by Paul A. Duffner, O.P.
Much of this Article is a Summary of the Enchiridion of Indulgences (1968)
issued under Pope Paul VI, and Published in English by the Catholic Book Publishing Company of New York. This Enchiridion (or Handbook/Manual)
contains, in addition to the
Apostolic Constitution on Indulgences, new Norms and Grants of Indulgences, and a List of
Seventy (70) Prayers and Individual Works enriched-with
Indulgences. "All General Grants of Indulgences not included in this same
Enchiridion", declared Pope Paul, "are hereby Revoked" (p.11).
What is an Indulgence?
An Indulgence is the Remission before God of the
Temporal Punishment due for Sins for which the Guilt has
already been Forgiven. This Remission of Punishment is Granted-through
the Intervention of the Church, which has the Power - granted by Christ - of
Dispensing-from the "Treasury" of the Superabundant Satisfactions of
Christ and the Saints.
To understand more-fully the above Definition, we will have to look briefly at several things:
1) the Punishment due for Sin;
2) the Solidarity of all Men by reason of the
Mystical Body of Christ;
3) the Spiritual Treasury of the
4) the Power of the Keys of the Kingdom Established-in
I - Punishment due for Sin
For each Sin that Man Commits, he incurs both a
Guilt before God (for it is Offense against the Friendship
between God and Man - which it Mars or Destroys), and a Debt of Punishment,
which Pope Paul VI declared "May remain to be Expiated or Cleansed and, in fact, Frequently does Remain even after the
Remission of Guilt" (p. 90) - even after Sacramental Confession. This is because of the
Imperfection of our Contrition or the Incompleteness of our Turning Away from
The Punishment Due for Sin can never be Removed as long as the
Guilt has not yet been Forgiven, i.e. as long as one has not yet Turned-to
God with Sincere Contrition and a Firm Resolve of
Amendment. This Debt may be Expiated in this Life by:
the Sufferings, Hardships and
Trials of each day Willingly Borne,
by Mortification Voluntarily Undertaken,
and above all by Death;
or in the Life Beyond, through the Purification of Purgatory.
It may also be Expiated by INDULGENCES, which can be Applied-to Oneís own
Soul, or the Souls in Purgatory.
II - The Mystical Body of Christ
An Essential Element in Indulgences is that the Satisfaction
performed-by One (1) Person can be Applied-to Another. This Transfer
is possible by Reason of the Communion of Saints, or the
Mystical Body of Christ. As Saint Paul explained, "Just as each
of us has One Body with Many Members . . . so too We, though Many, are One Body in Christ and Individually Members, One of Another"
Because of this Great Mystery, not only can the Fruits of
Christís Passion be applied-to His
Members, but the Christian Faithful can Help one another, as Pope Paul VI said in his Apostolic Constitution, by an "Exchange
of Spiritual Goods and Penitential Expiation . . . carrying their Crosses in Expiation for their Own Sins and those of Others, certain that they
can Help their Brothers to obtain Salvation from the Father of Mercies" (n.5).
III - Spiritual Treasury of the Church
This "Treasury" of the Church is the
Spiritual Storehouse containing the Infinite (∞)
Merits and Satisfaction of Christ,
and the Superabundant Satisfaction of the
Blessed Virgin and the Saints. Both Christ and
His Mother were without Sin,
so the Satisfactory Value of all their Good Deeds and
Acts was not-needed to Pay their Debt - for they had none;
and thus it can be applied-to the Debt of Others. The Saints too, although
they Sinned, offered-to God far-more Reparation than was needed to
Pay the Debt of their Sins.
All this Superabundant Satisfaction, which can be applied-to Others,
constitutes the Spiritual Treasury of the Church, the
Riches from which can be Applied-to Pay the
Debt of Punishment (in Whole or in Part), both of Souls on Earth, and the
Souls in Purgatory.
IV - The Power of the Keys
I will give you the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,
and whatsoever you Bond on Earth shall be Bound in Heaven,
and whatsoever you Loose on Earth shall be Loosed in Heaven
The Source of this Power is Christ Himself: "I will give you the Keys of the
Kingdom of Heaven; and whatever you shall Bind on Earth shall be Bound in Heaven; and whatever you shall Loose on Earth shall be Loosed in
Heaven" (Matthew 16:19).
The Power of the Keys includes not only the Power (flowing from Holy Orders) of Removing
Guilt of Grave Sin, and the Eternal
Punishment due it - in the Sacrament of Penance; but also,
apart from this Sacrament, the Jurisdiction of Dispensing-to
Souls (through Indulgences) the
Superabundant Satisfaction or Expiation of Christ and
the Saints, thus Lessening or Canceling (Loosing) the
Penalty of Temporal Punishment for Sin. When the Pope grants an
Indulgence for a given Act or Prayer,
he does so by Virtue of the Power of "Loosening" which Christ gave to
His Church, drawing from Her Spiritual Treasury, as we saw, the means
by which this Penalty is Satisfied.
The Church, however, has no Jurisdiction over the
Dead, and therefore She can Grant an
Indulgence in their Favor only by-way-of Suffrage, i.e. only by-way-of Petitioning
God to Accept these Works of Satisfaction on their Behalf. We can
never know how much Satisfaction God Accepts on their Behalf;
for this Reason it is Worthwhile to seek to gain a Number of Indulgences
(Plenary and Partial) for an Individual Soul.
A New Norm of Measurement
One Notable Change in the new Decree on Indulgences is that it has done away with the Former Manner of designating Partial
Indulgences by "Days" and "Years", for example, an
Indulgence of 100 Days. A New Norm has been established which takes into
account the Action itself of the Faithful who Performs a Work to which an Indulgence has been Attached.
Pope Paul VI points out in his
Constitution on Indulgences that any Good Work done for God has both a
Meritorious Value and a Satisfactory Value. The
Principal Fruit is the Merit, for it brings an Increase of
Grace; the Secondary Effect or Fruit is
the Remission of Temporal Punishment due to Sin. Speaking of this he said:
Since . . . the Remission of Temporal Punishment is in Proportion to the Degree that the Charity of the one
Performing the Act is Greater, and in Proportion to the Degree that the Act itself is Performed in a more Perfect Way, it has been
Considered Fitting that this Remission of Temporal Punishment which the Christian Faithful acquire through an Action should serve as
the Measurement for the Remission of Punishment which the Ecclesiastical Authority bountifully adds by way of Partial Indulgence.
The above Explanation might be expressed-by the following Example: If a given Act, because of the Charity
by which it was done, brought a Remission-of 5% of the Punishment due for
Sin, the Church (by way of a Partial
Indulgence) grants the Remission of an additional 5% of the
Punishment due. In other words, when One Performs a Good Work, Enriched-with a Partial
Indulgence, there is Granted by the Power of the Church that same
Amount of Remission of Temporal Punishment as already Gained by the Work
itself. That is to say, in such a Good Work, the Remission of the Temporal
Punishment - is Doubled.
The Church has Ceased to Grant Indulgences in Terms of
"Days" and "Years", because many of the Faithful concentrated more
on Seeking Richer Grants of Indulgences, than on the Faithful Fulfillment of the Duties of their State
in Life - which Merits an Increase of Grace, and which Saint Thomas
Aquinas says "Is Infinitely Greater than the Remission of Temporal Punishment"
(Summa-Supplementum 25,2,ad 2).
In a word, the Church would have us Devote more Attention to Living a Truly Christian Life, and to
Growing in the Spirit of Prayer and Mortification in keeping with the
Spirit of the Gospel, than to the mere Repetition of certain Formulas and Acts.
Three (3) General Grants of Indulgences
In order to Aid the Faithful to bring their Faith to bear on the Actions that go to make up their
Daily Lives, the Church has granted Three (3) General Concessions
in regard to the Gaining-of Partial Indulgences:
A Partial Indulgence is granted to the Faithful who, in the Performance of their Duties, and in
Bearing the Trials of Life, Raise their Mind with Humble
Confidence to God, adding - even if only Mentally - some
This First Grant is intended as an Incentive to the Faithful to Intersperse their Daily Duties with
Brief Interior Invocations that Help them to Fulfill their Labors and Bear their
Trials in Union with Christ. Note that only those Acts are
Indulgenced by which the Faithful, while Performing their Duties and
Patiently Suffering the Trials of Life, Raise their
Mind to God as indicated.
This shows that the Work involved in our Daily Duties, and the
Trials we Suffer, can Profit us either Little or Much (both as to the Increase of
Grace, and the Remission of the Debt of Punishment), depending on
whether we Fulfill or Bear them in a Spirit of Faith and of Prayerful
Resignation to the Will of God and a Desire to Help Souls;
or in a Selfish and Worldly Spirit - that is concerned only
about Worldly Goals and Satisfactions, with little Thought of God and little Concern for Others.
The "Pious Invocation" referred to can be any Ejaculatory Prayer
that Helps one to Raise the Mind and Heart to
God - "even if only Mentally". And the Holy See assures us:
"Should anyone be so Zealous and Fervent as to make such Act Frequently in the Course of the Day, he would
Justly Merit, Over and Above a Copious Increase of Grace, a Fuller Remission of the Punishment due for Sin, and he would in Charity
be able to come to the Aid of Souls in Purgatory so much the More Generously" (p. 32).
A Partial Indulgence is Granted to the Faithful, who in a Spirit of
Faith and Mercy give of Themselves or
of their Goods to Serve their
Brothers in Need.
This Second Grant is intended to serve as an Incentive to the Faithful to Perform more Frequent
Acts of Charity and Mercy, remembering the Words of
Christ, "As often as you did it for One of these, the Least of My Brothers,
you did it for Me" (Matthew 25:40).
The Decree states that not all Works of Charity are thus
Indulgences, but only those which serve "The Brothers in Need". Yet this can cover
a Great Variety of Good Works, such as we read in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity in the
2nd Vatican Council:
"Wherever there are People in Need of Food and Drink, Clothing, Housing, Medicine, Employment, Education;
wherever Men lack the Facilities necessary for Living a Truly Human Life or are Afflicted with Serious Distress or Illness, or Suffer
Exile or Imprisonment, there Christian Charity should Seek them out and ... Console them with Great Solicitude and help them with
Appropriate Relief ... Thus Attention is to be paid to the Image of God in which our Neighbor has been Created, and also to Christ
the Lord to Whom is Really Offered whatever is given to a Needy Person" (N.8).
A Partial Indulgence is granted to the Faithful who,
in a Spirit of Penance, Voluntarily Deprive themselves of what is
PERMITTED and PLEASING to them.
This Third Grant is intended to encourage the Faithful to Mortify
their Appetites and Bodily Satisfactions, and thus bring the
Body into Subjection, and more in Conformity-with the Poor and
Suffering Christ. As the Constitution of Pope Paul points out,
Self-Denial will be more Pleasing to God when it is
United to Charity; for example, when what one could spend on
Amusements or Self-Indulgence, is given to the Poor. As Pope Leo the Great says,
"Let what we Deny our Self by Fast - be the Refreshment of the Poor".
This Grant is offered by the Church at the Present Time when, with the Mitigation of the Law of
Fast and Abstinence, it is more than ever-Imperative that
Penance be practiced in Other Ways.
To Gain an Indulgence
The Recipient of an Indulgence must be "Baptized, not Excommunicated, in
the State of Grace at least at the Completion of the Prescribed Works, a Subject of the One Granting the Indulgence ... and have at least
a General Intention of gaining the Indulgence" (p. 25).
To gain a Plenary Indulgence, which removes all Temporal
Punishment due and which can be gained only Once a Day, in addition to the above, the Holy
See lists the following Requisites: "Sacramental Confession, Eucharistic Communion, Prayers for the Intention of
the Supreme Pontiff and the Absence of all Attachment to Venial Sin" (p.26).
Some Theologians are of the opinion that Plenary Indulgences are not gained as often as
some people think, because of the Difficulty of being Free-of all Attachment
to Venial Sin. If this Disposition is less-than-complete, or if the other Prescribed Conditions are not Fulfilled, a
Partial Indulgence is gained.
A Single (1) Sacramental Confession suffices for gaining
Several Plenary Indulgences; but
Communion must be Received and Prayer for the Intentions-of the Sovereign Pontiff must be
Recited for the Gaining of each Plenary Indulgence. One (1)
"Our Father" and One (1) "Hail Mary"
is sufficient in Praying for the Intentions of the Pope. (ibid. 28,29)
A Few Things to Remember
Both Partial and Plenary Indulgences can be Applied-to the Souls
While the Satisfactory Value of any Good Work can be Applied-to another Living Person, as we saw in
our Last Issue on Reparation, Indulgences cannot be Gained-for another Living Person.
The Faithful must remember that the Departed can be Assisted not only by means-of
Indulgences, but also by Other Ways: Prayers, Penitential Acts,
Works of Mercy, Almsgiving, and especially by the
Sacrifice of the Mass. (p.138)
While many Partial Indulgences have been Dropped-from the
Enchiridion/Raccolta, the Three (3)
General Grants described above, open-up Unlimited Opportunities for Partial
Indulgences, and in areas that go to the Heart of the Christian Life.
Among the various Works and Prayers of which one can Gain a
Plenary Indulgence, the Enchiridion singled-out the following:
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for at least Half an Hour.
Devout Reading of Sacred Scripture for at least Half an Hour.
The Way of the Cross.
The Rosary, when Recited in a Church or Public Oratory, in the Family, or in a Religious
Community or Pious Association (p.45).
Indulgences, et al, Reflect the
Infinite Mercy of God
We can only remain in Silent Awe at the Infinity of the Goodness and Mercy of God
Who did not spare His only-begotten Son. For had His Goodness and Mercy been less than Infinite, surely either the Earth would
have opened to take His Tormentors down alive into Hell, or the very Universe itself would have Crashed at His Feet like a Fiery
Comet streaking into Nothingness.
(God of Mercy)
(God of Justice)
Has Jurisdiction over the Living in
Loosing and Binding.
Has no Jurisdiction over the Dead.
God's Strict Justice Prevails instead.
"It's a Sign for the End Times; after it will come the Day of Justice. While there is still
time, let them have Recourse to the Fount of My Mercy; let them Profit from the Blood and Water which Gushed Forth for them"
(848). "Before I come as a Just Judge, I First open wide the Doors of My Mercy. He
who Refuses to Pass Through the Doors of My Mercy must Pass Through the Doors of My Justice" (1146).
Take Full Advantage of God's Mercy, and the Help of the Church, while you are still Living. The Blood and Water
which Gushed from the Side of Christ, founded the Church and its Holy Sacraments. Baptism opens-wide the Doors to God's Mercy.
Yes, for the Living only
None, except by Suffrage
"Pray, Pray very much, make Sacrifices for Sinners, for many Souls go to Hell because
there is no one to offer Prayers and Sacrifices for them" (Our Lady of Fatima).
The Church has the Jurisdiction of dispensing-to
Souls of the Living, (through Indulgences) the
Superabundant Satisfaction or Expiation of
Christ and the Saints, thus Lessening or Canceling
(Loosing) the Penalty of Temporal Punishment for
Sin. Note Well, the Church has
no Jurisdiction over the Dead, and therefore
She can Grant an Indulgence in their Favor only
by-way-of Suffrage, i.e. only by-way-of Petitioning
God to Accept these Works of Satisfaction on their Behalf. We can never
Know how much Satisfaction God Accepts on their Behalf;
for this Reason it is Worthwhile to seek to Gain a Number of
Indulgences (Plenary and Partial) for an Individual Soul.