|Indulgence: means that by the remission
of the temporal punishments for sin,
remaining after the reception of the
Sacrament of Penance, the last effects
of sin are removed. Contrition and
confession is demanded as a condition
for the fruitful reception of an indulgence.
Again, an Indulgence is not a mere
remission of canonical punishments, but
a remission of the temporal punishments
for sin imposed by God.
The word Indulgence originally meant kindness or favor; in post-classic Latin it
came to mean the remission of a tax or debt. In Roman Law and in the Vulgate of
the Old Testament (Is., lxi, 1) it was used to express release from captivity or
punishment. In theological language also the word is sometimes employed in its
primary sense, to signify the kindness and mercy of God.
An indulgence is understood to be the remission of the temporal punishments of
sin remaining after the forgiveness of the guilt of sin through the Sacrament of
It is granted to the living by way of absolution and to the dead by way of
intercession. Remission is not a forgiveness of sin, but it presupposes as a
necessary precondition that the sin has been forgiven.
the Sacrament of Penance, with sincere intent to repentance, the sin is forgiven, their is
remission of guilt, which means restoration of the sinner to God's friendship and in
consequence the remission of the eternal chastisement due to sin.
An Indulgence is an impossibility unless a sinner has repented and has the will to reform
his ways. After the guilt and eternal punishment have been lifted there remains the
temporal punishment due to a sin against God, which must be suffered either here or
hereafter. It is satisfied here by penance, good works done voluntarily, alms - deeds, and
by patience and resignation in the trials of life. It is satisfied for hereafter by the suffering of
Sacred Scripture gives us an example of what is meant by "temporal punishment."
Mary, the sister of Moses, was forgiven by God for complaining against her brother.
Nevertheless, despite such forgiveness, God imposed upon her the temporal punishment
of leprosy and seven days exile from her people (Numbers 12) [READ].
King David knows that even when God forgives our sin there is still a penalty or debt to
pay. In 2 Samuel 12:13-14 we read: "David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the
Lord.' Nathan answered David, 'The Lord on His part has forgiven your sin: you shall not
die. But since you have utterly spurned the Lord by this deed, the child born to you must
surely die.'" God forgave the guilt of David's sin, but He still required reparation in the form
A thief may be forgiven for stealing a large sum of money from someone, but he is still
required to return the money taken and even do time in prison.
In the early ages of the Church it was not unusual to assign public penance's for sins.
These established penance's were called canonical because they were in accordance with
the canon or the rule of the Church. These penance's were for various periods of duration,
thirty days, a year, or several years. In some rare cases they were lifelong.
(Let me add here an explanation of some aspect of Indulgences. An Indulgence, say of a
year, does not mean a year less in Purgatory, but the remission of a chastisement
equivalent to that which was remitted in earlier times when a public penance of a year was
remitted by Indulgence. Indulgences are classified, therefore, in terms of former canonical
penance. Rather than "duration" God may relieve our stay in Purgatory by "intensity").
Penance - Public: The penitential discipline of the early Church, relaxed before the 11th
century, in respect of notorious or grave sinners, especially idolaters, murderers and
adulterers. The lifting of the penalty of excommunication and admission to the ranks of the
penitents was for long a privilege not easily to be obtained. In certain parts of the Church
such penitents were marshaled into four degrees, through each of which they normally had
to pass, namely, weepers, who were excluded from divine service asking those going in to
pray for them; hearers, who attended the Liturgy of the catechumens (then left with them),
kneelers, who knelt or lay down in the Sanctuary and participated with the Church in
specific prayers for them before being blessed by the Bishop and dismissed prior to the
Eucharist. Standers, who sat in the congregation and stayed for the liturgy of the Eucharist
but did not receive Communion. Such penance with attendant austerities ... sometimes
lasted for life; in any case it was imposed for a period of years; the terms (years and days)
in which indulgences are now granted bear reference to this practice.
The Church's Power to Grant Indulgence:
The Church possesses the power to grant Indulgences. (De fide.) [FCD] P. 5, If a baptized
person deliberately denies or doubts a dogma properly so-called, he is guilty of the sin of
heresy (CIC 1325, Par. 2), and automatically becomes subject to the punishment of
excommunication (CIC 2314, Par. I).
Pope Leo X in the Indulgence Decretal [...] (1518), bases the Church's power to grant
Indulgences on the power of the keys. Thus not every possessor of the power to forgive
sins also possesses the power to grant Indulgences. The power to lift the temporal
punishments for sins is not automatically included in the power to absolve from the guilt of
sins and their eternal punishment. By its very nature an Indulgence is not a pure act of
grace, in which the temporal punishment for sin is remitted without anything being done in
return: it implies compensation drawn from the treasury amassed by Christ and the Saints.
The Bishops of the Christian communion are entitled to distribute this spiritual treasure
among the faithful. This possibility of satisfaction derives from the unity of the Mystical
Body of Christ, the Communion of Saints.
The power to give Indulgences rests both on the power of jurisdiction residing in the
Church hierarchy and on the union of the faithful in the Communion of the Saints.
The modern form of Indulgence developed in the 11th century. It emerged from the
extra-sacramental absolutions of the early Middle Ages, in which the Pope, the bishops
and the priests, frequently invoking the power of binding and loosing transferred to them,
besought the mercy of God for individual persons or for the faithful generally with a view to
the forgiveness of their sins. When in the 11th century, the forgiveness of sins which
people hoped to be granted by God began to be imputed to the penance imposed by the
Church, absolution began to be regarded as an Indulgence.
Even in Christian antiquity the Church exercised, in a different form, the power to grant
Indulgences. In response to the intercessory appeals (Letters of Peace) of the Martyrs, the
Church especially the Church of north Africa in the 3rd century (St. Cyprian), granted to
individual penitents in specific cases, a partial remission of the penitential punishments
imposed. People confidently expected that God would remit to them the remainder of the
punishments for sins on the intercession and for the sake of the merits of the Martyrs. [...]
That our Lord has given the Church the power of granting indulgences is implied in
Scripture: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on
earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven"
(Mt. 16:19). We notice that limit is placed on this power of loosing, "the power of the keys"
as it is called. (FCD)
St. Paul provides a clear example of the Church using this power with respect to the
incestuous Corinthian upon whom he had imposed a severe penance. After
learning of the Corinthian's fervent sorrow, St. Paul absolved him of the penance
which he had imposed, saying: "For, what I have pardoned, if I have pardoned
anything, for your sakes have I done it in the person of Christ" [2 Corinthians 2:10]
In this example we have the elements of a true Indulgence:
(1) a penance (temporal punishment) imposed on the Corinthian by St. Paul [1
(2) sorrow on the part of the sinner for his crime [2 Corinthians 2:5-7];3)
(3) the relaxation of the penance by St. Paul (the Indulgence) [2 Corinthians 2:10a];
(4) the relaxation done in the "person of Christ" [2 Corinthians 2:10b].
Source of Indulgences
The source of Indulgences is the Church's treasury of satisfaction which consists of the
superabundant satisfactions of Christ and of the Saints. (Sent certa.) (FCD)
God could remit the sins of mankind without any satisfaction and without violating justice.
But, in fact, in the order of the grace established by God through Christ, all forgiveness of
sins is granted in virtue of corresponding satisfaction. In the extra-sacramental satisfaction
of the remission of temporal punishments for sins in Indulgences, the Church offers to the
Divine Justice a substitute satisfaction - that is, the infinite satisfaction of Christ and the
superabundant satisfaction of the Saints. These satisfactions, in the case of the Saints,
exceeded the measure of their own sins and, together with the superabundant merits of
Christ, form the Church's treasury of merit, or treasury of satisfaction.
In the granting of an Indulgence, the Church appeals to the mercy of God, beseeching Him
to grant those members of the Mystical Body of Christ who fulfill the prescribed conditions,
a remission of their due punishments which have not yet been atoned for, in the virtue of
the superabundant satisfactions of Christ and the Saints. The prayer of the Church
requires the gracious acceptance of God, but in view of the position of the person granting
the Indulgence in the Mystical Body of Christ, a hearing can, with moral certainty, be
counted on. [...]
Catholics believe that many of the faithful throughout the centuries - virgins, martyrs,
confessors, saints etc. - have performed penance's and good works far in excess of what
was due as temporal punishment for their own sins. Their merits, in union with the infinite
merits of Jesus Christ, form a "spiritual treasury" which the Church can draw upon to assist
other members of the Church in general or, in particular, pay the debt of temporal
punishment both for the living and the dead:
"I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is
lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col. 1:24); "For
just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though
many, are one body, so it is with Christ;... If one member suffers, all suffer together with it;
if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it" (1 Cor. 12:12-26).
Every sin "harms" not only our relationship with God but also, our relationship with other
members of the "Body of Christ". Just as every good deed "honors" or "improves" the
"Body of Christ". Once we are forgiven by God, we are put back into a right relationship
with Him, but we still need to "heal" the "injury" to the "Body' of Believers. Therefore, by
virtue of the Communion of Saints the faithful can assist each other with their prayers,
masses, almsgiving to remit temporal punishment due in purgatory. Think of the life of
someone like Padre Pio, a man who might have never committed a serious sin, living a life
of penance and suffering. All these graces are in the treasury of the Church. "Strictly
speaking, isolated prayer, or any other activity, does not exist for the Christian, in so far as
he can do or suffer nothing without reference to other Christians;... every deed of each
member affects for good or ill the whole body,..." (FCD)
What is lacking in Christ's suffering?
Our complete will! Christ as Himself, lacks nothing. But as head of the Mystical Body of the
Church, what is lacking in His suffering is our complete will in union with His will! We are
part of the Mystical Body of Christ and as such, we need to be in complete accord with
Christ, in order to complete what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. (Monsignor Harold F.
Bearers of the Power of indulgence:
The practice of the power of Indulgence is not an act of the power of the priesthood, but of
the power of jurisdiction. The Pope, as possessor of the Supreme Power of Jurisdiction
over the whole Church, has an absolute, that is, an unlimited power of Indulgence. The
bishops, by virtue of their ordinary power, can grant Indulgences only to those subject to
them, and within the limited compass which is regulated by Canon Law. Cf. CIC 912, 274 n.
2, 349, Par. 2 n. 2. Even Cardinals have only a limited power to grant Indulgences. CIC
239, Par. I n. 24.
The technical meaning of the word "grant'', when there is question of an Indulgence
applicable to the faithful departed, is that the Indulgence is offered to God by way of
suffrage and appeal.
An Indulgence cannot be gained for another living person. (FCD)
Division of Indulgences
Full is Plenary - Partial is - just that part of the remittance of punishment.
a.) According to the extent of the remission of the Punishment, Indulgences are divided
into Plenary Indulgences [...], and Partial Indulgences [...], according as the temporal
punishments are completely or only partially remitted. The measure of the remission of the
punishment depends on the approval of the Church: [...]. The periods of time customarily
stipulated in the case of Partial Indulgences signify that as many punishments for sins are
remitted as would have been expiated in the given time according to the norms of the old
canonical penance. [...]
b.) According to the mode of their application, a division is made between Indulgences for
the living and for the dead. The granting of an Indulgence to the living faithful is
accomplished by absolution [...]. The Church has no jurisdiction over the dead in
Purgatory; thus, Indulgences cannot be applied directly to them through absolution, but
only indirectly through intercession [...], for which reason their operation is uncertain. The
possibility of their application is founded on the Communion of Saints. [...]
Historically it was only in the second half of the fifteenth century [...], that Indulgences for
the dead appear, although the Scholastic Theologians [13th century], had already affirmed
the possibility of Indulgences for the dead (suppl. 71, 10). (FCD)
[2 Mac. 12] v. 42, "and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been
committed might be wholly blotted out." v. 43, "He also took up a collection, . . . , and sent it
to Jerusalem for a sin offering. . . .taking account the resurrection. v. 44, For if he were not
expecting those who had fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to
pray for the dead."
Here we have the basic idea of our present day "indulgence" for the souls in Purgatory.
First: we know that the souls are in an intermediate state because in hell there is no relief
[Dan. 12:2; Mt. 18:8] and in heaven there is no need for relief.
Second: we have intercessory prayer for the dead & a "collection" with the intent of the
relief of suffering for our dearly departed.
Communion of Saints -
Jesus said that he is the true vine, and we are the branches. When a Christian (one
branch) dies physically and is taken up into heaven (he might have to go through
Purgatory first), he isn't broken off the vine. He remains in Christ (Romans 8:38-39). The
deceased Christian is still united with the vine (Jesus) and with all the other branches (all
other Christians, living or dead). This communion of saints makes possible the sharing of
spiritual things with other Christians.
All Scripture is quoted from the Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition - Ignatius
Press, unless otherwise noted.
Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, by Ludwig Ott, (FCD). The Doctrine of Indulgences
These are sources where I was unable to verify the "authority" of the teaching. For
example: many times I used an Internet source, that did not give references as to the
source of their teaching.