I would like to reflect on indulgences in general. We have been assured that during this Year of St. Joseph, there will be opportunities for gaining indulgences, and so it is only right and appropriate to pay attention to it so that we can take full advantage of this spiritual treasure that God has left with His Church for His People. In his Apostolic Constitution, Indugentiarum Doctrina, Blessed Paul VI explains indulgence to mean the remission in the sight of God of the temporal punishments due to sins which have already been forgiven and blotted out by God. We see a clear demonstration of God doing this for David after he had sinned by committing adultery with the wife of Uriah.
The Lord sent Nathan to scold David and point out his sin to him. Nathan told him the story of the rich man who took the only lamb of a poor man to entertain his guest, even though he had many more in his flock. At the anger of David, Nathan pointed to him that he was the one, because not being content with committing adultery with his wife, David still went ahead to murder Uriah. David accepted his guilt and did not argue or make excuses, and because he acknowledged his guilt, the Lord did not hesitate to forgive him. But then the Lord said he would receive punishment for the sin, which is that the child born out of the adultery would die. Again David pleaded with God by prayer and fasting and so again God being a merciful Father, indulged him.
The first child died but he spared the second child. He granted David an indulgence by remission of the punishment that was due to him. What God did for David by allowing the child Solomon to live was to give him indulgence; the same thing that he does for us when we fulfill the conditions for gaining an indulgence. Indulgences relate to the Sacrament of Penance and can be obtained through prayers and works of charity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that an indulgence is obtained through the Church.
By virtue of the power granted to her by Christ Jesus to bind and loose, the Church intervenes in favour of individual Christians and makes available to them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. The Catechism went further to say that this treasury is opened for us in order that the hearts of the faithful may be turned towards works of devotion, penance and charity, and they may be encouraged to carry out these works. (cf.CCC.1478). From this, we see that indulgence flows from the merits of Christ and the saints, and as such is a gift, a benevolent show of the immensity of God’s mercy.
Most Rev. (Dr.) Alfred Adewale Martins, Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos.