THE HOLY YEAR OF MERCY INDULGENCE
One hardly hears indulgences mentioned these days partly due to abuses of them at the time of the Reformation, but the doctrine is part of our faith. (See “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” nos. 1471-1479). Due to space, this is a very brief explanation!
In the Church’s Handbook of Indulgences, an indulgence is defined as “the remission before God of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned.” We should note that forgiveness of sin is separate to the punishment for sin. Our sins are truly forgiven in confession but we still have to make up for or atone for them by good works or suffering patiently the trials of life. Otherwise we make atonement in the next life in purgatory.
Indulgences can be obtained by carrying out certain pious or charitable acts specified by the Pope. Indulgences can be plenary or partial. A partial indulgence removes part of the punishment due to sin, whereas a plenary indulgence removes all of it. We believe that the Pope has the power to grant indulgences by the “power of the keys” (Matt 16:19). This is possible due to the “treasury of merits,” which are the superabundant merits of Jesus Christ and those of Our Lady and the saints, many of whom through their heroic lives have done more than enough to gain entry to heaven for themselves, so there is a surplus of goodness referred to as the “treasury of the Church,” and it is possible for one person’s excess merit to be applied to another still in need.
Pope Francis has designated the four Holy Doors in Rome and those in the Cathedral of each diocese as well as in other churches designated by the bishop as places of pilgrimage for us to visit as part of obtaining the plenary indulgence during the Holy Year of Mercy. In addition to this, one must be in a state of grace, have a detachment from all sin, even venial sin, make a sacramental confession, receive Holy Communion, make a short meditation on God’s mercy and pray for the Pope’s intentions (an Our Father and Hail Mary suffice). If one doesn’t fulfil all these conditions, the indulgence is partial. 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. Indulgences are a wonderful way to help ourselves grow in virtue and holiness and of helping our departed loved ones.
Fr. Paul Gillham
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