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Indulgences 101 – What You Can Gain While You’re Still Alive

The Catholic Church never stopped the practice of permitting the faithful to gain indulgences, contrary to popular belief. Like the belief in Purgatory, the idea of gaining indulgences gets a bad rap by people who frankly don’t know what they’re talking about. So here’s the skinny.

There are a myriad of ways to lessen our (or the souls for whom we are praying) temporal punishment due to confessed sin. That’s sin you have already confessed in the confessional. Even after performing the penance given us by our confessor, we still may have temporal punishment due. For instance, if you break your neighbor’s window and then tell him you are sorry. Good! But now you still have to fix his window.

Here’s another example: What kind of man would be like, “Hey Lord, I’m really sorry I’m looking at porn all the time. I’ll stop doing it, and go to confession, and that will make things right.” Don’t get me wrong. At least you know it’s wrong and that you absolutely need to run to confession. That’s good, but what if your porn addiction has been wrecking your marriage? What if your wife doesn’t trust you anymore? Don’t you still have to do things to regain her trust? That’s what’s meant by temporal punishment – punishment in time. You may have to spend years getting your wife to trust you again. Even though Christ died on the cross for remission of our sins, we still have to do things to show him we really are sorry, and we don’t want to hurt Him again and because when we sin, we sin against Him as well as the person we’re cheating on with say, porn.

Here’s what has to say about Indulgences:

An indulgence is the extra-sacramental remission of the temporal punishment due, in God’s justice, to sin that has been forgiven, which remission is granted by the Church in the exercise of the power of the keys, through the application of the superabundant merits of Christ and of the saints, and for some just and reasonable motive. Regarding this definition, the following points are to be noted:

In the Sacrament of Baptism not only is the guilt of sin remitted, but also all the penalties attached to sin. In the Sacrament of Penance the guilt of sin is removed, and with it the eternal punishment due to mortal sin; but there still remains the temporal punishment required by Divine justice, and this requirement must be fulfilled either in the present life or in the world to come, i.e., in Purgatory. An indulgence offers the penitent sinner the means of discharging this debt during his life on earth.

So I’ve been investigating all kind of ways we can gain indulgences, but before I do that there are distinctions to be made on types of Indulgences, so, once again,

An indulgence that may be gained in any part of the world is universal, while one that can be gained only in a specified place (Rome, Jerusalem, etc.) is local. A further distinction is that between perpetual indulgences, which may be gained at any time, and temporary, which are available on certain days only, or within certain periods. Real indulgences are attached to the use of certain objects (crucifix, rosary, medal); personal are those which do not require the use of any such material thing, or which are granted only to a certain class of individuals, e.g. members of an order or confraternity. The most important distinction, however, is that between plenary indulgences and partial. By a plenary indulgence is meant the remission of the entire temporal punishment due to sin so that no further expiation is required in Purgatory. A partial indulgence commutes only a certain portion of the penalty; and this portion is determined in accordance with the penitential discipline of the early Church. To say that an indulgence of so many days or years is granted means that it cancels an amount of purgatorial punishment equivalent to that which would have been remitted, in the sight of God, by the performance of so many days or years of the ancient canonical penance. Here, evidently, the reckoning makes no claim to absolute exactness; it has only a relative value.

God alone knows what penalty remains to be paid and what its precise amount is in severity and duration. Finally, some indulgences are granted in behalf of the living only, while others may be applied in behalf of the souls departed. It should be noted, however, that the application has not the same significance in both cases. The Church in granting an indulgence to the living exercises her jurisdiction; over the dead she has no jurisdiction and therefore makes the indulgence available for them by way of suffrage, i.e. she petitions God to accept these works of satisfaction and in consideration thereof to mitigate or shorten the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory.

And this from

Partial Indulgences:

Partial indulgences can be acquired as often as one desires. To gain a partial indulgence, one must do the following. These are “the usual conditions” for receiving a partial indulgence:

– Be in a state of grace (free of mortal sin). A good Confession isn’t otherwise necessary, but a contrite heart for even venial sin is.

– Intend to receive the indulgence

– Perform the prescribed action of the indulgence

There are three General Grants of partial indulgences and many Special Grants.

The General Grants:

First General Grant: A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who, in the performance of their duties and in bearing the trials of life, raise their mind with humble confidence to God, adding – even if only mentally – some pious invocation.

Second General Grant: A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who in a spirit of faith and mercy give of themselves or of their goods to serve their brothers in need.

Third General Grant: A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who in a spirit of penance voluntarily deprive themselves of what is licit and pleasing to them.

Special Grants:

Indulgenced prayers, either recited alone, alternately with a companion, or by following it mentally as another recites it

Indulgenced works, such as the devout use of a properly blessed article of devotion (Crucifix, Rosary, scapulars, or medals), reading Scripture, making the Sign of the Cross, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, etc.

Plenary Indulgences:

Plenary Indulgences can be acquired only once each day for the same work (unless one is at the moment before death, in which case he may acquire another. Another exception is on All Souls Day — November 2 — when the faithful may gain a plenary indulgence, only for the souls in Purgatory, as often as they want). Plenary indulgences are much more demanding than partial indulgences, for they require one to do the following. These are “the usual conditions” for receiving a plenary indulgence:

– Have the intention of gaining the indulgence

– Receive the Sacrament of Penance (within several days before or after the prescribed action of the indulgence, though the same day is best, if possible)

– Receive the Eucharist (within several days before or after the prescribed action of the indulgence, though the same day is best, if possible)

– Pray 6 Paters (Our Fathers), 6 Aves (Hail Marys), and 6 Glorias (Glory Bes) for the intentions of the Holy Father (within several days before or after the prescribed action of the indulgence, though the same day is best, if possible). The most recent Enchiridion prescribes at least one of each, but 6 is the traditional number.

– Perform the prescribed action of the indulgence. If the prescribed action of the indulgence requires a visit to a church or oratory, one must visit devoutly and recite 1 Our Father and the Creed. This doesn’t refer to any visits to a church for Confession or the Eucharist in order to fulfill the requirements listed above; it refers to such indulgences as those granted to the faithful for visiting a church on the day of its consecration, visiting their parochial church on its titular feast day, visiting the stational churches of Rome, etc.

– Be free from all attachment to venial sin

This last is most difficult, but if it can’t be fulfilled, a partial indulgence will be gained.

Some examples of ways to gain a plenary indulgence:

– Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for at least one hour

– Making the Way of the Cross or, if unable to get to a church, the pious meditation and reading on the Passion and Death of Our Lord for a half an hour

– Public recitation of five decades of the Rosary. This must be done vocally, continuously, and with the Mysteries announced out loud and meditated on.

– A plenary indulgence is granted on each Friday of Lent to the faithful who after Communion piously recite before an image of Christ crucified the prayer: “Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus.” On the other days of the year the indulgence is partial.

– A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who renew their baptismal promises in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil

– A plenary indulgence is granted when an Act of Consecration is publicly recited on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

– A plenary indulgence is received by those who publicly make the Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart on the Feast of Christ the King

– A pious visit to a church, a public or chapel on All Souls’ Day (November 2) with the prayers of one Our Father and the Creed; this indulgence is applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory.

–   A devout visit to a cemetery with a prayer, even if only mental, for the departed souls, from the first to the eighth day of November.

The complete list of indulgenced prayers and works are contained in a book called the “Raccolta” or the “Enchiridion” (pronounced “en-ki-RID-ee-un” and which means “handbook” or “manual.”) There are other enchiridia for other purposes, but if one speaks of “the Enchiridion” with no qualifiers, one generally means the Raccolta.

When looking at an old Enchiridion, or when reading old prayer books, one might see a period of time attached to a partial indulgence, e.g. “indulgence of 100 days.” This number indicates an amount of time of penance one was given in the early Church after a Confession, i.e., the priest would give someone a penance of a certain amount of time before he could be fully re-admitted into the Church (penances were much harsher back then!). After 1968, the indication of days in such a manner was done away with because it was not clear to some uneducated persons that the days did not refer to “time in Purgatory” Some were under the very mistaken impression that, say, “indulgence of 100 days” meant that one would spend 100 fewer days in Purgatory instead of its true meaning: that performing the prescribed action amounts to doing a penance of 100 days.