Q. I recently heard a priest speak about obtaining indulgences during the season of Lent. I thought the Church did away with indulgences years ago.
A. Seeking to obtain indulgences remains a noble and fruitful action in the spiritual life of the faithful. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that 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” (CCC 1471).
Mortal sin deprives us of communion with God. When we freely and with full knowledge commit grave sin, we choose to separate ourselves from God. Principally, this has an effect on us and God, but it also has other effects. Sin affects us, in tending us toward vice as opposed to virtue, that is, leaning toward bad moral habits instead of good ones. Our sins also have a negative effect on everyone in the world. Even venial sin habituates us to an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be corrected either on earth or in a state of purgation known as purgatory.
When penitents confess their sins with sincerity, contrition and a firm resolve to sin no more, their eternal punishment and guilt of the sin is removed. This is an encounter with the infinite mercy of God. Nevertheless, the temporal punishment due to sin remains. An indulgence removes that temporal punishment.
We recall that Jesus told St. Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19). The power to bind and loose is part of the treasury of the Church which is of infinite value. The Church has by her nature a great treasury of gifts that are of infinite value, as it holds the merits of Christ’s redeeming work for us.
An indulgence is granted by virtue of this power to bind and loose in the Church. According to the Enchiridion (Handbook) of Indulgences, “to acquire a plenary indulgence, it is necessary to perform the work to which the indulgence is attached and to fulfill the following three conditions: sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion, and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff. It is further required that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent.” One must be in the state of grace at the time the indulgenced work was completed.
The prayers for the Holy Father are left to the individual, but one Our Father and one Hail Mary are suggested. An indulgence is either “partial” or “plenary” (full) based on whether one receives a full or partial remission of the temporal punishment due to sin. One may receive only one plenary indulgence per day. It is fitting that the faithful receive the sacrament of confession and receive Holy Communion on the day the plenary indulgence is sought, but it is satisfactory that these sacred rites and prayers be carried out within several days (about 20) before or after the indulgenced act. Indulgences can always be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased, but they cannot be applied to other persons living on earth. (Apostolic Penitentiary, The Gift of Indulgence).
Examples of works where one may receive a plenary indulgence would include but not be limited to: praying for a half hour before the Blessed Sacrament, the reading of Sacred Scripture for a half hour, and the praying of the stations of the cross (any of which, of course, include the aforementioned prerequisites of gaining a plenary indulgence). Partial indulgences may be gained by reciting several different praying or performing various actions. Contact your parish priest or consult the Enchiridion of Indulgences for more information.
Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest..