Plenary Indulgence for Year of Faith? What IS That?

Yeah, I know, indulgences have gotten a bad rap, thanks to past-abuse in our history, and myths do abound, but an indulgence is a good thing, and something that helps Catholics pursue active devotions and grow in understanding and piety. I’m really happy to read that the Vatican has decreed a plenary indugence for the Year of Faith:

During the whole span of the Year of Faith, proclaimed from October 11, 2012 to the whole of November 24, 2013, all individual faithful truly repentant, duly confessed, communing sacramentally, and who pray according to the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff, will be able to acquire a Plenary Indulgence from the temporal punishment for their sins imparted by God’s mercy, applicable in suffrage to the souls of the deceased faithful.

a.- Every time they take part in at least three instances of preaching during the Sacred Missions, or at least three lessons on the Acts of Vatican Council II and on the Articles of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in any church or ideal place;

b.- Every time they visit by way of pilgrimage a Papal Basilica, a Christian catacomb, a Cathedral; Church, a sacred place designated by the Ordinary of the place for the Year of Faith (for example between the Minor Basilicas and the Shrines dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the Holy Apostles and to Patron Saints) and take part there in some sacred function or at least pause for an apt time of recollection with pious meditations, concluding with the recitation of the Our Father, the Profession of Faith in any legitimate form, invocations to the Blessed Virgin Mary and, according to the case, to Holy Apostles or Patrons;

c.- Every time, in days determined by the Ordinary of the place for the Year of Faith (for example on the solemnities of the Lord, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on the feast s of the Holy Apostles and Patrons, on the Chair of Saint Peter), in any sacred place they participate in a solemn Eucharistic celebration or the Liturgy of the Hours, adding the Profession of Faith in any legitimate form;

d.- A day freely chosen, during the Year of Faith, for the pious visit of the baptistery or other place, in which they received the sacrament of Baptism, renewing the baptismal promises in any legitimate formula.

So, I know some are asking, “what is a plenary indulgence, anyway, and what does it do? Is it a “get out of hell free” card? Well, no. Let’s go to the Catechism, and search for “indulgences”:

X. Indulgences

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.”81
“An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.”82 Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead.

The punishments of sin

1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.83

1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the “old man” and to put on the “new man.”84

If that language seems too highfalutin’, Aggie Catholics has a good primer on the subject, and this is very straight-forward, too:

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 defined conditions through the Church’s help when, as a minister of redemption, she dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions won by Christ and the saints” (Indulgentiarum Doctrina 1).

This technical definition can be phrased more simply as, “An indulgence is what we receive when the Church lessens the temporal (lasting only for a short time) penalties to which we may be subject even though our sins have been forgiven.” To understand this definition, we need to look at the biblical principles behind indulgences.

Speaking of the Catechism, here is a free and painless way to learn a little from it, day by day. Just sign up.

Year of Faith entrusted to Mary:

Mary offered her very body; she placed her entire being at the disposal of God’s will, becoming the “place” of his presence, a “place” of dwelling for the Son of God. We are reminded here of the words of the Psalm with which, according to the Letter to the Hebrews, Christ began his earthly life, saying to the Father, “Sacrifices and offering you have not desired, but you have prepared a body for me… Behold, I have come to do your will, O God” (10:5,7)…The will of Mary coincides with the will of the Son in the Father’s unique project of love and, in her, heaven and earth are united, God the Creator is united to his creature. God becomes man, and Mary becomes a “living house” for the Lord, a temple where the Most High dwells.

…fifty years ago, Blessed John XXIII issued an invitation to contemplate this mystery, to “reflect on that union of heaven and earth, which is the purpose of the Incarnation and Redemption”, and he went on to affirm that the aim of the Council itself was to spread ever wider the beneficent impact of the Incarnation and Redemption on all spheres of life (cf. AAS 54 [1962], 724).

This invitation resounds today with particular urgency. In the present crisis affecting not only the economy but also many sectors of society, the Incarnation of the Son of God speaks to us of how important man is to God, and God to man. Without God, man ultimately chooses selfishness over solidarity and love, material things over values, having over being.

We must return to God, so that man may return to being man. With God, even in difficult times or moments of crisis, there is always a horizon of hope: the Incarnation tells us that we are never alone, that God has come to humanity and that he accompanies us.

The full text of the Pope’s really wonderful homily is here.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Joanne K McPortland

    Lots of opportunities! And not a Luther-irritating donation required for any of them. Yay!

  • Will

    I have not heard anything about indulgences in many years. I wonder if our pastor will speak about this.

  • Ted Seeber

    Get out of Purgatory Free! Still, not quite, more like an official declaration that a specific act will benefit your soul enough to wipe out your current, but not future, sin for your time in purgatory.

  • Stefanie

    I’ll bet a lot of us were pulling out the Catechism this morning — I certainly was.

    In high school history classes, they do love to dump on Catholics for the ‘get out of jail free’ cards given centuries ago. One of my Teen RCIA students asked about it on Wednesday, so I was already knee-deep in indulgence research before today’s announcement.

    I am thinking that many of the Year of Faith plenaries are quite do-able! Kinda neat that we get to talk about purgatory again…. :)

  • Manny

    After reading all the citations, I’m still a little confused. If the sin is forgiven, then what does the indulgence do?

  • Joyce Donahue

    So people are asking what are the “Holy Missions”? Anyone know?

  • Phil

    Manny, sin can be forgiven but the temporal punishment must still be satisfied, which will be by a plenary indulgence.

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  • Talking Mouse

    Manny let me try an analogy. You are a 10 years old, and your Mom has set the table with the nice china and the good glassware. You go and pull the tablecloth off the table, braking the china and glassware. That is the sin – a deliberate act against God (represented here by your Mom). You say you are sorry to your Mom (and your older brother say he will get new china and glassware (see below for more details)) and she forgives you — mending your relationship (forgiveness for sin).

    However, there is still glass and broken china all over the floor (the temporal punishment due to sin). Your Mom has you help her pick up the pieces and sweep the floor. Then because you ask if there is anything more you can do, your Mom says for the next two week you empty all the hampers of dirty laundry each day, so she can wash clothes. Notice that your “punishment” (helping pick up and emptying the hampers) in no way makes up monetarily for the cost of the china and glassware, but it is something that you can do as a 10 year old (penance and indulgence).

    Now your older brother, who loves both you and your Mom, goes out and works hard to earn the money to buy new china and glassware, so that everything can be the way it was before you pulled the tablecloth. (Christ paying the true price for our sins).

  • Greg


    This is the way it was explained to me:

    A child, throwing rocks, breaks a neighbor’s window. He goes to his father and owns up to be being responsible. The father (and the neighbor) forgives the kid for his misdeed. However, he still needs to pay for breaking the window. That is the difference between absolution and temporal punishment of sin.

  • J. H. M. Ortiz

    When I was substitute-teaching at a Catholic high school, the principal led thru a speaker-system piped into every classroom, morning prayers which included saying something like, “I intend to gain any indulgences attached to any good that I may do”. I assume, then, that by a general intention like that, it’s possible to gain indulgences without having to complicate one’s life by reading thru any sort of list of available indulgences.