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Plenary Indulgences, Month of November

Below is the notice I put in the bulletin for the weekend of 7th November 2021 concerning Plenary Indulgences. Historically, as you may know, at the time of the Reformation, plenary indulgences became the object of scandal and mockery. The reason was that clerics started to “sell” indulgences, a practice called “simony.” They told people that, if they paid up, they or their loved one who was deceased, would get the indulgence. It was as if you could buy entry into heaven for a holy soul.

Such abuses were wholly abject and rightly called out by the Reformers and others. However, when something like this gets abused, what can happen is that people forget that there is still a use for it, and a perfectly legitimate use. The whole concept of indulgences is related to the spiritual help and grace we can obtain for others and for ourselves in a spirit of Christian charity through the bond of communion which makes the Church. Certainly, only Christ Jesus has redeemed us and only by his grace can we be saved. However, Jesus in his great mercy both allows and invites us to collaborate with him in the channeling of his grace to one another. If, in a family, one member has more than they need of something whilst another has less than they need, common sense and basic charity suggests that the one with more share with the one with less. That is the meaning of indulgence: it is a gift of love shared with those in need by those with more. Indulgences contribute to the great flowing of grace throughout the Mystical Body, so that every member gets the help they need.

Indulgence is a word we commonly use: “indulge me” means “in your kindness allow me” this, that or the other. In the context of the Church, someone who seeks an indulgence is asking the Church to indulge either themselves or their loved one who has died in such a way that the temporal punishment due to sin may be wiped away. Here, the term “temporal punishment” is intended to contrast with “eternal punishment.” Mortal sin causes eternal punishment; venial sin causes temporal punishment. In the former case, unless repented of, eternal death will ensue. In the latter case, the punishment will eventually terminate once it has been undergone. By asking for a plenary indulgence, we are asking that all of the temporal punishment which we still have to undergo because of our sins which have been forgiven will be “indulged”, i.e. wiped away, called off, condoned, dispelled.

Temporal punishment due to sin refers to the reparation of the damage we have done to ourselves by the sins we have committed, even though they have since been forgiven. I can forgive you for deliberately breaking my window, but my forgiveness of you does not put the window back together again. Our sins are the cause of damaging effects in our spiritual and moral life and this damage needs to be repaired. In our life, we contribute to repairing it by works of charity, penance and prayer, by offering our suffering to Christ. To the degree that we repair it before we die, then there will be less temporal punishment to undergo. The beauty of the plenary indulgence is that by performing the few acts of prayer established, the Lord through his Church dismisses whatever temporal punishment still accrues to us or to the deceased love one for whom we obtain it. The merits of Christ are infinite. The merits of the saints are finite, but often exceed what they need

The punishment in question is not some penalty inflicted by God, but the result of our very own sinning. It is our sin which punishes us. By indulgences, that punishment can be removed. Note that indulgences do not absolve us from the guilt of sin of any kind, mortal or venial, but only free us from the temporal punishment which sin causes.

For a fuller explanation, try this link to Wikipedia:


PLENARY INDULGENCES DURING NOVEMBER: A plenary indulgence is the remission in the eyes of God of all the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven. During the whole of November, you can gain a plenary indulgence for someone deceased by visiting a cemetery and praying for the dead, even just mentally. You can gain one for yourself by visiting a church or oratory and reciting the Our Father and the Creed. In either case you are to: 1. Unite yourself spiritually with all the faithful; 2. Be completely detached from all sin, mortal and venial; 3. Have the intention to fulfil as soon as possible the three usual conditions for the plenary indulgence for yourself, i.e. sacramental confession, reception of Holy Communion and the offering of prayers for the intentions of the Pope.

     If you are housebound, you would fulfil the conditions just mentioned and recite prayers for the dead before a picture of Jesus or Mary (e.g. the rosary or divine mercy chaplet). Alternatively, you can spend time meditating on the Passion story in the Gospel or perform a work of mercy whilst offering to God the trials and tribulations of your life