Indulge Me on This?

The teachings of the Church on Indulgences

Many of us have a poor understanding of some of the Church’s teachings on sin, forgiveness and punishment for sins. We know that we sin. And we know that we can be forgiven if we confess our serious sins (which we are obligated to do as Catholics once a year). But sometimes we don’t remember that we will have to suffer some temporal punishment in Purgatory for sins that we have committed – even if we have confessed them. But there is a remedy for that, and it’s a powerful one. Jesus gave the Church the power, through St. Peter and his successors, to take away that temporal punishment. The Catholic doctrine of the Communion of Saints teaches that this work of cleansing or sanctification does not have to be done entirely by the person directly concerned, since all Christians, living and dead, are united as a single body that has Christ as head. The holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus through the communion of saints, recourse not only to the merits of the saints in heaven but above all to those of Christ Himself lets the contrite sinner be more efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.

Jesus told the Apostle Peter that “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:19). When the Church takes away temporal punishment, it is called an “indulgence,” which can be a partial or full (“plenary”) remission of the temporal punishment of purgatory.

In view of the Church’s interpretation of the power of binding or loosing, the Church considers that it may administer to those under its jurisdiction the benefits of the merits of Christ and the Communion of Saints in consideration of prayer or other pious works undertaken by the faithful.

There is a common misconception that indulgences forgive sins; however, they only relieve the punishment due because of the sins. A person is still required to have their sins absolved by a priest to receive salvation.

Further, since those who have died are also members of the Communion of Saints, the living can help those whose purification from their sins is not yet completed not only by prayer but also by obtaining indulgences for them. Since the Church on earth has no jurisdiction over the dead, indulgences can be gained for them only per modum suffragii, i.e. by an act of intercession.

Besides special indulgences, which the Holy Father extends from time-to-time, one can always gain a plenary indulgence by some common devotions, including Adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist for at least half an hour, the pious exercise of the Stations of the Cross and recitation of the Rosary in a church. And there are conditions: We have to make a good sacramental Confession. We have to receive the Eucharistic. We have to pray for the intentions of the Holy Father. And we have to be completely unattached to any form of sin. If you had the chance to remit all of the pains of Purgatory, wouldn’t you want to take it? I know I will! I just need to get a priest to hear MY confession!