance of the one who performs them. On the other hand, Partial Indulgences do not erase the whole temporal punishment, but part of it, according to the devotion and dispositions of the soul. ” For how much time in Purgatory this discount is equivalent to, God alone knows.”[8]

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When a Christian performs an act of charity, penance, or mercy, he obtains from God a certain satisfaction from his past sins. These have already been forgiven as a fault and consequently erased part of the temporal penalty. When the Church enriches these same deeds with a Partial Indulgence, God receives them with a doubled value. That is, the value of the good deeds added to the Indulgence.[9]

How to benefit from Indulgences?

Every baptized person in communion with the Church can benefit from Indulgences. The person has to have the intention to receive them at least in a general way, and that he performs the deeds according to the prescribed manner. And that he is in a state of grace (free from any mortal sin).[10]

The Plenary Indulgence includes three conditions for its acquisition: a sacramental confession, a Eucharistic communion, and prayers for the Holy Father.

Finally, for the Plenary Indulgence, the person must be completely detached from sin, even venial sin.[11] The reason for this condition is quite simple, as long as the affection for sin remains in the soul, certain guilt also remains. That is incompatible with the acquisition of the Plenary Indulgence since it has no power to erase the guilt of sin.

When any of these elements are missing to attain the Plenary Indulgence, Holy Mother Church grants that it becomes, at least, a Partial Indulgence. That is for the benefit of weak and fragile souls, who find it difficult to detach themselves from sin.

We will now answer some doubts that may have arisen throughout the last explanations.

Do the conditions for achieving the Plenary Indulgences have to be fulfilled on the same day of the Indulgence?

They can be accomplished before or after the deed enriched by the Indulgence. But, sacramental communion and prayers for the Pope are recommended on the same day of this act.[13]

An Apostolic Penitentiary document mentions the possibility of fulfilling the conditions of the Plenary Indulgences “about 20 days, before or after the indulgenced act.”[14]

What prayers should we recite for the Holy Father?

According to the norms for Indulgences, the recitation of the Our Father and the Hail Mary is sufficient. However, the Holy Church leaves the faithful free to pray any prayer, according to their devotion and piety towards the Holy Father.[15]

Does the Church require a Confession for each Plenary Indulgence?

It is possible to receive several Plenary Indulgences with one sacramental confession. One can receive it on different days since it is only possible to profit from one Plenary Indulgence per day, except for death. But for each Indulgence, a sacramental communion and the prayers for the Supreme Pontiff are required.[16]

How many Indulgences can we profit from by the day?

We can receive numerous Partial Indulgences a day, provided the person observes the proper prescriptions. However, only one Plenary Indulgence, except in the case of death. In that case, it is possible to receive an Indulgence even if one has already received one on the same day.[17]

Can one offer Indulgences for the souls of the deceased faithful?

Any faithful can apply Partial or Plenary Indulgences to the dead in suffrage.[18]

The Church has no power over the souls of the dead and, therefore, does not apply its authority. It applies, instead, to the supplication or petition, subject to the ordinary laws of prayer. Undoubtedly, it is most effective since it is a matter of the supplications of the Church herself, through the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ.[19]

Some deeds enriched with Indulgences

Among the various activities enriched by Holy Mother Church for Indulgences, we will present some more common in the Christian life of our times.

General Concessions

First of all, the Church points out some general concessions of Partial Indulgence, which concern the daily acts of a faithful Christian.

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Partial Indulgence is granted:

To the Christian faithful who, in the exercise of his duties and enduring the tribulations of life, turn to God with humble confidence by including some pious invocation – even if it is only mental.[20]

To the Christian faithful who, led by faith and with a merciful purpose, give themselves or their goods for the service of their brothers and sisters in need.[21]

To the Christian faithful who, in a spirit of penance, spontaneously abstain from something licit that is pleasing to him.[22]

To the Christian faithful who spontaneously add to their private daily lives some manifestation of the testimony of faith before others.[23]

Plenary Indulgence:

The Holy Church grants several concessions granted to the faithful who can benefit from the Plenary Indulgences. We will now list some of them.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for at least half an hour.[24]
The recitation of the Rosary in a Church, Oratory, in the family, or a religious community.
By “recitation of the Marian Rosary” is meant vocal prayer accompanied by pious meditation on the mysteries. For the Indulgence, the recitation of one mystery of the Rosary is sufficient.[25]
Pious reading of the Holy Bible, with proper devotion of the Divine Word, for at least half an hour.[26]
Pious exercise and meditation of the Stations of the Cross.[27]
Receiving the Papal Blessing directed Urbe et Orbe; of course, piously accompanied, by radio or television.[28]
By practicing spiritual exercises for at least three full days.[29]
By attending a First Communion or a First Mass.[30]
On the Day of the Faithful Departed (or from November 1 to November 8) devoutly visiting a cemetery to pray for the souls in Purgatory.
On the day of the Faithful Departed visiting a Church or Oratory and praying the Our Father and the Creed. With the consent of the Ordinary, you can also do it on the preceding or subsequent Sunday or All Saints’ Day.[31]
Renewal of baptismal vows at the Celebration of the Easter Vigil or on the anniversary of baptism.[32]

Partial Indulgence

Partial Indulgences can be gained with other deeds of piety or charity, for example:

With the act of Spiritual Communion.[33]
Any visit in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.[34]
With a devout Sign of the Cross, together with the recitation, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[35]
With the pious recitation of the symbol of the Apostles (“I believe”).
With dedication in teaching or learning Christian Doctrine.[36]
By reciting the proper prayers at the beginning and conclusion of the day, and of tasks and meals.[37]
With the pious recitation of the canticle of the Magnificat (“My soul magnifies the Lord”).
With the prayer of the “Angelus Domini” (or in Easter time the “Regina Cæli”), at midnight, at noon, or in the afternoon.[38]
With any (approved) prayer to the Blessed Virgin, e.g., “Remember O Most Blessed Virgin Mary,” “Salve Regina,” “Sub Tuum Præsidium,” “Mary, Mother of Grace,” “Holy Mary, help the miserable.”[39]
Preparing for the Sacrament of Confession, examining conscience with the purpose of amendment.[40]
With any mental, devout prayer for one’s edification.[41]
With the attendance, attentive and devout, of the preaching of the Holy Word of God.[42]

Plenary Indulgence for those suffering from Covid-19

In a recent document, the Holy See granted a Plenary Indulgence to the faithful, who suffer from Covid-19. It also gave it to health professionals, family members, and all those who care for them in some way, even spiritually, through prayer.

This same privilege is granted to the faithful, that is a victim of the Coronavirus and that is under quarantine “in hospitals or their own homes.” If with a spirit detached from any sin, they join through the media in the celebration of Holy Mass, the recitation of the Holy Rosary, the pious practice of the Way of the Cross, or other forms of devotion. Or if they at least recite the Creed, the Our Father and a pious invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, while offering this as a proof in the spirit of faith in God and charity towards their brothers and sisters; and with the desire to fulfill the usual conditions as soon as possible.” [43]

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It is possible to grant a Plenary Indulgence to those who are on the verge of death, provided they are willing and habitually recited some prayer during their lives. In this case, the Church supplies the three usual conditions, so it will no longer be necessary to fulfill them to obtain the full pardon of the temporal penalties.[44]

The Church comes to our help

The Holy Church, with the immeasurable gift of the Divine Mercy, distributes to her children this benefit that is “extremely valuable for the Christian people” and their sanctification. [45]

Moreover, as Benedict XVI instructs, “the use of Indulgences helps us to understand that we are not able, by our own efforts, to make reparation for the evil committed and that the sins of each cause harm to the whole community.”[46] Furthermore, “it shows us how intimate is our union in Christ and how much the supernatural life of each one can help others.”[47]

One must benefit from the merits of the Divine Redeemer, Our Lady, and the saints, which represent before God an invaluable treasure. “This treasure, then, He [God] has given it to be distributed for the salvation of the faithful, through Blessed Peter, who bears the keys of heaven, and his successors, his vicars on earth; and to be mercifully ministered, on pious and reasonable grounds, to those truly penitent and confessed, for the full or partial remission of the temporal penalty due for sins.”[48]

We are confident in the Divine Mercy and the intercession of our Mother and Lady, Co-redeemer of the human race. We trust that the faithful of our time will know how to benefit from the generous gift the Church of Indulgences offers for the salvation of souls. Therefore, the whole society will be increasingly configured with Christ Crucified to fulfill its vocation in this land of exile.

By Max Streit Wolfring

Compiled by Ena Alfaro

[1] Cf. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, n. 1472.

[2] Cf. CONVERSATION. In: BORN, Van den (org.). Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible. 6 ed. Petrópolis: Vozes, 2004, pp. 293-294.

[3] PAUL VI. Indulgentiarum Doctrina, Jan.1, 1967, n. 5.

[4] CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, n. 1478.

[5] LEO X. Cum Postquam, November 9, 1518. (DH 1448).

[6] PAUL VI. Op. cit., n.1; CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, 1471; CODEX IURIS CAONICI, 992; Enchiridium Indulgentiarum, n.1. July 16, 1999.

[7] PAUL VI. Op. cit., n.2.

[8] ROYO MARÍN, Antonio. Teología Moral para Seglares. 5. ed. Madrid: BAC, 1994, v. 2, p. 465.

[9] Cf. PAUL VI. Op. cit, n.5.

[10] Enchiridium Indulgentiarum, n.17.

[11] Cf Ibid, n.20.

[12] Cf. ROYO MARIN, Antonio, op. cit. Op. cit.

[13] Enchiridium Indulgentiarum, n.20, 3.

[14] APOSTOLIC PENITENTIARY. The Gift of Indulgence, n.5. January 29, 2000.

[15] Enchiridium Indulgentiarum, n.20, 5.

[16] Ibid., n.20, 2.

[17] Ibid., n.18.

[18] Ibid, n.3.

[19] Cf. ROYO MARIN, Antonio. Op. cit.

[20] Enchiridium Indulgentiarum. Concessiones Generaliores, n. I.

[21] Ibid., n. II.

[22] Ibid, n. III.

[23] Ibid, n. IV.

[24] Id. Concessiones, n. 7, 1.

[25] Ibid., n. 17, 1.

[26] Ibid., n. 17, 1.

[27] Ibid. n. 13, 2.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid. n. 10, 1.

[30] Ibid., n. 8, 1, 1; 27, 1.

[31] Ibid., n. 29.

[32] Ibid., n. 28, 1.

[33] Ibid., n. 8, 2, 1.

[34] Ibid. n. 7, 2, 1.

[35] Ibid. n. 28, 2, 2.

[36] Ibid., n. 6.

[37] Ibid., n. 26, 2.

[38] Ibid., n. 17, 2, 2.

[39] Ibid. 17, 2, 3.

[40] Ibid., n. 9, 2.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid, 16, 2.

[43] Apostolic Penitentiary. Decree of March 19, 2020. Available at: <http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/tribunals/apost_penit/documents/rc_trib_appen_pro_20200319_decreto-speciali-indulgenze_po.html>. Accessed May 16, 2021.

[44] Loc cit.

[45] PIUS IV. Benedictus Deus, December 4, 1563. (DH 1835)

[46] BENEDICT XVI. Sacramentum Caritatis, February 22, 2007, n. 21

[47] Ibid., n. 87

[48] CLEMENT VI. Unigenitus Dei Filius, January 27, 1343. (DH 1026).

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