QUESTION: What are INDULGENCES and do we still believe in them?
ANSWER: First of all, YES, as Catholics we still do believe in INDULGENCES! So, what are they? Remember the difference between the eternal punishment due to mortal sin and the temporal punishment due to sin? Well, an INDULGENCE is the remission before God of temporal punishment for sins whose guilt is already forgiven in the absolution we receive from the priest in the Sacrament of Penance, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful gains under certain and defined conditions by the assistance of the Church which, as minister of the redemption, dispenses and applies authoritatively from the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints (Code of Canon Law 992). The Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following: “An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishment due for their sins. The Church does this not just to aid Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity” (CCC 1478).
In general, the gaining of indulgences requires certain prescribed conditions, and the performance of certain prescribed works. To gain indulgences, whether plenary or partial, it is necessary that the faithful be in the state of grace at least at the time the indulgenced work is completed [have gone to Confession at least 8 days before or 8 days after the indulgenced work]. A plenary indulgence can be gained only once a day, while one may gain several plenary indulgences in a single day. In order to obtain it, the faithful must, in addition to being in the state of grace through the Sacrament of Penance: have the interior disposition of detachment from sin, even venial sin; received the Holy Eucharist on the day of the indulgenced work, and prayed for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff (the Pope). Prayer for the Pope’s intentions is left to the choice of the faithful, but an “Our Father” and a “Hail Mary” are suggested. One sacramental Confession suffices for several plenary indulgences, but a separate Holy Communion and a separate prayer for the Holy Father’s intentions are required for each plenary indulgence. For the sake of those legitimately impeded, confessors can commute both the work prescribed and the conditions required (except, obviously, detachment from even venial sin). Indulgences can always be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased, but they cannot be applied to other persons living on earth.