Excerpt from the Church Militant Field Manual:
In the last days of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate, he met with some American bishops in May of 2004 and recommended that U.S. Catholics recover “devotions of popular piety as a means of personal and communal sanctification” (Pooe John Paul II). Sadly, many wonderful Catholic devotional treasures had been discarded, by and large, during the rebellious days following the Council of Vatican II. But, by the grace of God, the practice of gaining indulgences for ouselves and the holy souls in purgatory is being restored.
What is an indulgence? The word comes from the Latin indulgentia, which means “to be kind or tender.” “To understand what an indulgence is,” writes contemporary author Steve Kellmeyer, “we have to know what our sin does to the world and ourselves. When we commit sin, two things happen. First, we kill the life of grace within us. This deserves punishment. Spiritually, a sinner is a dead man, walking. Second, by removing grace from ourselves, we also remove grace from the created universe. Thus, each sin, no matter how venial, attacks both the moral order of the universe and the very material of creation itself.”
The following explanation of indulgences comes from Steve Kellmeyer’s Calendar of Indulgences:
“Forgiveness: When God pours out mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, He does something we have no right to expect — He forgives our sins and restores the life of grace within us, resurrecting us from death. As a result, we must act (penance) to change our life and renew our way of living (amendment of life). However, though we have been resurrected, we still deserve punishment for the attack we made on God’s creation. Further, the horrible consequences of our attack, which removed grace from creation, continue to affect the world even if we ourselves have been healed through the sacrament. God expects us to help repair the damage.
“Repair Work: We can do this repair work either here on earth or in purgatory. Since God intended us to live with our bodies united to our souls, it is much easier to do this repair work here. In purgatory, our soul and body are separate. The suffering of purgatory is always much more painful than suffering on earth because it is harder to do the necessary repair work when the body isn’t around to help.
“The Storehouse: Cardinal John Newman said, ‘The smallest venial sin rocks the foundations of the created world.’ That is, even our smallest sin can cause devastating consequences in creation; famine, disease, natural disaster. However, through God’s grace, the holiness of even the lowliest saint far exceeds the harm even the greatest sinner can do. Further, Christ’s work on the cross is infinitely greater in merit than that of the greatest saint in Christendom, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thus, the graces won by Christ and the saints are an infinite treasure that can be used to heal the wounds of the world. God intends us to use this treasury — indeed; we could not help wipe out the effects of our sin without the divine treasury God established. An indulgence, then, applies the graces won by Christ and the saints to the world so as to heal the wounds I caused by my sins.
“A plenary indulgence heals all of the effects of one person’s sins. A partial indulgence heals part of the effects. One can win indulgences only for oneself or those in purgatory who have need of assistance because they currently lack bodies. Indulgences cannot be applied towards other living persons. Every living person is supposed to do his own acts of obedience to help heal the worldly effects of his own sinfulness (CCC 1471-1473).”
Requirements for obtaining a plenary indulgence:
- Do the work while in a state of grace
- Receive sacramental confession within 20 days of the work (several plenary indulgences may be earned per reception)
- Receive Eucharistic communion (one plenary indulgence may be earned per reception of Eucharist)
- Pray for the pope’s intentions (an Our Father and Hail Mary, or other appropriate prayer, is sufficient)
- Have no attachment to sin (even venial) — i.e., the Christian makes an act of the will to love God and despise sin.
Requirements for a partial indulgence:
- Do the work while in a state of grace
- Have the general intention of earning an indulgence
Comments from Jerry S. on “discovering indulgences” …
“Indulgences are a great blessing!
Not long ago I was a Lutheran scowling at such a ridiculous work of humans (and astounded to find out the Church still offered them). A few years pass, and now I’m in full Communion with His Church, in Mass nearly every day and trying to earn a daily plenary indulgence for someone who needs it most. God be praised.
The way indulgences are defined make them seem legalistic and picayune, but I can’t believe that’s the opinion of someone who’s actually tried to obtain one. The pursuit of a plenary indulgence is a sublime exercise in the pursuit of holiness. Prayers for the Holy Father? Nothing to it. Eucharist? Easy. Sacramental confession? OK, I can make time for that. Free from all attachment to sin, even venial? Excuse me? Has the scoffer ever tried to achieve that? That is not something you wake up in the morning and just decide to do that day. That is something you need to strive for with tons of help from Jesus. That makes indulgences penitential and sanctifying and an authentic call to discipleship.
I know I’m not ready for heaven, and most of my friends and relatives are in a boat at least as leaky as mine. We absolutely need someplace to purge the vestiges of sinfulness and prepare to be in the presence of God. If God wants to give us relatively easy ways to do penance and work off some of the just temporal punishment to come, praise His holy name! It is a huge comfort to know that I might be of some help to the suffering souls.”
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