Monday, November 24, 2008


When one thinks of indulgences, we might picture a nice big slice of chocolate cake, dripping with lots of frosting (at least that's what I think of!) In the Catholic world, indulgences have a different meaning. Over the weekend, I decided to read about indulgences and try to make sense enough of the topic to compose a post. So here goes.

First of all, what is an indulgence?

From the Catechism, the official definition of indulgence: 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 prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfaction of Christ and the saints (CCC 1471)

So what exactly does that mean? To explain, first we need to understand that there are two consequences of sin: Guilt and Punishment. When our sins are forgiven in sacramental Reconciliation, the guilt is removed but there still remains the punishment due from those sins. We can either expiate the punishment in this life, or in the next (Purgatory).

With that said, the next question would naturally be, how can we expiate the punishment of our sins in this life after the guilt of them has been removed? The answer to that is through indulgences. There are partial or plenary indulgences. A partial indulgence remits some of the temporal punishment due to our forgiven sins, where a plenary takes away all the temporal punishment.

To receive a partial indulgence, there are usually conditions that need to be met. We must be baptized, in the state of grace, and have the intention of receiving the indulgence. There is no limit to the number of partial indulgences we may receive. The Bible mentions several ways to atone for sins: Prayer, fasting, good deeds and alms giving. The three ordinary ways to receive partial indulgences are:
  1. Saying a short prayer in the midst of our daily duties. The prayer can be silent or aloud, it can be our own words or memorized. Examples include the Sign of the Cross, Morning Offering, Act of Contrition, saying five decades of the Rosary.
  2. An act of charity (corporal or spiritual works of mercy). Examples include: feeding the hungry, helping the sick, comforting the sorrowful, or instructing someone in the truths of the faith.
  3. Abstaining from some permissible good. Examples include: giving up a meal, a favorite TV show, a dessert.

Other ways we can gain a partial indulgence:

  1. Visiting Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament for any length of time;
  2. Visiting a cemetery and praying for the poor souls in Purgatory;
  3. Devoutly wearing or displaying a crucifix, rosary, scapular or holy medal;
  4. Teaching or studying Catholic doctrine for any length of time.

So, as I'm reading this, I'm thinking that I do many of those things daily and/or weekly. BUT I am not gaining a partial indulgence only because I didn't state my intention to do so. The book says that to gain a partial indulgence we must express an intention to gain it (silently or vocally). Once we make an intention to gain a partial indulgence through a particular prayer or action, that intention remains for each subsequent prayer and action. This is so easy to do! If you are already doing these things, then why not gain the indulgence attached to them just by stating the intention!

Tomorrow I will talk about Plenary indulgences.

The information for this post came from the book, "Beginning Apologetics 8" The End Times: What Catholics Believe about the Second Coming, the Rapture, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory and Indulgences by Father Frank Chacon and Jim Burnham.

By the way, this book is fascinating and has a lot of great information. It was $5.95.

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