No. 49 God’s Mercy to His Faithful through His Church
The doctrine and practice of indulgences which have been in force for many centuries in the Catholic Church have a solid foundation in divine revelation(1) which comes from the Apostles and “develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit,” [APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTION OF POPE PAUL VI “INDULGENTIARUM DOCTRINA” (Vatican II) 1st January 1967]
Our primary mission in this life is to love God, with allour being, do what He asks of us and to love one another. Despite all our efforts and good will, we tend to err, and to sin. Sometimes in big things, sometimes in little. Sometimes unwittingly, sometimes quite deliberately. Sometimes briefly and intermittently, sometimes continuously and over the long term. Our souls become stained in the process. When we die, even if repentant and with our sins forgiven, most of us would be in need of some form of purification before we enter into the presence of the God of Love, Who is Holy. That process of preparation and cleansing is what we call Purgatory. To assist in and to hasten our final meeting with the God of our joy, the Church, empowered by her Christ-given authority to bind and to loose, gives the baptised faithful the opportunity to draw from the treasury of Christ’s merits and the merits of the saints, a beneficence. By means of this beneficence, (here used instead of the more commonly used: ‘ alleviation of punishment’) remission may be gained, in whole or in part, of the quantum of purification that is due. This amelioration is by means of what we know and refer to as indulgences. Indulgences are applicable to sins whose guilt has been forgiven. They are available to the Christian who is suitably disposed, under conditions prescribed by the Church, by those authorised to grant indulgences. The Church can do this because, in the communion of saints, a link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is an abundant and wonderful exchange of all good things. The holiness of one profits others. Recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin. (Catechism of the Catholic Church Sec.1475) This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, mentioned in Sacred Scripture and in the tradition of the Church. “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” (2 Maccabees 12: 42- 45) From its beginning the Church has honoured the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead. Types of Indulgence An indulgence may be partial or plenary, aiding the cleansing and removal of part or all of the guilt and expiation owing on account of sin. The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the souls in Purgatory. Indulgences may not be gained for someone else who is still alive. They cannot be bought or sold. The recipient must be inwardly contrite, and have at least a general intention of gaining the indulgence, and must perform the acts stipulated and in the manner required. Plenary indulgences For these there must be the exclusion of all attachment to sin, even venial sin; and the performance of the requirements stipulated, as well as sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer for the pope’s intentions (commonly one Our Father and One Hail Mary, or any other prayer suited to their own piety and devotion). Preferably on the day itself, or some days preceding or following the performance of the prescribed work. Several plenary indulgences may be gained on the basis of a single confession, but only one on the basis of Eucharistic communion and prayer for the pope’s intentions. A plenary indulgence may be gained only once a day, excepting at the hour of death when a second may be gained. Where the required conditions are not satisfied, the indulgence gained will be partial Partial Indulgences These are available in abundance to Christian faithful who while performing their duties and enduring the difficulties of life, raise their minds in humble trust to God and make (at least mentally) some pious invocation Or who, prompted by a spirit of faith devote themselves or their goods in compassionate service to their brothers and sisters in need, performing works of mercy, either temporal or spiritual, for their body or spirit. Or who, in a spirit of penitence, voluntarily abstain from something licit or pleasing to them, thereby helping them to gain mastery of their bodies and conforming themselves to the poor and suffering Christ. There are other indulgenced grants attached to certain prayers, blessings, litanies, visits to churches and the use and veneration of sacred objects. Most consolingly, at the approach of death, a ministering priest may, and indeed should, impart to the one who is dying, an apostolic pardon with its attached indulgence. Even if a priest is not present, holy mother Church lovingly grants such a person who is rightly disposed a plenary indulgence, to be obtained at the approach of death, provided s/he prayed regularly in some way during her/his lifetime. (See Grant number 28, Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarium doctrina, norm 18) [References: Catechism of the Catholic Church; The Handbook of Indulgences &endash; Norms and Grants ISBN 978 0 89942 585 6 Catholic Book Publishing Corp., NY 1991)
Gracious God, we thank you for your mercy and love given to us through our Holy Mother, the Church. Purify her and make her your resplendent servant.
Vatican II emphasises the value of Indulgences (see the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, 1967)
All men who walk this earth daily commit at least venial sins; thus all need the mercy of God to be set free from the penal consequences of sin. The Church teaches and establishes that the use of indulgences must be preserved because it is supremely salutary for the Christian people and authoritatively approved by the sacred councils; and it condemns with anathema those who maintain the uselessness of indulgences or deny the power of the Church to grant them. The Church also in our days then invites all to ponder and meditate well on how the use of indulgences benefits their lives and indeed all Christian society. The use of indulgences effectively influences charity in us and demonstrates that charity in an outstanding manner when we offer indulgences as assistance to our brothers who rest in Christ.
Worthy of Consideration
When we speak of and seek to gain indulgences our main focus should be upon God’s love for us and the mercy He offers us through our Holy Mother the Church. We do this humbly and reject the promptings of our push button, slot-machine ‘Me’ culture in the context of indulgences. It is God’s grace and the sincerity of our response and devotion that matter.
The general requirements for gaining indulgences are to be free from mortal sin, to want the indulgence, and to perform the work required by the grant. Although there are plenary indulgences, which take away all the debt of sin, and partial indulgences, which wipe out only part of the debt, the former are far from easy to gain because they require the exclusion of all attachment to sin, including venial sin. Plenary indulgences also call for Sacramental Confession, Eucharistic Communion and Prayer for the Holy Father’s Intentions (within a few days of the work). Where these conditions are not fulfilled the indulgence received is partial. Some prayers and acts for which partial indulgences may be gained are listed below. (Those which carry the potential for being plenary are marked with an asterisk)
* Adoration of the most Blessed Sacrament. A plenary indulgence potential for those who visit the Most Blessed Sacrament for at least one half hour.
* Stations of the Cross.
* Recitation of the Marian Rosary, meditating on the mysteries, when recited in a Church or Oratory; or in a family, pious association or a religious community Five decades sufficient.
* Recitation of the Anima Christi (Soul of Christ..)
* Adoration of the Cross : to those who in solemn liturgical action of Good Friday devoutly assist in at the adoration of the Cross and kiss it.
* Visit to a Cemetery. (Only applicable to the souls in Purgatory when one devoutly visits and prays for the departed.)
A plenary indulgence is bestowed for this work each day between November 1 and 8 (otherwise partial)
* By following a Retreat. Available to those who spend at least three (3) whole days in the spiritual exercises of a retreat.
* Visit to the Patriarchal Basilicas in Rome. A plenary indulgence to those who devoutly visit one of the Patriarchal Basilicas in Rome and recite one Our Father and the Creed,
a) On the titular feast of the Basilica;
b) On any Holy Day of Obligation;
c) Once a year on any other day of one’s choice. (Remember the three constants are also required)
* Papal Blessing A plenary indulgence is granted to those who “piously and devoutly” receive, even by radio, the Blessing of the Pope when imparted to Rome and the world (Urbi et Orbi).
* Visit to a “Catacomb” (early Christian cemetery.)
* Act of spiritual Communion according to any pious formula * Recitation of the Apostles Creed or the Nicene-Constantinopolian Creed
* Office of the dead a partial indulgence to those who devoutly recite Lauds or Vespers of the Office of the Dead.
* “Out of the Depths” (De profundis). Psalm 129
* A partial indulgence to those who take part in teaching or learning Christian doctrine.
* Use of Articles of Devotion.
* Praying the Magnificat
* The Memorare
* In Articulo Mortis. (described earlier)