Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Deep-rooted Indulgences; What the Pope Seems to Be Teaching
ROME, DEC. 8, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Less than eight months into his pontificate, Benedict XVI has offered the faithful a third opportunity to receive a plenary indulgence. The plenary indulgence, marking the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the 40th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council, follows the indulgences offered for the Year of the Eucharist and World Youth Day. Cardinal James Stafford, the Church's major penitentiary, told me he believed that the decrees are indicative of the Pope's deep roots in the great tradition of the first millennium of the Church and his seeking ways to bring ecclesiastical renewal through the sacrament of reconciliation. "One of the best ways to do that is through a recovery of the true understanding of indulgences within the Church," the cardinal said. "And that teaching is profoundly rooted in the teaching of the Church Fathers."
The first millennium, he told me, "is very much taken up with an understanding of everyone's need for the mercy of God through the redemptive washing of our sins through the blood of Christ." Cardinal Stafford, 73, said the Pope "is very aware that we need to return to a consciousness of the deep gratitude that we owe to Christ for the great price he has paid for us in our sinfulness. And one of the ways to do that is to recapture the original meaning of the exercise of the power of the keys of Peter." The early Church laid much emphasis on those words of Jesus to the first Pope -- "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." The cardinal said that they saw the "primary exercise of these keys as relieving persons of the terrible burden of their own sinfulness through forgiveness, and the guilt that is due to their sins." "So the Holy Father is perceiving that it's important to recapture the experience of the first millennium and to some degree of the second also … as we see in the reform of the Catholic Church with the Council of Trent, especially in its Sixth Session dealing with justification, or how one is justified as a sinner before God," Cardinal Stafford said. The prelate described how, through these indulgences, the Pope helps us to reflect on our Church as a throne of grace and mercy, as well as the great community of God's people which is the "mediation of God's mercy and forgiveness here upon earth." Those interested in learning more could see Pope Paul VI's apostolic constitution "Indulgentiarum Doctrina."
(Taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church)

1471 The doctrine and practice of indulgences on the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance.

What is an 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 satisfactions of Christ and the saints.” (Paul VI)

An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part of the temporal punishment due to sin. Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead.

To gain an indulgence, one must gain it on the usual conditions which is to go to Confession either 8 days before or 8 days after gaining the indulgence, receive Holy Communion and pray one Our Father, One Hail Mary and one Glory Be for the intentions of the Pope.


The Catholic Encyclopedia states the following Regarding Indulgences:

The Council of Trent defined that indulgences are “most salutary for Christian people” and that their “use is to be retained in the Church”. It is the common teaching of Catholic theologians that

· Indulgences may be applied to the souls detained in Purgatory; and
· That indulgences are available for them “by way of suffrage”

(1) St. Augustine declares that the souls of the faithful departed are not separated from the Church, which is the kingdom of Christ, and for this reason the prayers and works of the living are helpful to the dead. “If therefore”, argues St. Bellarmine, “we can offer our prayers and our satisfactions in behalf of those detained in Purgatory, because we are members of the great body of Christ, why may not the Vicar of Christ apply to the same souls the superabundant satisfaction of Christ and his saints—of which he is the dispenser?” This is the doctrine of St. Thomas who asserts that indulgences avail principally for the person who performs the work for which the indulgence is given, if they but secondarily may avail even for the dead, if the form in which the indulgence is granted be so worded as to be capable of such interpretation, and he adds “nor is there any reason why the Church may not dispose of its treasure of merits in favor of the dead, as it surely dispenses in favor of the living”.

(2) St. Bonaventure agrees with St. Thomas, but adds that such “relaxation cannot be after the manner of absolution as in the case of the living but only as suffrage. This opinion of St. Bonaventure, that the Church through its Supreme Pastor does not absolve the souls in Purgatory from the punishment due their sins, is the teaching of the Doctors. They point out that in case of those who have departed this life judgment is reserved to God.


That an indulgence may avail for those in Purgatory, several conditions are required:

The indulgence must be granted by the Pope.

There must be a sufficient reason for granting the indulgence, and this reason must be something pertaining to the glory of God and the utility of the Church, not merely the utility accruing to the Souls in Purgatory.
The pious work enjoined must be as in the case of indulgences for the living.

If the state of grace be not among the required works, in all probability the person performing the work may gain the indulgence for the dead, even though he himself be not in friendship with God. Suarez puts this categorically when he says: the state of grace is required only to remove some hindrance to the indulgence, and in the case of the Holy Souls there can be no hindrance. This teaching is bound up with the doctrine of the Communion of Saints, and the monuments of the catacombs represent the saints and martyrs as interceding with God for the dead. The prayers too of the early liturgies speak of Mary and of the saints interceding for those who have passed from this life. St. Augustine believes that burial in a basilica dedicated to a holy martyr is of value to the dead, for those who recall the memory of him who has suffered will recommend to the martyr’s prayers the soul of him who has departed this life.


The Catholic Church has introduced some innovations into her discipline of indulgences (Apostolic Constitution, January 1, 1967) and has approved a new revised Enchiridon of Indulgences, which contains the following provisions:

The number of plenary indulgences is greatly reduced and all partial indulgences are left undetermined as to time, e.g., no more 100 days, 300 days, 21 years, etc.

Requirements for gaining a plenary indulgence are:
the performance of the work prescribed,
the fulfillment of the three conditions: confession, communion, prayer for the intention of the Holy Father, and
a disposition of mind and heart which totally excludes all affection for sin.

One confession suffices to gain a number of plenary indulgences, but a distinct communion and prayer for the Pope’s intention s are required each time.

Deserving of special mention and of special interest to the ordinary Catholic are the following good works for the performance of which the faithful can gain a plenary indulgence each day of the year:

1. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for at least one half hour.
2. Devout reading of the Sacred Scriptures for at least a half hour.
3. Reciting the rosary (five decades suffice) in a church or public oratory or in a family group (block rosary), a religious community, or pious association.
4. Making the Way of the Cross (Fourteen Stations). Those impeded for any legitimate reason and unable to go from station to station, e.g.: the sick, crippled, at sea, house bound, can gain the same indulgence by spending at least one half hour in pious reading and meditation on the Passion and Death of Our Lord. They must, however, fulfill the conditions: confession, communion, and prayer for the Pope’s intentions.

It should be remembered that:

1. No one can gain more than one plenary indulgence each day.
2. All indulgences (plenary and partial) are applicable to the Poor Souls.
3. One Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Glory Be suffice as prayers for the intentions of the Pope, but the faithful are free to use any other prayer.

The Church stresses the importance of gaining indulgences. It is recommended, therefore, that the children of the Church make a formal intention, here and now, of gaining all possible partial indulgences, e.g., the many signs of the cross the average Catholic makes each day. We are urged to avail ourselves of the tremendous grace of a plenary indulgence as often as possible.

Many saints extol the practice of gaining indulgences. Their reasons for preferring indulgenced devotions is that they spiritualize their minds and quicken their faith. Indulgences lead us to pray in a manner and about subjects which the church desires. . . .by the same act we not only pray, but we revere the Keys of the Church, we honor Jesus, His Mother, and the saints, we get rid of our temporal punishment, and which is the greater thing, we release the dead and so glorify God.

(Taken from the Raccolta)
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

Merciful Lord, Jesus, grant them everlasting rest.

The faithful who devoutly recite the 129th Psalm, De Profundis or who say the Our Father, Hail Mary and the Eternal Rest, in supplication for the faithful departed, may gain an indulgence every day in November and a plenary indulgence on the usual conditions, if this pious practice is repeated daily for a month.

The faithful who devoutly recite the 50th Psalm, Miserere for the souls detained in Purgatory, may gain a plenary indulgence once a month on the usual conditions for the daily recitation of the same.

The faithful who devoutly offer prayers at any season of the year in intercession for the souls of the faithful departed, with the intention of so continuing for seven or nine successive days, may obtain a plenary indulgence on the usual conditions, if they perform these devotions daily for the entire month. (Pius IX – Jan. 5, 1849)

The faithful who recite prayers or perform other devout exercises in supplication for the faithful departed during the month of November, may gain a plenary indulgence on the usual conditions, if they perform these devotions daily for the entire month.

Those, who during the aforesaid month, take part in public services held in a church or public oratory in intercession for the faithful departed may gain a plenary indulgence, if they attend these exercises on at least fifteen days and, in addition, go to confession, receive Holy Communion and pray for the intentions of the Sovereign Pontiff (Jan. 17, 1888)

The faithful, as often as they visit a church or public oratory, or even a semi-public oratory (if they may lawfully use the same), in order to pray for the dead on the day on which the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed is celebrated or on the Sunday immediately following, may gain a plenary indulgence applicable only to the souls detained in Purgatory, on condition of confession and Communion, and the recitation six times during each visit of Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for the intentions of the Sovereign Pontiff (June 25, 1914)

The faithful who during the period of eight days from the Commemoration of All Souls inclusive, visit a cemetery in a spirit of piety and devotion, and pray, even mentally, for the dead may gain a plenary indulgence on the usual conditions, on each day of the Octave, applicable only to the dead.

Those who make such a visit, and pray for the Holy Souls, on any day in the year, may gain an indulgence applicable only to the departed.

The faithful who make the Heroic Act of Charity (please see our section on the Heroic Act) in favor of the souls detained in Purgatory may gain a plenary indulgence, applicable only to the dead on any day that they receive Holy Communion, if they have made their confession and visited some church or public oratory and prayed for the intention s of the Sovereign Pontiff;’ and on any Monday of the year, or if some impediment arises, on the following Sunday, if they attend Mass in supplication for the faithful departed and moreover fulfill the usual conditions.

Priests who make the aforesaid heroic act may enjoy the indult of a personal privileged altar every day of the year (Sept. 30, 1852)

For more information on the Heroic Act of Charity, please see our section regarding the Heroic Act.

Other plenary indulgences can be gained on designated days. For example:

For those who assist at Adoration of the Cross and kiss it in the solemn liturgical action on Good Friday.

For those who on any Friday of Lent and Passiontide, after receiving Communion, [piously recite before an image of Christ crucified the prayer, “Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus.” On all other days a partial indulgence is granted.


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