Indulgence: What The Church Teaches

Indulgence: What The Church Teaches

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The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes an indulgence as “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints”.

The recipient of an indulgence must perform an action to receive it. This is most often the saying (once, or many times) of a specified prayer, but may also include the visiting of a particular place, or the performance of specific good works.

According to the teachings outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, two distinct types of consequences follow when a person sins: eternal and temporal.

An indulgence thus does not forgive the guilt of sin, nor does it release from the eternal punishment which Church doctrine associates with unforgiven mortal sins. The Catholic Church teaches instead that indulgences only relieve the temporal punishment resulting from the effect of sin (the effect of rejecting God the source of good), and that a person is still required to have his grave sins absolved, ordinarily through the sacrament of Confession, to receive salvation. Similarly, an indulgence is not a permit to commit sin, a pardon of future sin, nor a guarantee of salvation for oneself or for another. Ordinarily, forgiveness of mortal sins is obtained through Confession.

An indulgence may be plenary (remits all temporal “punishment” required to cleanse the soul from attachment to anything but God) or partial (remits only part of the temporal “punishment”, i.e. cleansing, due to sin). To gain a plenary indulgence, a person must exclude all attachment to sin of any kind, even venial sin, must perform the work or say the prayer for which the indulgence is granted, and must also fulfil the three conditions of sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and praying for the intentions of the Pope.

The minimum condition for gaining a partial indulgence is to be contrite in heart: on this condition, a Catholic who performs the work or recites the prayer in question is granted, through the Church, remission of temporal punishment of the same worth as is obtained by the person’s own action.

In Indulgentiarum doctrina Pope Paul VI wrote: “Indulgences cannot be gained without a sincere conversion of outlook and unity with God”.

Actions for which indulgences are granted

There are four general grants of indulgence, which are meant to encourage the faithful to infuse a Christian spirit into the actions of their daily lives and to strive for perfection of charity. These indulgences are partial, and their worth therefore depends on the fervour with which the person performs the recommended actions:

1. Raising the mind to God with humble trust while performing one’s duties and bearing life’s difficulties, and adding, at least mentally, some pious invocation.

2. Devoting oneself or one’s goods compassionately in a spirit of faith to the service of one’s brothers and sisters in need.

3. Freely abstaining in a spirit of penance from something licit and pleasant.

4. Freely giving open witness to one’s faith before others in particular circumstances of everyday life.

 

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