Maybe you know this, because a few websites have been talking about it today: On December 31, the last day of the year, the Church grants a plenary indulgence to persons who publicly recite or sing the Te Deum.
This opportunity for an indulgence—which was unknown to me until this week—is published in the Enchiridion of Indulgences. The Enchiridion (or Handbook) of Indulgences, published in 1968 by Cardinal Joseph Ferretto of the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary, is a complete listing of the works and prayers for which the Church has decreed that one’s sins may be remitted.
WHAT IS AN INDULGENCE?
An “indulgence” is “the remission before God of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned.” The first thing to note is that forgiveness of a sin is separate from punishment for the sin: Through sacramental confession we obtain forgiveness, but we aren’t let off the hook as far as punishment goes. A plenary indulgence removes all of the temporal punishment due for sins.
“To acquire a plenary indulgence,” says the Enchiridion, “it is necessary to perform the work to which the indulgence is attached [in this case, reciting the Te Deum] and to fulfill the following three conditions: sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion, and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff. It is further required that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent.” The conditions may be met on the day, or in a short period of time—usually within one week.
JUST WHAT IS THE TE DEUM, ANYWAY?
The Te Deum is a fourth century hymn which is often ascribed to Saints Ambrose and Augustine—or sometimes, to Nicetas, bishop of Remesiana. The hymn follows the outline of the Apostles’ Creed, mixing a poetic vision of the heavenly liturgy with its declaration of faith. Wikipedia explains:
Calling on the name of God immediately, the hymn proceeds to name all those who praise and venerate God, from the hierarchy of heavenly creatures to those Christian faithful already in heaven to the Church spread throughout the world. The hymn then returns to its credal formula, naming Christ and recalling his birth, suffering and death, his resurrection and glorification. At this point the hymn turns to the subjects declaiming the praise, both the universal Church and the singer in particular, asking for mercy on past sins, protection from future sin, and the hoped-for reunification with the elect.
At the end of the hymn are petitions drawn from the book of Psalms.
Here (below) are the English-language lyrics, followed by a solemn rendition by monks of the one of the Abbeys of the Solesmes Congregation.
TE DEUMO God, we praise Thee, and acknowledge Thee to be the supreme Lord.
Everlasting Father, all the earth worships Thee.
All the Angels, the heavens and all angelic powers,
All the Cherubim and Seraphim, continuously cry to Thee:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy glory.
The glorious choir of the Apostles,
The wonderful company of Prophets,
The white-robed army of Martyrs, praise Thee.
Holy Church throughout the world acknowledges Thee:
The Father of infinite Majesty;
Thy adorable, true and only Son;
Also the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
O Christ, Thou art the King of glory!
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When Thou tookest it upon Thyself to deliver man,
Thou didst not disdain the Virgin’s womb.
Having overcome the sting of death, Thou opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all
Thou sitest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou willst come to be our Judge.
We, therefore, beg Thee to help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy
Let them be numbered with Thy Saints in everlasting glory.
V. Save Thy people, O Lord, and bless Thy inheritance!
R. Govern them, and raise them up forever.
V. Every day we thank Thee.
R. And we praise Thy Name forever, yes, forever and ever.
V. O Lord, deign to keep us from sin this day.
R. Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.
V. Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, for we have hoped in Thee.
R. O Lord, in Thee I have put my trust; let me never be put to shame.