The Church and Indulgences
People regularly ask me about the topic of “Indulgences” and since we are in November and we can gain many Indulgences for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, it seems opportune, once again, to give a brief explanation about this much misunderstood doctrine of the Church.
One of the great myths about Indulgences is that the Church has abolished them. Not true! You will find the teaching explained very carefully in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1471-1479) and Pope Francis has granted many. The Catechism describes an Indulgence as the remission of temporal punishment due to sin whose guilt is already forgiven in Confession (CCC #1471). They can be obtained by carrying out certain pious or charitable acts specified by the Church. A Partial Indulgence removes part of the punishment or debt due to sin, whereas a Plenary Indulgence removes all of it.
Every sin has two consequences: guilt and debt. In the sacrament of Penance we confess our sins, receive God’s forgiveness and perform a penance. So through a good Confession the guilt of our sins is removed, and if we have committed mortal or grave sin which cuts us off from God, we are restored to God’s grace and thus we avoid Hell. But the debt still has to be paid. An example: suppose I break my neighbour’s window, I might be very sorry about it and they might even forgive me, but I still need to pay the debt. And it’s the same with sin – God forgives us when we repent but we still have to pay the debt of our sins. That debt is paid either in this life or in Purgatory where God heals us and undoes the damage we have done. This is where Indulgences help us, because they help us to pay the debt of sin in this life.
We can also apply any Indulgences we gain to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. For example, the Church attaches a Plenary Indulgence to the recitation of five decades of the Rosary in a church or oratory or when it is recited in the family. We have the Rosary in the church every Tuesday evening at 6.45pm – an opportunity to gain a Plenary Indulgence! And in November, why not apply it to the Holy Souls? In addition to performing the particular act of devotion, one must be in a state of grace, have a detachment from all sin, even venial sin, make a sacramental confession within a week either before or after, receive Holy Communion, 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, but one must be in a state of grace. If anyone would like a more complete list of the Indulgences the Church grants, just ask me.
Father Paul Gillham IC