Fr Ignatius Yeo explains the meaning of indulgences ahead of the launch of the special year on Dec 8.

The Holy Door in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, one of many designated Holy Doors that pilgrims can enter during the Year of Mercy. CNS photo The Holy Door in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, one of many designated Holy Doors that pilgrims can enter during the Year of Mercy. CNS photo 1. What does the Church teach about “Indulgences”?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the official synthesis of the essentials and fundamentals of our faith, states that: “An Indulgence is 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.” (CCC 1471)

The Catechism notes that to sufficiently understand this practice of the Church regarding Indulgence, it is imperative that one must first understand the teaching of the Church’s faith in the Sacrament of Penance or confession.

In this regard, the Catechism states that in the context of the Sacrament of Penance, there are three “things” which the penitent must fulfil:

  1. Contrition – sorrow for the sin committed with the resolution not to sin again
  2. Confession – disclosure of one’s sin to a priest, in the Sacrament of Penance or confession
  3. Satisfaction – commonly known as “penance”, which is a repair for the damage or harm caused by sin.
It is in this context of “repairing” in our act of “satisfaction” that will help us reach a clear understanding of “indulgences”.

2. What is “temporal punishment”?

Besides the obvious “repairs” in respect to the person we have offended and that must be fulfilled, there is also a need for the penitent to “repair” oneself.

In sinning, apart from the “damage” we have caused others, there is also a “damage” done to ourselves. Sin, “damages” our relationship with God and we could experience our lives (temporally) being quite separated from Him. In this way, we “punish” ourselves, and in doing so, our spiritual life is weakened, and so in a sense our holiness lessens. As such, the “penance” that we receive in the Sacrament of Penance or confession is also meant to “repair” this “damage” to ourselves in order to strengthen our relationship with God. This “damage” to oneself and one’s relationship with God is what the Church traditionally terms as “temporal punishment” a “present damage”.

It is through the performance of deeds of love, sacrifice, service of neighbour, alms giving, acceptance of the trials of life, prayer and fasting that we work towards “repairing” or “satisfying” this “temporal punishment”.

It is the “repairing” and the “satisfying” of this “temporal punishment due to sin” that is the point of granting “indulgences”. And so we read in the CCC: “An Indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven…” (CCC  1471).

3. What is a “plenary Indulgence”

“Plenary indulgence” means that a “temporal punishment” or “damage” is “completely pardoned” or “completely repaired”.

4. How can these indulgences help the souls of our departed loved ones?

In CCC 1479, we read: “Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.”
Hence we can gain these indulgences on behalf of our loved ones who have passed away. We do this by intentionally offering in prayer all that we do for our loved ones who have passed away.

5. How can we gain the Indulgences?

  1. Attending Mass and reception of Holy Communion
  2. Sacrament of Penance (Confession)
  3. Prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father

6. How can those in prison, home-bound or sick gain these indulgences?

The faithful prevented by illness or another legitimate cause and are unable to leave their homes may obtain the plenary indulgence by being united in spirit and thought with other faithful, and – especially at the times when the words of the Supreme Pontiff and diocesan bishops are transmitted by television or radio – they:

  1. Recite the Our Father
  2. Pray the Creed
  3. Pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, and offer up the suffering and discomfort of their lives.
  4. For the imprisoned, the Holy Father says, “They may obtain the Indulgence in the chapels of the prisons. May the gesture of directing their thought and prayer to the Father each time they cross the threshold of their cell signify for them their passage through the Holy Door, because the mercy of God is able to transform hearts, and is also able to transform bars into an experience of freedom.”

7. When can we gain the Indulgence?

  1. The Catholic faithful in any designated local church can obtain the indulgence by passing through a designated “Holy Door” during the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy (between Dec 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and Nov 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King) or performing one of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy.

    Attending Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours on days designated by the local bishop. In Singapore, the designated churches are: St Vincent de Paul, Holy Cross, Divine Mercy, Sacred Heart and Risen Christ.

  2. Catholics who attend Mass celebrated by a bishop on Dec 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and Nov 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King, will also receive the indulgence, as well as those impeded by sickness or other serious cause from attending the Mass, as long as they are truly repentant and pray while listening to the bishop bestow the indulgence via television or radio.

8. Where else can we gain the  Indulgence?

Those visiting basilicas, cathedrals, catacombs or other sacred sites in the form of a pilgrimage. They must:

  1. Participate in a liturgy, or at least pause for an appropriate time in prayer and with pious meditations,
  2. Conclude with the recitation of the Our Father, the Creed (Profession of faith) and Prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father.
  3. Invocations of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, where appropriate, of the Holy Apostles or patron saints.

9. What must we not do?

We must not lapse into superstition and perceive “indulgences” in a materialistic and calculative manner. “Since the primary objective is to develop sanctity of life to the highest degree possible on this earth, and thus to attain the most sublime level of pureness of soul, immense benefit may be derived from the great gift of Indulgences which, by virtue of the power conferred upon her by Christ, the Church offers to everyone who, following the due norms, undertakes the special prescripts to obtain them” (Decree released by the Apostolic Penitentiary granting Plenary Indulgence).

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