“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” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1471). There are two types of indulgence: Partial indulgence and Plenary indulgence. A partial indulgence removes only part of the temporal punishment due to sin while a plenary indulgence removes all the temporal punishment due to sin.
A partial indulgence can be acquired more than once a day, unless otherwise expressly indicated. A plenary indulgence may be gained once a day for oneself. No one acquiring plenary indulgences can apply them to other living persons. Partial as well as plenary indulgence can always be applied to the departed by way of suffrage. In order to obtain a plenary indulgence one must observe the following necessary conditions (referred to hereafter as “the usual conditions” or “the prescribed conditions”):
1. Sacramental Confession (that is, go to Confession) usually within a week before or after performing the work to which the indulgence is attached. One sacramental confession is sufficient for several indulgences.
2. Eucharistic Communion (Receive Holy Communion). Unlike Confession only one indulgence may be obtained for each communion.
3. Prayer for the intentions of the Pope. Like Communion, prayer for the Pope’s intentions must be recited for the gaining of each plenary indulgence. Although there are no prescribed prayers, the condition is satisfied by reciting one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary”. In addition to the above three prescribed conditions, the person who wishes to gain a plenary indulgence must be completely free from attachment to sin, including venial sin. This is the most difficult condition as even attachment to venial sin precludes the possibility of obtaining the indulgence.
However, as explained by Fr. Edward McNamara, Professor of Liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, the condition is not freedom from all venial sin, but from attachment to sin; that is, there is no sin (including venial sin) which the soul is unwilling to renounce. Norm 22(1) of the Enchiridion of Indulgences published by the Vatican, 1968 stipulates that: “To be capable of gaining an indulgence for oneself, it is required that one be baptized, not excommunicated, in the state of grace at least at the completion of the prescribed works, and a subject of the one granting indulgence”. Norm 22(2): “In order that one who is capable may actually gain indulgences, one must have at least a general intention to gain them and must in accordance with the tenor of the grant perform the enjoined works at the time and in the manner prescribed”.
To acquire a plenary indulgence, therefore, it is necessary to perform the work to which the indulgence is attached and to fulfill the prescribed three conditions already stated and be free from all attachment to sin, including venial sin. The three conditions may be fulfilled within a week before or after the performance of the prescribed work; it is, however, strongly recommended that Communion be received and the prayer for the Pope’s intention be said on the same day the work is performed. It is also highly recommended that the time one goes for the Confession be as close as possible to the time of performance of the prescribed WORK because if you fall into venial sin between the time of Confession and the time that you complete the work, then the indulgence granted becomes partial instead of plenary.
As stated in the Enchiridion of Indulgences above cited and in the 4th revised edition (1999), a plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who perform any of the following works, if they observe the necessary conditions for obtaining a plenary indulgence.
1. Visit the Blessed Sacrament for adoration lasting at least half an hour.
2. Devoutly participate in the adoration of the Cross in the solemn liturgical action on Good Friday.
3. Spend at least three entire days in the spiritual exercises of a retreat. 4. A plenary indulgence is granted to those who make their first Holy Communion or who assist at another’s first Holy Communion.
5. Pray at least five decades of the rosary in a church or chapel, or else in family, a religious community or a pious association or devoutly join in the recitation of the Rosary while it is being recited by the Supreme Pontiff and broadcast live by radio or television. The conditions are that the five decades should be prayed without interruption. Meditation on the mysteries must be added to the vocal recitation, and in public recitation the mysteries must be announced according to approved local custom.
6. Celebrating or assisting at a priest’s first solemn Mass, or at his 25th, 50th, or 60th anniversary Mass. The priest should also renew before God his proposal to faithfully fulfill the obligations of his vocation.
7. (i) Visit a parish Church on the Solemnity of its titular feast day. (ii) Visit a parish church on August 2, the day on which the “Portiuncula” indulgence occurs. (iii) Visit a church or altar on the day of its dedication. (iv) Visit a Church or an oratory of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, on the liturgical memorial of their founder. The visit to the Church or an oratory in each of the cases stated above for the purpose of gaining a plenary indulgence is accomplished from noon of the preceding day until midnight of the particular day.
According to norm 16 of the apostolic constitution, each of the above visits should include the “recitation of the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) and the Creed”. 8. Renewing one’s baptismal promises during the Easter Vigil or on the anniversary of one’s baptism. 9. Making the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross. This must be done at legitimately erected stations, which require 14 crosses to which other images or statues may be added. The way of the Cross usually consists of 14 sacred readings, to which some vocal prayers may be added. However, to fulfill the pious exercise it is enough to meditate on the Lord’s passion and death, with no need to make a particular consideration regarding each individual station.
Thus, one may also meditate on episodes of the Passion that differ from the traditional 14 stations. It is also necessary to move from one station to the next, although, if during a public celebration the whole group cannot easily move, it is sufficient that the person who guides the stations move from one station to the next. If someone is legitimately impeded from doing the stations, he or she may obtain the same indulgence through pious reading and meditation on the Lord’s passion and death for about 15 minutes or so. He can also personally make the Way of the Cross or devoutly unite himself to the Way of the Cross while it is being led by the Supreme Pontiff and broadcast live on television or radio.
10. Devoutly receiving a papal blessing including those imparted “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city of Rome and the World) such as is customary at Easter and Christmas, and received through live transmission by radio, television or Internet.
11. Each Friday of Lent, a plenary indulgence is granted to those who piously recite the prayer “Look down Upon Me, Good and Gentle Jesus” after Communion, before an image of Christ crucified. This prayer is among those offered in the missal for thanksgiving after Communion.
12. Someone in danger of death gains a plenary indulgence if a priest administers the Sacraments to him and imparts the Apostolic Blessing to which a plenary indulgence is attached. A priest who administers the sacrament to someone in danger of death should not fail to impart the Apostolic Blessing to which a plenary indulgence is attached. To the faithful in danger of death, who cannot be assisted by a priest to bring them the sacraments and impart the Apostolic Blessing with its plenary indulgence, Holy Mother Church nevertheless grants a plenary indulgence to be acquired at the point of death, provided they are properly disposed and have been in the habit of reciting some prayers during their lifetime.
The use of a crucifix or a cross to gain this indulgence is praiseworthy. The condition, “provided they have been in the habit of reciting some prayers during their lifetime”, supplies in such cases for the three usual conditions required for the gaining of a plenary indulgence. “The plenary indulgence at the point of death can be acquired by the faithful, even if they have already obtained another plenary indulgence on the same day”. (Enchiridion of Indulgences).
13. A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who devoutly receive a blessing imparted by the Supreme Pontiff to Rome and the World (Urbi et Orbi) even if, because of reasonable circumstances, they are unable to be present physically at the sacred rite, provided they follow it devoutly as it is broadcast live by television or radio.
14. A plenary indulgence is also granted to the faithful who reads the Sacred Scriptures as spiritual reading, from a text approved by competent authority and with the reverence due to the divine word, for at least a half an hour. If the time is less, the indulgence will be partial. Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Constitution on the Doctrine of Indulgences published in 1967 tells us that “The Church also in our days then invites all its sons to ponder and meditate well on how the use of indulgences benefits their lives and indeed all Christian society”. (#9) Prof. Michael Ogunu is the Coordinator of the World Apostolate of Fatima in Africa