Indulgences: The Treasury of the Church

By Dina Pecaña

Have you ever come across the term “plenary indulgence” in your life as a Catholic? Or if you know what plenary indulgences are, do you fully understand their significance in your spiritual life?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), quoting Pope Paul VI’s Indulgenitarium Doctrina, defines indulgence as a “remission before God of temporal (or worldly) punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of satisfactions of Christ and the saints” (CCC 1471). In other words, an indulgence takes away the temporal punishment for sins that have already been forgiven by the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

To further define indulgence, it is helpful to know also what it is not. According to The Faith Explained by Leo J. Trese, “indulgence is not a permission to commit sin; it is not even a forgiveness of past sins.”

There are two kinds of indulgences available to the faithful – plenary indulgence and partial indulgence. A plenary indulgence is the remission (or forgiveness) of all the temporal punishment for our sins. Such an indulgence can be gained only once a day, except at the point of death. On the other hand, a partial indulgence is the remission of part of the temporal punishment due to our sins. Compared to plenary indulgence, partial indulgence may be received many times in a day. The Church sets the conditions by which we can gain indulgences and these are:

 1. Be in a state of sanctifying grace;

 2. Have the general intention of gaining an indulgence (Pray: Gracious God, I want to gain all the indulgences that I can during this week and always.);

 3. Do the works prescribed by the Church (Confession, Communion and prayer for the intention of the Holy Father; these are to be done especially if one desires to gain a plenary intention).

The above requirements are to be carried out according to the time, place and manner as prescribed by the Church in order to gain a particular indulgence.

The Church has listed and published in The Enchiridion (meaning list) of Indulgences all prayers and devotions to which indulgences have been attached. For example, plenary indulgences may also be received under the usual conditions by praying the rosary with a group and meditating before the Blessed Sacrament for at least 30 minutes. As for partial indulgences, did you know that these can be granted just by making the sign of the cross reverently?

In this Year of Faith (11 October 2012-24 November 2013), Benedict XVI calls us to go back to the basics of our Catholic Faith, the Catechism. It is also timely for us to study and understand the unending mercy of God by learning the plenary and partial indulgences that all faithful can receive in this grace-filled Year of Faith.

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