Here is an “Introduction to Indulgences” from www.catholic.org – the “fact driven, faith informed” pro-catholic website. After the introduction you will read “Myths About Indulgences” from www.catholic.com – These are both Catholic websites and gives the current state of affairs and apologetics from a Catholic standpoint.
It is self explanatory and deserves no additional comment from myself. Except to say “OH MY GOD THEY STILL DO THIS CRAP?”
An Example of a Modern Catholic Indulgence
Since my home parish of St Bernadette Catholic Church has a grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, visiting and praying at the grotto between Feb 2-11, 2008 qualifies for a special Papal plenary indulgence to encourage renewed holiness, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the appearance of Mary to St Bernadette Soubirous near Lourdes, France.
Our Lady of Lourdes grotto @ St Bernadette Catholic Church, Hollywood, FloridaAn indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment (in this world and in purgatory) due for sins committed. A plenary indulgence is the remission of all punishment.Â This is a tremendous gift from the Pope.Â To receive the indulgence, one should say the Our Father, Apostleâ€™s Creed and the Hail Mary at the grotto along with a prayer for our Popeâ€™s intentions and go to confession before Easter Sunday.Our Lady of Lourdes grotto @ St Bernadette Catholic Church, Hollywood, Florida
For more info & details, see article at Catholic News Service (CNS).
Thank you Jesus for your mercy and the Holy Catholic Church you have left us â€¦ with the treasury of your merits.Â May Our Lady continue to lead us to her Son, Jesus!Â Amen.
INTRODUCTION TO INDULGENCES
You don’t hear about indulgences anymore, at least not in Catholic circles. If it could be said that at one time they were over emphasized, it’s surely true that today they’re under-emphasized. Many Catholic simply don’t know what indulgences are, and they’re at a loss to explain the Church’s position on indulgences when challenged by fundamentalists.
And fundamentalists do bring up indulgences, perhaps because they know even less about them than the average, poorly-informed Catholic.
There is surely no better place to turn than to the Enchiridion of Indulgences. “Enchiridion” means “handbook,” and the Enchiridion of Indulgences is the Church’s official handbook on what acts and prayers carry indulgences and what indulgences actually are.
An indulgences is defined as “the remission before God of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned.” The first thing to note is that forgiveness of a sin is separate from punishment for the sin. Through sacramental confession we obtain forgiveness, but we aren’t let off the hook as far as punishment goes.
Indulgences are two kinds: partial and plenary. A partial indulgences removes part of the temporal punishment due for sins. A plenary indulgence removes all of it. This punishment may come either in this life, in the form of various sufferings, or in the next life, in purgatory. What we don’t get rid of here we suffer there.
TIME OFF FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR?
If you uncover a holy card or prayer book, you’ll notice pious acts or recitation of prayers might carry an indication of time, such as “300 days or “two years.” Most fundamentalists, and even many Catholics, think such phrases refer to how much “time off for good behavior” you’d get in purgatory. If you perform a pious act labeled as “300 days’ partial indulgence,” then you’d spend 300 fewer days in purgatory.
It’s easy to see how misinformed Catholics might scurry around for years, toting up indulgences, keeping a little register in which they add up the days. “Let’s see, last year’s tally comes to one thousand three hundred twelve years, give or take a week or so, and my lifetime tally is now past the twenty thousand mark. I can cancel out a lot of sinning with this!”
Or so some people might think. Well, there are no days or years in purgatory– or in heaven or hell, for that matter — and the indication of days or years attached to partial indulgences never meant you’d get that much time off in purgatory.
AS GOD SEES FIT
What it means was that you’d bet a partial indulgence commensurate with what the early Christians got for doing penances for a certain length of time. But there has never been any way for us to measure how much “good time” that represents. All the Church could say, and all it ever did say, was that your temporal punishment would be reduced — as God saw fit.
Since some Catholics were confused by the designation of days and years attached to partial indulgences, and since nearly all Protestants got a wrong idea of what those numbers meant, the rules for indulgences were modified in 1967, and now “the grant of a partial indulgence is designated only with the words “partial indulgence,” without any determination of days or years,” according to the Enchiridion.
To receive a partial indulgence, you have to recite the prayer or do the act of charity assigned. You have to be in the state of grace at least by the completion of the prescribed work. The rule says” at the completion” because often part of the prescribed work is going to confession, and you might not be in the state of grace before you do that. The other thing required is having a general intention to gain the indulgence. If you perform the required act but don’t want to gain the indulgence, obviously you won’t gain it.
The requirements for a plenary indulgence are tougher than for a partial. After all, a plenary indulgence remove all the temporal punishment due for the sins committed up to that time.
(If you sin later, of course, the temporal punishment connected with the new sins isn’t covered by the earlier plenary indulgence, but, at least the punishment for the old sins isn’t revived.)
“To acquire a plenary indulgence,” says the Enchiridion, “it is necessary to perform the work to which the indulgence is attached and to fulfill the following three conditions: sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion, and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff. It is further required that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent.”
THE TOUGHEST REQUIREMENT
The greatest hurdle is the last. Making a good confession is not particularly difficult, and going to Communion and praying for the Pope’s intentions are easier still. It’s being free from all attachment to sin that’s hard and it’s quite possible that even evi-dently good people, who seek plenary indulgences regularly, never, in their whole lives, obtain one, because they are unwilling to relinquish their favorite little sins.
There is an account of St. Philip Neri, who died in 1595, preaching a jubilee indulgence in a crowed church. A revelation was given to him that only two people in the church were actually getting it, an old char-woman and the saint himself. Not exactly encouraging, huh? But don’t worry. If you aren’t perfectly disposed and can’t get the plenary indulgence. you’ll at least come away with a partial.
It should be pointed out that the first three conditions may be fulfilled several days before or after doing the prescribed work, through receiving Communion and praying for the Pope are usually done the same day the work is performed.
By the way, the standard prayers for the Pope are one Our Father and one Creed, though you’re at liberty to substitute other prayers.
The bulk of the Enchiridion is a listing of indulgenced prayers and acts. First come three “general grants.”
The first says “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.” It is noted that this grant “is intended to serve as an incentive to the faithful to practice the commandment of Christ that `they must always pray and not lose heart'” (Luke 18:1)
The second general grant is this: “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.” This grant “is intended to serve as an incentive to the faithful to perform more frequent acts of charity and mercy,” as Christ commanded (John 13:15, Acts 10:38).
The third general grant provides that “a partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who, in a spirit of penance, voluntarily deprive them-selves of what is licit and pleasing to them.” This provision is meant “to move the faithful to bridle their passions and thus to bring to their bodies into subjection and to conform themselves to Christ in his poverty and suffering” (Matt 8:20, Matt 16:24).
After the discussion of the general grants comes a listing of miscellaneous prayers and acts to which indulgences are attached. This list is much shorter than in former years, the Church having decided to limit indulgences to the most important works.
There is no room or need to mention all the pious acts which are indulgenced, but it’s worth noting that a plenary indulgence is given for the recitation of the rosary in a church or family group (and not just the recitation, of course, but the fulfilling of the usual conditions for a plenary indulgence).
Likewise, first communicants and those who “assist at the sacred ceremonies of a First Communion — for example, the parents — can receive a plenary indulgence. And the same reward is given to those who, “with the veneration due the divine word, make a spiritual reading from Sacred Scripture” for at least half an hour. Even making the Sign of the Cross has a partial indulgence attached to it.
MYTHS ABOUT INDULGENCES
Indulgences. The very word stirs up more misconceptions than perhaps any other teaching in Catholic theology. Those who attack the Church for its use of indulgences rely uponâ€”and take advantage ofâ€”the ignorance of both Catholics and non-Catholics.
What is an indulgence? The Church explains, “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain defined conditions through the Churchâ€™s help when, as a minister of redemption, she dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions won by Christ and the saints” (Indulgentarium Doctrina 1). To see the biblical foundations for indulgences, see the Catholic Answers tract A Primer on Indulgences.
Step number one in explaining indulgences is to know what they are. Step number two is to clarify what they are not. Here are the seven most common myths about indulgences:
Myth 1: A person can buy his way out of hell with indulgences.
This charge is without foundation. Since indulgences remit only temporal penalties, they cannot remit the eternal penalty of hell. Once a person is in hell, no amount of indulgences will ever change that fact. The only way to avoid hell is by appealing to Godâ€™s eternal mercy while still alive. After death, oneâ€™s eternal fate is set (Heb. 9:27).
Myth 2: A person can buy indulgences for sins not yet committed.
The Church has always taught that indulgences do not apply to sins not yet committed. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes, “[An indulgence] is not a permission to commit sin, nor a pardon of future sin; neither could be granted by any power.”
Myth 3: A person can “buy forgiveness” with indulgences.
The definition of indulgences presupposes that forgiveness has already taken place: “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven” (Indulgentarium Doctrina 1, emphasis added). Indulgences in no way forgive sins. They deal only with punishments left after sins have been forgiven.
Myth 4: Indulgences were invented as a means for the Church to raise money.
Indulgences developed from reflection on the sacrament of reconciliation. They are a way of shortening the penance of sacramental discipline and were in use centuries before money-related problems appeared.
Myth 5: An indulgence will shorten your time in purgatory by a fixed number of days.
The number of days which used to be attached to indulgences were references to the period of penance one might undergo during life on earth. The Catholic Church does not claim to know anything about how long or short purgatory is in general, much less in a specific personâ€™s case.
Myth 6: A person can buy indulgences.
The Council of Trent instituted severe reforms in the practice of granting indulgences, and, because of prior abuses, “in 1567 Pope Pius V canceled all grants of indulgences involving any fees or other financial transactions” (Catholic Encyclopedia). This act proved the Churchâ€™s seriousness about removing abuses from indulgences.
Myth 7: A person used to be able to buy indulgences.
One never could “buy” indulgences. The financial scandal surrounding indulgences, the scandal that gave Martin Luther an excuse for his heterodoxy, involved almsâ€”indulgences in which the giving of alms to some charitable fund or foundation was used as the occasion to grant the indulgence. There was no outright selling of indulgences. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “[I]t is easy to see how abuses crept in. Among the good works which might be encouraged by being made the condition of an indulgence, almsgiving would naturally hold a conspicuous place. . . . It is well to observe that in these purposes there is nothing essentially evil. To give money to God or to the poor is a praiseworthy act, and, when it is done from right motives, it will surely not go unrewarded.”
Being able to explain these seven myths will be a large step in helping others to understand indulgences. But, there are still questions to be asked:
“How many of oneâ€™s temporal penalties can be remitted?”
Potentially, all of them. The Church recognizes that Christ and the saints are interested in helping penitents deal with the aftermath of their sins, as indicated by the fact they always pray for us (Heb. 7:25, Rev. 5:8). Fulfilling its role in the administration of temporal penalties, the Church draws upon the rich supply of rewards God chose to bestow on the saints, who pleased him, and on his Son, who pleased him most of all.
The rewards on which the Church draws are infinite because Christ is God, so the rewards he accrued are infinite and never can be exhausted. His rewards alone, apart from the saintsâ€™, could remove all temporal penalties from everyone, everywhere. The rewards of the saints are added to Christâ€™sâ€”not because anything is lacking in his, but because it is fitting that they be united with his rewards as the saints are united with him. Although immense, their rewards are finite, but his are infinite.
“If the Church has the resources to wipe out everyoneâ€™s temporal penalties, why doesnâ€™t it do so?”
Because God does not wish this to be done. God himself instituted the pattern of temporal penalties being left behind. They fulfill valid functions, one of them disciplinary. If a child were never disciplined, he would never learn obedience. God disciplines us as his children â€” “the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:6) â€” so some temporal penalties must remain.
The Church cannot wipe out, with a stroke of the pen, so to speak, everyoneâ€™s temporal punishments because their remission depends on the dispositions of the persons who suffer those temporal punishments. Just as repentance and faith are needed for the remission of eternal penalties, so they are needed for the remission of temporal penalties. Pope Paul VI stated, “Indulgences cannot be gained without a sincere conversion of outlook and unity with God”(Indulgentarium Doctrina 11). We might say that the degree of remission depends on how well the penitent has learned his lesson.
“How does one determine by what amount penalties have been lessened?”
Before Vatican II each indulgence was said to remove a certain number of “days” from oneâ€™s disciplineâ€”for instance, an act might gain “300 daysâ€™ indulgence”â€”but the use of the term “days” confused people, giving them the mistaken impression that in purgatory time as we know it still exists and that we can calculate our “good time” in a mechanical way. The number of days associated with indulgences actually never meant that that much “time” would be taken off oneâ€™s stay in purgatory. Instead, it meant that an indefinite but partial (not complete) amount of remission would be granted, proportionate to what ancient Christians would have received for performing that many daysâ€™ penance. So, someone gaining 300 daysâ€™ indulgence gained roughly what an early Christian would have gained by, say, reciting a particular prayer on arising for 300 days.
To overcome the confusion Paul VI issued a revision of the handbook (Enchiridion is the formal name) of indulgences. Today, numbers of days are not associated with indulgences. They are either plenary or partial.
“Whatâ€™s the difference between a partial and a plenary indulgence?”
“An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin” (Indulgentarium Doctrina 2, 3). Only God knows exactly how efficacious any particular partial indulgence is or whether a plenary indulgence was received at all.
“Donâ€™t indulgences duplicate or even negate the work of Christ?”
Despite the biblical underpinnings of indulgences, some are sharply critical of them and insist the doctrine supplants the work of Christ and turns us into our own saviors. This objection results from confusion about the nature of indulgences and about how Christâ€™s work is applied to us.
Indulgences apply only to temporal penalties, not to eternal ones. The Bible indicates that these penalties may remain after a sin has been forgiven and that God lessens these penalties as rewards to those who have pleased him. Since the Bible indicates this, Christâ€™s work cannot be said to have been supplanted by indulgences.
The merits of Christ, since they are infinite, comprise most of those in the treasury of merits. By applying these to believers, the Church acts as Christâ€™s servant in the application of what he has done for us, and we know from Scripture that Christâ€™s work is applied to us over time and not in one big lump (Phil. 2:12, 1 Pet. 1:9).
“Isnâ€™t it better to put all of the emphasis on Christ alone?”
If we ignore the fact of indulgences, we neglect what Christ does through us, and we fail to recognize the value of what he has done in us. Paul used this very sort of language: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christâ€™s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24).
Even though Christâ€™s sufferings were superabundant (far more than needed to pay for anything), Paul spoke of completing what was “lacking” in Christâ€™s sufferings. If this mode of speech was permissible for Paul, it is permissible for us, even though the Catholic language about indulgences is far less shocking than was Paulâ€™s language about his own role in salvation.
Catholics should not be defensive about indulgences. They are based on principles straight from the Bible, and we can be confident not only that indulgences exist, but that they are useful and worth obtaining.
Pope Paul VI declared, “[T]he Church invites all its children to think over and weigh up in their minds as well as they can how the use of indulgences benefits their lives and all Christian society…. Supported by these truths, holy Mother Church again recommends the practice of indulgences to the faithful. It has been very dear to Christian people for many centuries as well as in our own day. Experience proves this” (Indulgentarium Doctrina, 9, 11).
HOW TO GAIN AN INDULGENCE
To gain any indulgence you must be a Catholic in a state of grace. You must be a Catholic in order to be under the Churchâ€™s jurisdiction, and you must be in a state of grace because apart from Godâ€™s grace none of your actions are fundamentally pleasing to God (meritorious). You also must have at least the habitual intention of gaining an indulgence by the act performed.
To gain a partial indulgence, you must perform with a contrite heart the act to which the indulgence is attached.
To gain a plenary indulgence you must perform the act with a contrite heart, plus you must go to confession (one confession may suffice for several plenary indulgences), receive Holy Communion, and pray for the popeâ€™s intentions. (An Our Father and a Hail Mary said for the popeâ€™s intentions are sufficient, although you are free to substitute other prayers of your own choice.) The final condition is that you must be free from all attachment to sin, including venial sin.
If you attempt to receive a plenary indulgence, but are unable to meet the last condition, a partial indulgence is received instead.
Below are indulgences listed in the Handbook of Indulgences (New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1991). Note that there is an indulgence for Bible reading. So, rather than discouraging Bible reading, the Catholic Church promotes it by giving indulgences for it! (This was the case long before Vatican II.)
â€¢ An act of spiritual communion, expressed in any devout formula whatsoever, is endowed with a partial indulgence.
â€¢ A partial indulgence is granted the Christian faithful who devoutly spend time in mental prayer.
â€¢ A plenary indulgence is granted when the rosary is recited in a church or oratory or when it is recited in a family, a religious community, or a pious association. A partial indulgence is granted for its recitation in all other circumstances.
â€¢ A partial indulgence is granted the Christian faithful who read sacred Scripture with the veneration due Godâ€™s word and as a form of spiritual reading. The indulgence will be a plenary one when such reading is done for at least one-half hour [provided the other conditions are met].
â€¢ A partial indulgence is granted to the Christian faithful who devoutly sign themselves with the cross while saying the customary formula: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
In summary, the practice of indulgences neither takes away nor adds to the work of Christ. It is his work, through his body the Church, raising up children in his own likeness. “The Christian who seeks to purify himself of his sin and to become holy with the help of Godâ€™s grace is not alone. â€˜The life of each of Godâ€™s children is joined in Christ and through Christ in a wonderful way to the life of all the other Christian brethren in the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, as in a single mystical personâ€™” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1474 [Indulgentarium Doctrina 5]).
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004