A Ticket to Heaven on Twitter: Pope Francis Offers Social Media Indulgences

These aren’t your great-grandma’s indulgences.

In the brave new world of social media, certain spokesmen from the Vatican have made a bold announcement: your participation in certain Catholic social media events can actually get time deducted from your stay in purgatory.

The terminology may not be familiar to those not steeped in Catholicism, so let’s take a moment for a quick refresher in Catholic theology: God will only allow the perfectly sinless to enter heaven. For most people, while their sins aren’t quite bad enough to earn them damnation, perfection is out of reach. So purgatory is a temporary punishment to purify them until they’re heaven-worthy. Purgatory can also be a place where people pay for sins that have been forgiven but still require some sort of time served.

The time one serves in purgatory is variable; you can shave time off your stay by performing acts of piety in life, or having others perform them in your name once you’re dead. This is why Catholics pray and offer masses for their faithful departed. Historically it’s been best known outside of the Church as a money-making scam: you have to pay for the priests to say the masses that will earn your loved ones a shorter purgatorial stay, so only the poor are stuck serving their full sentence. Indulgences are famous for having partially inspired the Protestant Reformation.

In modern Catholicism, however, indulgences are typically granted for activities that demonstrate extra faith: certain prayers and pilgrimages, for instance, will get all or part of your currently accrued sin wiped off your slate (assuming, of course, that you confess to a priest and show proper contrition). In September of 2012, Pope Benedict announced a fresh slate of indulgence-worthy acts for the upcoming Year of Faith (2012-2013), where he mentioned the possibility of gaining indulgences by reciting specific prayers “at a moment when the words of the Supreme Pontiff or of the Diocesan Bishops are broadcast via the television or radio” — a bit like a video game player inputting the proper cheat codes at the correct moment of game play.

And if you can do it with television or radio, why not with Twitter or Instagram?

Next week marks the beginning of World Youth Day celebrations in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Attendance at this celebration wipes the slate clean for all the Catholics who show up to see the Pope in person. But the Vatican, citing their mindfulness of the financial burden that could be involved in getting to Brazil, has decided to extend those indulgences to anyone who follows the Pope’s visit online, like on Twitter, in addition to the more traditional radio and televised media.

Mongsignor Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication, wants to clear up the media misconception that simply following @Pontifex on Twitter is enough to get you out of purgatory:

You don’t obtain an indulgence like you get a coffee from a vending machine. It’s not enough to just watch a Mass online or follow Pope Francis via live streaming on your iPad or by connecting to Pope2You.net. These are just devices. What really counts is that the Tweet that the Pope will send from Brazil or the photos from World Youth Day produce genuine spiritual fruit in the heart of the person.

Of course, “genuine spiritual fruit” is hard to measure, so you may just have to input the proper prayers at the correct time and hope your spiritual fruit is growing right.

(Image via nakedpastor)

About Sara Lin Wilde

Sara Lin Wilde is a recovering Catholic (and cat-holic, for that matter - all typographical errors are the responsibility of her feline friends). She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she is working on writing a novel that she really, really hopes can actually get published.