Indulgences are a largely neglected treasure of the Church, but they are an amazing grace and should certainly be a part of our daily spiritual lives. Not only do they remit the punishment for our sins which will have to be paid in Purgatory, if we do not gain Indulgences on Earth; they can also keep us in communion with the Church Suffering in Purgatory. Imagine getting to Heaven and meeting a grateful soul for whom you gained a Plenary Indulgence!
What’s more, it’s not difficult to gain an Indulgence… you can get one just by making the Sign of the Cross! The question is not, “What can I do to get an Indulgence?” but rather, “Can I also get an Indulgence for the things I do?”. There are so many things in our daily lives enriched with Partial Indulgences! If only we would ask for them, we could release twice as much grace from our prayer & sufferings, for ourselves or for the souls in Purgatory who cannot help themselves. In this article, I hope to lay out some simple ways we can take advantage every day of these gold mines of grace and mercy.
All the information for this article I have taken from the Church’s official Enchiridion of Indulgences, issued on 29 June 1968, where you can find more details, more Scripture and more indulgences!
What is an Indulgence?
If you need an answer to this question, this article is not for you just yet! If the word still conjures up images of corruption and abuse, there are many good resources to help us sift myth from reality, which are just a ‘Google’ away (eg. Primer on Indulgences and Myths about Indulgences or Fr Martin J Scott’s explanation). But since they are part of the Church’s infallible teaching, I will assume that we are all fairly comfortable with what she really teaches. And if even then it presents a problem to us, it may be one of those things which we accept with obedience to the Church’s wisdom, and pray that we would come to understand in time.
“You were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds.”
“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Some “ground rules” for Indulgences…
From the “Normae de Indulgentiis”, which clarifies the details. The main ones are here, but you can view them all in the Enchiridion.
- You can gain an indulgence for yourself, or for someone who has died; however they cannot be applied to another living person.
- You cannot gain an indulgence by something you are obliged to do anyway, except if you are given a penance in Confession to which an indulgence is also attached – in which case, the one action can both satisfy the penance, and gain the indulgence.
- Plenary Indulgences (a total remission of all punishment due to sin) are limited to one per day, but Partial Indulgences (a remission of some punishment) can be gained as many times as possible during the day.
- An indulgence attached to a prayer can be gained by speaking it aloud, alternately with another, reading it mentally to yourself, or following while another is speaking it.
A Partial Indulgence remits some of the punishments due to sin, depending both on the action and on the piety with which it is performed.
Dispositions necessary to obtain a partial indulgence…
- Must have the intention of gaining the indulgence
This is important. You can’t get an Indulgence ‘by accident’. However, the Enchiridion does suggest that if you have the intention to gain the Indulgence every time you do a certain action, and never retract that intention, this counts.
- Must be a baptised Catholic
Else the Church has no authority over you.
- Must be in a state of grace
So go to Confession & confess all your mortal sins in number and in kind!
- Must have a truly contrite heart
Be sorry for your sins.
Three “General” Grants of Indulgences…
Of these three very general aspects of the Christian life, the Enchiridion says that, ‘should anyone be so zealous and fervent as to make such acts frequently in the course of a day, he would justly merit — over and above a copious increase of grace — a fuller remission of the punishment due for sin and he would in his charity be able to come to the aid of the souls in Purgatory so much the more generously.’ Each of these is explained with many references from Scripture, and the Second Vatican Council, in the Enchiridion.
- ‘OFFERING IT UP’ – “A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who, in the performance of their duties and in bearing the trials of life, raise their mind with humble confidence to God, adding — even if only mentally — some pious invocation.”
- ACTS OF SERVICE – “A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who, in a spirit of faith and mercy, give of themselves or of their goods to serve their brothers in need”.
The Enchiridion points out that, ‘not all works of charity are thus indulgenced, but only those which “serve their brothers in need”.’ Perhaps the Corporal & Spiritual Works of Mercy are a good guide.
- FASTING – “A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who in a spirit of penance, voluntarily deprive themselves of what is licit and pleasing to them.”
We are encouraged to have authority over our passions by fasting, so to conform ourselves to Christ’s poverty. The Enchiridion also reminds us that self-denial is more precious when it is united to charity (eg. Donating money saved).
Some more ways to gain a Partial Indulgence…
Please note that this list is not exhaustive, and a little research will reveal many more ways to gain Indulgences. I have just selected a few which strike me as simple and achievable on a regular basis.
- Make the Sign of the Cross, saying the words: “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
- Piously spend time in mental prayer.
- Read Scripture.
(Plenary if for more than half an hour.)
- Pray the Rosary.
(Plenary if recited in a Church. Plenary if recited in a group.)
- Visit and adore the Blessed Sacrament.
(Plenary if the visit lasts more than half an hour.)
- Devoutly use an article of devotion – Crucifix or Cross, Rosary, Scapular or Medal – properly blessed by any priest.
- Make a spiritual communion.
- Learn or teach Christian Doctrine.
- Visit a cemetery and pray for the dead.
(applicable only to the souls in Purgatory; this becomes Plenary between 1 Nov – 8 Nov).
Prayers to which are attached a partial indulgence…
Including a link to each prayer. These are my list of common or short prayers. The full list of indulgenced prayers is here.
- Sign of the Cross (see above)
- The Rosary (see above)
- The Creed
(Apostles or Nicene; NB not when part of Mass. Link to the New Translation, with explanations)
- The Magnificat
- Hail, Holy Queen (Salve Regina)
- The Angelus (or Regina Coeli during Eastertide)
- Psalm 50 – Miserere (Have mercy on me, God, in Your kindness)
- Psalm 129 – De Profundis (Out of the Depths)
- Adoro te devote (Godhead here in hiding)
- Anima Christi (Soul of Christ)
- Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord (applicable only to souls in Purgatory)
- Acts of the Theological Virtues and Contrition
- Act of Spiritual Communion
- To You, O Blessed Joseph
- Lord God Almighty (short)
- Angel of God, my guardian dear (very short)
- Visit, we pray You Lord, this dwelling (very short)
- Come Holy Spirit (very very short!)
- We give You thanks (very very short!)
- Mary, Mother of Grace (very very short!)
- Direct, we beg you O Lord (very short)
- Hear us, Lord (very short)
- O Sacred Banquet (very short)
- We fly to your patronage (very short)
Plenary Indulgences remit all punishment due to sin. They are therefore a slightly more serious undertaking…
Additional conditions necessary to obtain a Plenary Indulgence…
- Receive the Sacrament of Confession
A single Sacrament of Confession suffices to gain several indulgences within a few days (remember, one per day!)
- Receive Holy Communion
- Pray for the intentions of the Pope
Our Father & Hail Mary are suggested as a minimum
- It is further required that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent.
Yep, your eyes are not deceiving you! But do not be discouraged; note that it’s attachment (love of) the sin that must be absent… we are not, of course, expected to be sinless!
If any of these three conditions is not fulfilled, the indulgence will be only partial. Holy Church recommends that these actions take place on the same day as the indulgence, but if this is not possible, they can be done within a few days before or after.
Ways to gain a Plenary Indulgence…
- Visit and adore the Blessed Sacrament for at least half an hour.
- Pray the Rosary in a Church or in a group.
- Read Scripture for at least half an hour.
- Pray the Stations of the Cross, before any “legitimately erected” stations.
(ie, there must be fourteen crosses, to which it is customary to also present images of each station). There should be some physical movement from station to station, unless this is for some reason impeded. It is often helpful to use prescribed meditations & prayers, but all that is required is a personal meditation on each station.
- Receive your First Communion, or assist at a First Communion ceremony.
- VISIT a Church on the Feast Day of the saint to which it is dedicated, and there pray an Our Father and a Creed. (Or a religious order, on the Feast Day of their founder).
- ON ALL SOULS’ DAY: Visit any Church, piously, and pray an Our Father and a Creed for the dead (applicable only to the souls in Purgatory).
- 1st – 8th NOV: Visit a Cemetery and pray for the dead (applicable only to the souls in Purgatory).
- ON GOOD FRIDAY: In the Liturgy, adore & venerate the Cross by kissing it.
- AT THE EASTER VIGIL: Renew baptismal promises.
So how can we integrate all these opportunities for Indulgences into our lives? I would suggest a few steps…
- Read about and meditate upon how merciful God is, how horrible sin is, and Purgatory & the souls suffering there. Try to be mindful of this often forgotten part of the Church (and remember, they can also pray for you, if you ask them!).
- If you do not make (m)any of the above prayers or practices, incorporate them into your day, and watch the grace begin to flow.
- If you do, declare your intention to gain the Indulgence from them. The intention declared once, if unretracted, suffices for every time the action is done (though of course it’s good to keep remembering…)
- Make sure you fulfil the other necessary dispositions listed above. Daily examination of conscience and regular confession keep us in a state of sorrow for our sins and humble knowledge of our need for grace.
- Work on renouncing all attachment to even venial sins, so that you can pick up those Plenary Indulgences!
- Thank God for His mercy, and for establishing the Church!
Thank you for reading, please pray for me, and may we all meet the other side of Purgatory and thank God for His great merciful love!