An indulgence to most people is a box of chocolates, a good bottle of wine, or any other number of self-rewards for the body. They bask in the enjoyment of some well-deserved pleasure, relishing the moment.
To a Catholic, however, an indulgence is a means of gaining spiritual rewards. Specifically, it is the remission by the Church of temporal punishment due to sins which have already been forgiven.
How does the Church come by this treasury of graces, and under whose authority can she dispense them? The Catholic Church holds a Treasury of Graces called indulgences that were earned by the infinite satisfaction of Jesus Christ, through His Passion, Death and Resurrection, as well as by the superabundant satisfaction of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, especially the martyrs.
The Blessed Mother lived a pure and sinless life, yet she suffered much, and had no need to use her many sufferings to expiate any sins of her own, because she was free from all sin from the moment of her conception. Her complete faith and love of God, united with her sufferings she endured alongside her Divine Son, (especially during His Passion), earned immeasurable graces for the treasury of the Church. All these graces, earned by Jesus and the saints, are at the disposal of the Church. The Catholic Church draws on this heavenly treasury to give remission to her members of the punishment due for sins that have already been forgiven.
Indulgences should not be overlooked in your spiritual journey towards heaven. We already know that they lessen or cancel the temporal punishment due our sins, but did you know they also console us as we consider the pains of Purgatory, giving us hope for less punishment of our own? And they encourage us to confess our sins so that we can obtain the graces the indulgence offers. Think of it a spiritual carrot dangling before you, well within reach if you will only grasp for it.
There are four conditions necessary to obtaining an indulgence. First, you must be baptized. Second, you must fulfill the conditions of obtaining the indulgence, which usually mean receiving Communion and praying for the Pope's intentions. Third, you must be in the state of grace; you cannot have mortal sin on your soul. Fourth, you must have the intention of earning the indulgence. A person can gain an indulgence only for himself or for the souls in Purgatory. You cannot gain an indulgence for another living soul. Only one plenary indulgence per day can be earned.We have all seen indulgences written below certain prayers that say things like “5 years indulgence” etc. Many people have mistakenly thought this meant they would receive 5 years off their Purgatory. It is actually written as a comparison to five years of penance that would have been done in the early days of the Church, and according to the rules of the Church of that time. It is only through the mercy of God that we will know exactly how much punishment due our sins that the indulgences we have earned on this earth will benefit us.
There are two kinds of indulgences: plenary and partial. Partial indulgences remit only part of the temporal punishment due your sins. A plenary indulgence takes away all the temporal punishment due your sins. This means that if you died immediately after receiving a plenary indulgence, you would go straight to heaven! To obtain a plenary indulgence, you must:
1) have the intention of gaining the indulgence
2) go to Confession and be free of all sin including venial sin at the time of saying the required prayers.
3)meet the four requirements mentioned earlier,
4) You must also not be in the habit of committing any sin, whether it is mortal or venial.
Some examples of partial indulgences are praying the Rosary, reading Scripture, making the Sign of the Cross, and visiting the Blessed Sacrament.
Plenary indulgences can be gained by:
- Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for at least one hour
- Making the Way of the Cross or, if unable to get to a church, the pious meditation and reading on the Passion and Death of Our Lord for a half an hour
- Private recitation of five decades of the Rosary. This must be done vocally, continuously, and while meditating on the Mysteries
- Public recitation of five decades of the Rosary. This must be done vocally, continuously, and with the Mysteries announced out loud and meditated on.
- A plenary indulgence is granted on each Friday of Lent to the faithful who after Communion piously recite before an image of Christ crucified the prayer: "Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus." On the other days of the year the indulgence is partial.
- A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who renew their baptismal promises in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil
- A plenary indulgence is granted when an Act of Consecration is publicly recited on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
- A plenary indulgence is received by those who publicly make the Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart on the Feast of Christ the King (last Sunday in October per the traditional calendar, last Sunday of Pentecost per the Novus Ordo calendar)
- A pious visit to a church, a public or chapel on All Souls' Day (November 2) with the prayers of one Our Father and the Creed; this indulgence is applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory.
- A devout visit to a cemetery with a prayer, even if only mental, for the departed souls, from the first to the eighth day of November.