Explanation of Indulgences

The Year of Mercy is coming up in December which is a time of special indulgences for the Church faithful.  It will last from Dec. 8, 2015-Nov. 20, 2016.  With that in mind, it is important to understand the basis for indulgences.  Here is a quick explanation:

1. “Let your love for one another be intense for love covers a multitude of sins”-1Pet. 4:8

  • This means that acts of charity or love can help make up for the (temporal) punishment due to sin.  This is because “God is love”(1Jn. 4:8) and so the more we love, the more we are made into the image of Jesus who conquered sin and death. 

2. “I will give you the keys to heaven.  Whatever you bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”-Matt. 16: 19

  • Jesus gives Peter and his successors (Jesus as God knew that Peter would not be the only one to lead his Church since he knew he was going to die; therefore we know that this extension of His authority would also reside with Peter’s successors) His authority of binding and loosing sins.  This verse is crucial to show that Peter and the his successors the Pope have the authority to forgive sins.

3. “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith must not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers“-Lk. 22:32

  • Peter is commanded by Jesus to strengthen the Church or in other words, use his authority to encourage the Church to be strong, to conquer sin (because this is the thing that weakens and enslaves us-see Jn. 8:34), and to live in the love that God made us for.  

Therefore, the Pope in his office of Chief shephard, and the “rock of strength for Jesus’ Church (see Matt. 16:18), encourages the faithful to grow in love by doing particular acts of charity such as studying Scripture, making a Holy Hour, praying a family Rosary, making a pilgrimage, etc (for a list of Plenary Indulgences, click here).  In doing so, they are drawn outside of themselves, thus make an act of love (love always goes out, never focuses just within) and as Scripture says, “cover a multitude of sins.” 

A Partial indulgence covers some of the temporal punishment due to your sins and a Plenary indulgence covers all the punishment due to your sin up to that particular point in time in which you do the charitable act.  In other words, it doesn’t make up for future sins.  In order to gain an indulgence, you must meet the following conditions:

  1. Be in the state of grace (Note: 1Jn. 5:16-17) 
  2. Recived Communion (the Sacrament of Charity as Pope Benedict notes in his Apostolic Exhortation: Sacramentum Caritatis
  3. Gone to Confession within 20 days of the charitable act (see Gift of the Indulgence, General remarks, 5)
  4. Said prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father (Usually 1 Our Father, 1 Hail Mary, 1 Glory Be)

If you do not have this fourth condition, you can only get a partial indulgence because love is meant to conquer sin, not make us dwell in it as it is the only thing that can seperate us from the love of God.   This is because when we in sin, we choose to seperate ourselves from God who is love; thus seperate ourselves from love which can only lead to misery. 

Thus, in this upcoming Year of Faith, let us deepen our faith and live it out through love by understanding, explaining, and embraces the multitude of indulgences that will be offered to us.  In it, we will be “strengthened by grace” (Heb. 13:9) and find the happiness and holiness that we were made for.