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Steve wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • What is the meaning, purpose and history of indulgences?

Steve

  { What is the meaning, purpose, and history of indulgences? }

Richard and Mike replied:

Hi, Steve —

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us in paragraph 1471:

CCC 1471 The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance.

An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to the 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 Church updated its "Handbook of Indulgences" in 1968, as She normally does every few decades. The current version (last revised in 1986) is available on the web.

Partial indulgences are no longer specified in terms of "days". Indulgences now are simply "plenary" or "partial".

When the new handbook took effect, it superceded the old book entirely, so that only the indulgences listed in the new edition are offered by the Church. Nevertheless, some of the grants are quite broad, such as the one granting a partial indulgence to the faithful whenever they raise their minds to God and pray, at least mentally, some pious invocation.

The prayer Anima Christi is listed in the new Handbook, and bears a partial indulgence.

Some added resources:

These web pages explain what an indulgence is and some myths about them.

These web pages give you an additional primer on indulgences.

Rich and Mike

Terry replied:

Dear participants in this question,

The queries about indulgences need, I think, to include the following explanations:

Much confusion was caused in the past, regarding the phrase "X" number of days indulgence.

Many people, including some well instructed Catholics, assumed this was a remittance of that number of days in Purgatory. Not So! The number of days ascribed to indulgences was that by completing a particular activity (i.e. so many prayers, or visit to shrine, etc.) was equivalent to a sinner completing that number of days penance (i.e. the early Church sackcloth and ashes).
It was never to be interpreted as a number of days in Purgatory. With God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.

We cannot know (this side of the grave) how long anyone will spend in Purgatory. The only thing we do know is that God is infinitely just as well as infinitely merciful, and that we have the gift of free will to accept or reject his mercy.

Also remember, Jesus gave Peter the keys to loosen or bind. Whatever he binds on earth is considered bound also in Heaven. Therefore indulgences are an act of mercy by Holy Mother Church, in her solicitude for her children. It is most unfortunate when Catholics neglect and reject this wonderful gift from their Mother, the Church.

Terry Quinn,
BA (Divinity) Hons, MA Theology (Marian Studies)
England

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