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Plenary indulgence offered for World Day of the Sick

Feb. 6, 2007 (CWNews.com) - The Vatican has announced a plenary indulgence for Catholics who, under the usual conditions, participate in prayer services for the World Day of the Sick: February 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

The same plenary indulgence is available to those who cannot participate in the special prayer services, “if on that day they generously provide, at least for a few hours, their charitable assistance to the sick as if they were tending to Christ the Lord Himself.”

The decree issued late on February 5 by the Apostolic Penitentiary calls for participation in the official World Day of the Sick ceremonies that will be held in Seoul, Korea, or “at any other place decided by the ecclesiastical authorities” where similar prayer services will be held. Those who are themselves sick or otherwise infirm can obtain the indulgence if they unite themselves to the Pope’s intentions, offer up their suffering, and “pray devotedly for the sick.”

The plenary indulgences are available under the usual conditions: that the individual make a sacramental Confession, receive Communion, prayer for the Holy Father’s intention, and be free from attachment to sin.

A partial indulgence is available to anyone who, between February 9 and 11, prays fervently for the sick, “especially those suffering incurable and terminal disease.”

The decree announcing the indulgence observes that “human remedies have a limit,” and Christians must help those who are terminally ill with their prayers, “so that their transit from this world to the Father is comforted by divine consolation and so that, as the Church’s prayer for the dying implores, they may see the gentle face of Jesus Christ and clearly hear the voice calling them to eternal glory and joy.”

I finally understand the logic behind the granting of temporal indulgences. I was confused about this matter for a long time. First, I didn’t understand how they worked, and what they were for. I believed, as some Protestants and some Catholics believed, that the granting of temporal indulgences means that you go straight to heaven, no questions asked. While this is not entirely wrong, it doesn’t capture the full meaning behind it.

Then after that, someone told me that granting of temporal indulgences was just a sneaky way of getting people to go for confession. And I believed that for a long time, since I didn’t understand what and how temporal indulgences worked.

The fourth paragraph of the article reads: “The plenary indulgences are available under the usual conditions: that the individual make a sacramental Confession, receive Communion, prayer for the Holy Father’s intention, and be free from attachment to sin.”

This paragraph was why I thought the granting of indulgences were just a way to get people to go for confession. But when I came across this article, I suddenly came to the realization of why the above paragraph that is not true.

When we go for confession or at any time that we receive forgiveness from our sins, it is because we have chosen God. By God’s grace, that grants us salvation. But even though our sins have been forgiven, they are not forgotten. Not by us, probably not by God, and not by the world. We still have to make amends for our sins. If not here, then in the afterlife. After all, making amends is all part of penance.

We cannot make complete amends for the consequences of our sins, because we never really know the full extent of what we’ve done has affected other people. It might have even affected people we don’t know. Thus, we can only make such amends in our afterlife, when God reveals it to us.

This amends that we make form the theology of the existence of Purgatory.

Some Protestants, and some Catholics, somehow believe that the Church teaches that there are three absolute ends to a soul - Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. That’s not what the Catholic Church teaches. There is only Heaven or Hell. If you are in Purgatory, that means that you’re already destined for Heaven. Purgatory is like the decontamination area for entry into Heaven.

Some Protestants, taking after Martin Luther, believe that the Church does not have the authority to grant indulgences, because they believe that indulgences equals salvation. That’s not true. Indulgences remove the temporal punishment that a soul experiences in Purgatory.

That means, a soul that has been granted a temporal indulgence has the consequences of his previous sins to that point wiped clean. It means that he has already made full amends for the consequences of his previous sins.

In addition to the usual conditions mentioned above, the granting of plenary indulgences also require that we make some additional sacrifice (see above).

Clarifications

The following are taken from the Wikipedia entry on indulgence:

Before the Second Vatican Council, partial indulgences were stated as a term of days, weeks, months, or years. This has resulted in Catholics and non-Catholics alike believing that indulgences remit a specific period of time equal to the length of the soul’s stay in Purgatory.

This was not true, rather the stated length of time actually indicated that the indulgence was equal to the amount of remission the individual would have earned by performing a canonical penance for that period of time.

For example, the amount of punishment remitted by a “forty day” indulgence would be equal to the amount of punishment remitted by the individual performing forty days of penance.

Under the current practice, lengths of time are not specified on indulgences so as to avoid confusion.

The original reasoning for the “days” notation was, in the early days of the Church, a person’s only means of returning to the state of grace was performing penances equal to the actions he had committed. Because a person may not receive Eucharist while not in a state of grace, he must perform these penances if he wished to be Catholic.

However, because some people had been professional thieves, prostitutes, or some other sinful individual, he would have to undergo hundreds of years of penance to get remission for his sins. To alleviate this, the Church instituted certain actions or prayers which would cleanse him for the amount of time noted.

This bit of prayers is interesting. Take a look below:

The following acts are examples of those which result in the award of an indulgence:

* An act of spiritual communion, expressed in any devout formula whatsoever, is endowed with a partial indulgence.

* A partial indulgence is granted the Christian faithful who devoutly spend time in mental prayer.

* A plenary indulgence is granted when the rosary is recited in a church or oratory or when it is recited in a family, a religious community, or a pious association. A partial indulgence is granted for its recitation in all other circumstances.

* A partial indulgence is granted the Christian faithful who read sacred Scripture with the veneration due God’s word and as a form of spiritual reading. The indulgence will be a plenary one when such reading is done for at least one-half hour [provided the other conditions are met].

* A partial indulgence is granted to the Christian faithful who devoutly sign themselves with the cross while saying the customary formula: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

* A partial indulgence is granted for the recitation of the Angelus.

* A partial indulgence is granted to Christian faithful who on day of the liturgical feast of any saint recite in that Saint’s honour and prayer taken from the Missal or other prayer approved by legitimate authority.

I never knew these! But then, if one were merely to perform these indulgences for oneself, would that not be selfish? I suppose the reason for indulgences is also the Church’s way of reminding us that we are all interconnected. We can’t truly celebrate in heaven while knowing that they are still people in Purgatory.

In addition to remitting punishment for the individual’s own existing sins, an individual may perform the actions necessary to gain an indulgence with the intention of gaining the indulgence for a specific individual in Purgatory. In doing so, the individual both gains the indulgence for the soul in Purgatory, and performs a spiritual act of mercy.

Finally:

To gain an indulgence the individual must be “in communion” with the Church, and have the intention of performing the work for which the indulgence is granted.

To be “in communion,” the individual must be a baptized Catholic without any un-reconciled mortal sins (if there are any un-reconciled mortal sins, the individual has cut himself/herself off from God and cannot receive the indulgence) and must not be dissenting from the Church’s teaching. The individual must also intend to receive the indulgence.

Generally, a plenary indulgence requires the following conditions in order to be valid (in addition to the acts performed to earn the indulgence).

* reconciliation, which is required for all indulgences

* receiving the Eucharist

* complete renunciation of all attachment to sin, including venial sin.

* pray for the intentions of the Holy Father. An Our Father and a Hail Mary said for the intentions of the Pontiff is sufficient, although you are free to substitute other prayers of your own choice.

It is recommended that the Communion be received at Mass on the same day that the indulgence is earned. Reconciliation may be within a prudent period before or after the act (typically, one week, though during the Great Jubilee, the Vatican specifically allowed confession within three weeks of the act).

Several indulgences may be earned under the same confession (reconciliation). If any of these additional conditions is missing, the plenary indulgence will instead be partial.

Penitential redemptions were a milder form of indulgence that cut down the time of penance.

Hope that helps to clear up the confusion about indulgences, although I think there’s still some parts that I’m confused about. Like how come the Church has the power to remove temporal punishment? Oh wait, that comes under merit, which would be like the spiritual treasure of the Church. The Wikipedia entry explains it well. I won’t reproduce it here.

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