Timely Instruction For The Holy Jubilee Year
What is an "indulgence", and how are they gained?

by Rev. Msgr. Laurence R. Bronkiewicz, S.T.D.

Several years ago a young parishioner approached me with an unexpected question: "Father, what's an indulgence?" Apparently in a Sunday Missal discovered at home she had come across the term, noticing that certain prayers had a "partial" or "plenary indulgence" attached to their recitation.

I recalled the encounter while reading "Mystery of the Incarnation," Pope John Paul II's letter proclaiming the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. "I decree," the pope writes, "that throughout the entire Jubilee all the faithful, properly prepared, be able to make abundant use of the gift of indulgence..." A sign of every Holy Year since 1300, the gift of indulgence, explains Peter's Successor, "is an expression of the 'total gift of the mercy of God.'"

To understand the gift of indulgence we must remind ourselves of the two-fold effect of sin. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, grave or mortal sin, when unforgiven, results in eternal punishment. Through the Sacrament of Penance grave sins are forgiven, and the right to eternal life is restored. However all sins, even less serious or venial sins, deserve what is called "temporal punishment." Regardless of the gravity of our sins, there is a purification that we must undergo in this life or after death in Purgatory.

An indulgence is a unique expression of the fullness of God's mercy which purifies the repentant person of even the need for temporal punishment for sins already forgiven. Think of it as a partial or complete (plenary) pardon made possible by our salvation in Christ, and the prayers and good works of His Mother and the saints. Although an indulgence can only be granted to a living member of the faithful, he or she may apply it in charity to one who has died.

During the Jubilee Year, any Catholic in the state of grace who is trying to grow in holiness may gain the Jubilee plenary indulgence by making a pilgrimage to a major basilica in Rome or the Holy Land, or by visiting one of five historic and venerable churches here in the Diocese of Bridgeport.

The pilgrim's visit must including the following:

  • Mass or another liturgical celebration, or a spiritual devotion such as praying the Rosary or the Stations of the Cross.
  • Meditation and prayer, including the "Our Father," the "Creed," prayers to the Blessed Mother (such as the "Hail Mary"), and prayers for the intentions of our Holy Father.
  • Some time before or after the visit the pilgrim must go to Confession.
  • Acts of charity and penance should follow the pilgrimage as signs of true conversion of heart.

The Jubilee Indulgence may also be gained in any of the following ways: visiting those in need (e.g. the elderly, the disabled, or the sick), abstaining for one day from alcohol or smoking, donating money to help the poor, or offering personal time to a religious or social program benefitting the community.

Those confined to their homes by illness can gain the indulgence by spiritually uniting themselves with those who are able to fulfill the conditions and by offering to the Lord their own prayers and sufferings.

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