A Plenary Indulgence remits all of the punishment due to sin, so as you can imagine, it is a little more difficult to gain. There are conditions to be met, the same as for partial indulgences (baptized, in a state of grace, not excommunicated, intention to receive indulgence) AND for plenary indulgences, you must also be free from attachment to sin. What does that mean? It means that we are truly struggling against anything in our lives that we know is sinful in any way.
The Four Ordinary Ways to Gain a Plenary Indulgence are:
- Spending 30 minutes before the Blessed Sacrament
- Spending 30 minutes reading Sacred Scripture for devotional purposes
- Making the Stations of the Cross
- Saying a public Rosary. This includes saying a rosary in a religious group, in a family or if alone, in a church aloud or at least in a whisper
We may only gain one plenary indulgence per day (unless we are dying), which differs from partial indulgences, which have no daily limits.
When I read this information to my husband, he admitted that as a Catholic-schooled individual, he had NEVER heard of indulgences. I had heard/read about them but never really understood them. I think, like Purgatory, indulgences are not spoken of much. This probably has more to do with the trend today in not talking about unpopular things such as the existence of Hell, which I have maybe heard mentioned in a homily once or twice in the last 10 years. It is even a rare homily today that mentions the need for frequent Confession. Our generation of Catholics is very poorly catechized and we need to be our own advocates by taking on the responsibility of educating ourselves more than other generations have had to do. We have the benefit of many gifted priests and lay people who assist us in this way but we have to do our part by actively learning about the Catholic faith.The way I see it, going to Confession often, striving to stay in a state of grace and doing charitable and spiritual works can only benefit us. In and of themselves these practices give us a tangible way to benefit ourselves and those around us. The Church takes it a step further in that through indulgences, we can have a way to spiritually benefit ourselves and others. Indulgences can be applied to the Holy Souls suffering in Purgatory, or for ourselves when we need them in Purgatory. I think the ultimate charitable sacrifice is offering these for the suffering souls, whereby they will be our most generous advocates upon entering Heaven. It is a win-win situation no matter how you look at it.
Information on this post came from the book, "The End Times: What Catholics Believe about the Second Coming, the Rapture, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory and Indulgences by Fr. Frank Chacon and Jim Burnham.
Here is a quick, easy to read online article about the Myths of Indulgences.
An Article on Spirit Daily about the Holy Souls and how they help us.