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Perry and Sandi Mowbray wrote:

Hi, guys—

I have a question about indulgences, probably more than one, because I know nothing about them.

One of my wife's friends (who was quite instrumental in our conversion to the Catholic Church), has spoken to her about indulgences, and the impression I get is that they are:

  • bad
  • wrong
  • completely unscriptural and
  • should be very much avoided

Nevertheless, I was on some other Catholic web site where there seemed to be a lot of material suggesting that they were approved by the Church. Because this material was in discussion format, it made it very difficult for me to make heads or tails of it.

Because I know nothing about all this, I flounder when confronted by:

The Church is wrong: look at indulgences.

I guess this could be quite a big area for discussion. I don't mind if your answer contained links to documents that fill out your answer.

Your last answer to one of my questions was awesome!

God bless,

Perry

  { Are indulgences wrong and entirely unscriptural or does the Church approve of them — and why? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Perry —

You said:
I have a question about indulgences, probably more than one, because I know nothing about them.

You are quite right then to seek to learn more about them!

One of my wife's friends (who was quite instrumental in our conversion to the Catholic Church), has spoken to her about indulgences, and the impression I get is that they are:

  • bad
  • wrong
  • completely unscriptural and
  • should be very much avoided
That is a common opinion; but its origins are not Catholic. (Especially, since there are explicit Scripture references in the Catholic bible.) While there have been in the past abuses of them, the Church has always been careful to distinguish between legitimate use and abuse. Moreover, there are a lot of misunderstandings about indulgences floating around. They are not about buying forgiveness, nor do they add to the finished work of Christ.

Indulgences are very much alive and well. They are discussed in the "new" Catechism (see below) and in fact, the Church recently issued a whole new handbook on indulgences.

My opinion is that once you strip away the emotional and historical baggage, look past the abuses, and see them in the proper light, indulgences are basically a formalization of rather intuitive principles. One might be turned off by the way they are formalized, but the principles are still valid.

You said:
Because I know nothing about all this, I flounder when confronted by:

"The Church is wrong: look at indulgences."

I guess this could be quite a big area for discussion. I don't mind if your answer contained links to documents that "filled out" your answer.

Your last answer, to one of my questions, was awesome!

Oh, good; I was going to apologize for sending you off to a web site address but James Akin really does a fantastic job of explaining it. James is an apologist for Catholic Answers and runs a site with some really good material at:

The Nazareth Resource Library

His explanation of indulgences, including a quote from the Catechism and common myths about indulgences is called "A Primer On Indulgences" [from Catholic Answers].

Yours in Christ,

Eric Ewanco

Terry replied:

Hi, Perry —

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

Much confusion was caused in the past regarding "x" number of days indulgence and 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.

For example, so many prayers, or a visit to shrine, etc. was equivalent to a sinner completing that number of days of penance. (i.e. in 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." (2 Peter 3:8) We cannot know (this side of the grave) how long anyone will spend in Purgatory. The only thing we do know is, 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 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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