Just as the Church has the power, given by Christ, to forgive sins ("Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" - Jn 20:23), she also has the power to remit the penalties due to sin. This is where indulgences come in. The following are some of the frequently asked questions and answers regarding indulgences.
"An indulgence is the remission before God of temporal punishment for sins whose guilt is already forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful gains under certain and defined conditions by the assistance of the Church which as minister of redemption dispenses and applies authoritatively the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints" (1983 Code of Canon Law, 992).
"An indulgence is the remission in the eyes of God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose culpable element has already been taken away. The Christian faithful who are rightly disposed and observe the definite, prescribed conditions gain this remission through the effective assistance of the Church, which, as the minister of redemption, authoritatively distributes and applies the treasury of the expiatory works of Christ and the saints" (Enchiridion of Indulgences).
As stated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law: "Can. 996 §1. To be capable of gaining indulgences, a person must be baptized, not excommunicated, and in the state of grace at least at the end of the prescribed works. §2. To gain indulgences, however, a capable subject must have at least the general intention of acquiring them and must fulfill the enjoined works in the established time and the proper method, according to the tenor of the grant." And: "Can. 997 As regards the granting and use of indulgences, the other prescripts contained in the special laws of the Church must also be observed."
A partial indulgence frees a person from some of the temporal punishment due to sin.
As stated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law: "Can. 993 An indulgence is partial or plenary insofar as it partially or totally frees from the temporal punishment due to sins."
For instance, between November 1 and 8, the living may obtain plenary indulgence applicable only to souls in purgatory.
"Can. 995 §1. In addition to the supreme authority of the Church, only those to whom this power is acknowledged in the law or granted by the Roman Pontiff can bestow indulgences. §2. No authority below the Roman Pontiff can entrust the power of granting indulgences to others unless the Apostolic See has given this expressly to the person."
Note that, in the Vatican, the Apostolic Penitentiary is the office that handles matters regarding indulgences.
- The language of prayers for indulgences is not limited to English or Latin, but the translation must be suitable and in accordance with the official guidelines for indulgences.
- One may be limited to the gaining of a single plenary indulgence per day (except at the point of death).
- One may obtain multiple partial indulgences per day.
- Acts a person is already obliged to perform may not be indulgenced.
- Indulgences may be adjusted for those with impediments.
- The Church may change, suspend, cancel, or transfer indulgences, limit them to certain areas or periods of time, change the requirements, etc.
- Indulgences may be limited to the living only or may be limited to those in purgatory.
- The term "usual conditions" may refer to: "doing the good works prescribed...receiving the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist and...praying for the intentions of the pope" (Catholic Dictionary).
- Generally, Confession may be made and Holy Communion may be received within a certain number of day(s) before or after the day in which the works are to completed.
- For prayers, it may be necessary to "articulate them with the lips" (but not necessary aloud).
- Traditionally, the intentions of the pope "are ordinarily; the common good of the Church, the spread of the faith, conversion of sinners, heretics and schismatics, and peace; it is not necessary to advert to these in detail" (Catholic Dictionary).
Fr Louie R. Coronel, O.P., from the Priory of St. Thomas Aquinas, is currently the parish priest of Santisimo Rosario Parish - UST and spiritual director of the Young Thomasian Professionals. A scholar of the Dominican Province of the Philippines, he obtained his degree in the History and Cultural Heritage of the Church and licentiate in Church History from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He is a professor in the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas in Manila.