This article discusses the often misunderstood doctrine of indulgences. Here is what the Catechism says:
1471 The doctrine and practice of indulgences in 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."
"An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin." The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.
What does it mean “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven”. If the sin has already been forgiven, then what else is there?
Let’s use an example, which will not be one from any of your lives, but I think is useful. Suppose someone committed a robbery and during the course of it they were injured. Of course robbery is a grave sin, let’s assume the assailant recognized that, and goes to confession. Being a heartfelt confession the priest provided absolution. But, remember this person was injured during the robbery. Although his sin was forgiven, he still has the injury.
That I hope makes sense on how we can commit a sin, be forgiven but still have negative affects from it. The Catechism then says the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions (the indulgence).
A person therefore can gain the indulgence “under certain prescribed conditions”. What are these conditions? We can read this from the Vatican Document INDULGENTIARUM DOCTRINA found here at:https://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_p-vi_apc_01011967_indulgentiarum-doctrina.html
In it we read:
To acquire a plenary indulgence it is necessary to perform the work to which the indulgence is attached and to fulfill three conditions:
1. sacramental confession
2. Eucharistic Communion
3. prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff
- It is further required that all attachment to sin, even to venial sin, be absent.
All of these conditions plus the right disposition must be met to receive a plenary indulgence anything less will result in a partial.
I heard a radio host articulate well what it means to have an attachment to sin. He explained that it would be like going into the confessional to confess a sin but thinking it sure was fun-to commit the sin. That would be attachment to sin.
With these conditions met we can now perform the “work”. INDULGENTIARUM DOCTRINA points to the Enchiridion Indulgentiarium for the collection of prayers and works. You can find this document at https://www.catholic.org/prayers/indulgw.php. It lists 70 works to obtain either plenary or partial indulgences.
As devout Catholics, there are three ways that we can obtain a plenary (with the conditions listed above met), that we do pretty regularly. These are:
- Adoration-visiting the blessed sacrament for at least one half hour
- Reciting a rosary- In a church or public oratory or in a family group
- Reading of sacred scripture-for at least one half hour
These three are readily attainable.
Some of the ways to easily obtain a partial indulgence are:
- Make the sign of the cross
- Pray the Anima Christi
- Recite the Apostles Creed
- Pray the Memorare
As the Catechism notes above The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead. We should obtain them for our loved ones and friends who have passed away. They likely, could be in purgatory, begging for our prayers. Think of the joy they will feel to finely enter the heavenly Kingdom.
Finely, I should note that in the past this practice was abused. But, we should recognize that it was an abuse by certain individuals, the practice itself is/was pious and holy. As I am writing this I am using my laptop to do good. The same laptop can be used for bad. The laptop itself is not bad, it would be me the person using it for such. Same as with indulgences they can be used for good, or as times in the past for the bad.