What Is an Indulgence?
Last week I had the pleasure of announcing that St. Joseph Church has been named a temporary shrine for the Year of St. Joseph. Attached to this designation is the offer of a plenary indulgence by Archbishop Schnurr. Some have asked, “What is an indulgence?” This is a great question and something worth sharing. If you want to read the Catechism and see exactly what the Church teaches, look towards paragraphs 1471-1479. Also there is an episode of the Darting Through The Faith podcast entitled “Indulgences” from April 6, 2020.
“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian 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” (1471).
To understand this definition, we must understand the effects of sin. Sin deprives us of communion with God. We are also unhealthily attached to sin. We need to be purified, either in this life or the next, from this attachment. The purification from the attachment to sin is called temporal punishment. We can be purified from our attachment to sin in this life or in purgatory after death.
For example, if Johnny breaks Mrs. Smith window with a baseball, she can forgive him when he acknowledges his guilt. However, there is still repairing that needs to be done. He has to have the window fixed. Similarly in our souls, God forgives us, yet the effects of sin need to be repaired.
Because we are members of the Body of Christ, the merits of others come to our aid. The superabundance of grace won by Jesus Christ and the merits of the saints can be shared with us. We use the image of a treasury. There is a treasury of grace that the Church is able to share with Catholics because of our stockpile of grace won by Christ and His saints.
The Church is the dispenser of this treasury of grace through the gift of indulgences. She offers an indulgence for certain pious actions. The indulgence can be plenary, which means that all temporal punishment is forgiven or partial, which means that part of our temporal punishment is forgiven.
To obtain the plenary indulgence for the Year of St. Joseph one must 1) visit St. Joseph Church and devoutly recite the Our Father and the Creed 2) go to confession (at any Church) eight days before or after the visit 3) worthily receive Holy Communion 4) pray for the intentions of Pope Francis and 5) be free from all attachment to sin. If you aren’t completely free from attachment to sin, the indulgence is partial, not plenary.
There are many other ways to receive indulgences throughout the year. Some common ways to receive a plenary indulgence are: visiting a Church on its patronal feast day, reading Sacred Scripture for 30 minutes, visiting a cemetery and praying for the dead between November 1-8, participating in a Eucharistic procession, receiving the apostolic pardon as death approaches, or renewing baptismal promises on the anniversary of our baptism. There are many other ways to receive indulgences and they are described in the Manual for Indulgences.
We are incredibly grateful that the Archbishop has opened the treasury of the Church’s mercy upon us this year. Please take advantage of this wonderful opportunity multiple times. We can gain plenary indulgences for ourselves or for others, even if they’re deceased. It is a holy and venerable practice to continue to add to the Church’s treasury so that the grace of God can be shared with all God’s people.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Sean Wilson