INSTRUCTIONS REGARDING INDULGENCES.
Q. What is understood by an Indulgence?
A. An indulgence is a relaxation or remission of debt of the temporal punishment, which remains due to the Divine justice for sin, after the sin itself, and the eternal punishment have been remitted by the Sacrament of Penance.
Q. Has Jesus Christ given to his Church the power of granting indulgences?
A. He has, as appears evidently from holy scriptures; for,
First, He says to St. Peter, “Thou art Peter – and I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven,” Matth. xvi. 18. in which words our Savior gives to St. Peter, as the chief pastor of his Church, whose authority as such extends over all her members, an ample and universal power of conducting the faithful to heaven, by loosing them from every thing that might hinder them from going there, provided always they be properly disposed, and perform the conditions required upon their part. Now, there are only two things that can hinder a soul from going to heaven, to wit, the guilt of sin, and the debt of temporal punishment; for till that debt be paid, none can enter there; consequently our Savior says, “whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, shall be loosed in heaven,” manifestly includes both, and assures us, when the Chief Pastor looses the faithful from their sins in the Sacrament of Penance, or from the debt of temporal punishment, by granting an indulgence, this sentence is ratified in heaven, and stands good in the sight of God himself.
Second, On another occasion, declaring, “that he that will not hear the Church,” that is, the bishops and pastors of the Church, is to be considered “as a heathen and a publican,” he immediately says to these pastors, in the persons of all the Apostles, “Amen, I say to you, whatsoever ye shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven,” Matth. xviii. 18. In which words, by the same reasoning as in the former case, we see the power of granting indulgences conferred on the first pastors or Bishops of the Church, as successors of the Apostles. It is given to the head of the Church, with regard to all the faithful, and to the bishops of the Church with regard to that portion of the faithful committed to their charge, to be exercised by them under such regulations as the Church herself, in her sacred councils, has judged proper to appoint.
Third, St. Paul, though not one of the twelve Apostles then present with our Savior, when this power was given them, both exercised it himself towards the incestuous Corinthian, and recommended to the pastors of that church to do the same; for, having first condemned and bound him to public penance, and “delivered him over to Satan for the destruction oft he flesh, that his spirit might be saved in the day of our Lord,” 1 Cor. v. 5; yet afterwards, being informed of his great repentance and vehement sorrows, he writes to that church, “To him who is such a one, this rebuke is sufficient that is given by many; so that contrariwise, ye should rather forgive him – and to whom ye have forgiven any thing, I also. For what I forgive, if I have forgiven any thing, for your sakes that I done it, in the person of Christ,” 2 Cor. ii. 6. 10.
Q. When the Church grants an indulgence, by remitting the debt of temporal punishment due to the Divine Justice, does she offer any compensation to the justice of God in place of it?
A. Yes she does; to understand which, we must observe,
First, That God Almighty has given to his Church the infinite merits and superabundant satisfaction of his son Jesus, to be applied and dispensed to her children for the good of their souls, according to their wants. Thus St. Paul says, “Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present wicked world,” Gal. i. 4; and God “hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly things in Christ,” Ephes. i. 3; “that he might show in the ages to come, the abundant riches of his grace, in his bounty towards us in Christ Jesus,” Eph. ii. 7; for “he that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how hath he not also, with him, given us all things!” Rom. viii. 32. Now, the Pastors of the Church are “the dispensers of the mysteries of God,” 1 Cor. iv. 1; to wit, of all these “spiritual blessings, abundant riches and graces of Christ,” which are the fruits of all his infinite merits and satisfactions. These are dispensed to the people and applied to their souls by the Pastors of the Church, when they administer to us the Holy Sacraments, and they are offered up to God as a compensation to his Divine Justice, for the debt of temporal punishment, when they grant us a relaxation from that debt by an indulgence.
Second, In the Creed, we are taught to believe that in the Church there is “the communion of saints;” that is, that all the members of the Church have a spiritual communication with one another in holy things, that the prayers, sacrifices, penances, and good works, which are performed by any of the faithful are accepted by Almighty God in such measure and manner as he sees fitting for all the others who put no impediment; and the reason is, because all the members of the Church compose but one spiritual body to Christ, of which he is the head; and therefore, all the faithful, as members of one another, mutually partake of one another’s prayers and good works, especially when they are expressly intended and applied for one another.
PRAYER AND GOOD WORKS AS A MEANS OF GRACE.
As nothing is more agreeable to God, than that all his followers should live together in unity, charity, and brotherly love, as members of one body, mutually helping one another, especially in spiritual things; so we find many examples of his readiness to bestow great favors upon his people, in reward of this mutual charity. Thus, when Job’s friends could find no acceptance with God of themselves, they found it immediately when Job offered up his prayers and sacrifices for them, Job. xlii. How often did the prayers and sacrifices of Moses and Aaron obtain forgiveness for their sinful people, both as to the sin and the temporal punishment, even when God was so provoked by their crimes, that he seemed determined to consumer and destroy them? How often does God declare in scripture, that he bears with the people of Israel, that he deals mercifully with them, that he bestows favors upon them, and the like, for the sake of his faithful servants, Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, even long after they were out of this world? So also speaking of his care for Jerusalem, he says, “I will protect this city, and will save it for my own sake, and for David my servant’s sake,” 4 Kings xix. 34. Where observe, that he joins “his own sake” and “David’s sake” together, in the same sentence, as the joint motive of his protecting Jerusalem.
From the same principles, St. Paul so often recommends himself to the prayers of the Faithful, and when, on a certain occasion, he had met with some great afflictions, he says to the Philippians, “I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayers,” Phil. i. 19. Seeing then that the prayers, penances, and good works of the faithful, and especially of the Holy Saints of God, who are of all others the most in favor with him, are, through the merits of Jesus Christ, on whom they all depend, most readily accepted by Almighty God for the benefit of all the members of his Church, especially when, by a spirit of charity, they are offered up and applied for that purpose; therefore, when the Church grants an indulgence to her children, for relieving the debt of temporal punishment due to the Divine Justice, she also offers up with the infinite satisfaction of Christ, all the prayers, penances, and good works of his Holy Saints, as a most acceptable oblation to the justice of God, in satisfaction or compensation for the indulgence she grants, both in imitation of what God himself did, when he joined his own sake and David’s sake, as the joint motive for protecting Jerusalem, and as an exercise of that holy communion of Saints, which she professes in the Creed; so that “out of their abundance, our wants are supplied,” and our debt paid, 2 Cor. viii. 14.
THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF INDULGENCES.
Q. How many kinds of Indulgences are there?
A. Two kinds, a Plenary Indulgence, which is obtained, would deliver us from all the debt of temporal punishment that we owe for our past sins; and a Partial Indulgence, which delivers us from it only in part, and is commonly expressed as given for a certain time, as of forty days, a year, or the like. The meaning of which is, that an indulgence is granted for such a proportion of the debt of temporal punishment we owe to God, as would have been remitted to him, had the sinner undergone, for that space of time, the severe penitential works prescribed by the primitive church for his sins.
Q. What things are required for gaining the benefit of indulgence?
A. Three things:
First, That a person be in the state of grace, and in friendship with God; for while one continues in the state of sin, and at enmity with God, and of course worthy of eternal punishment in the sight of the Divine Justice, he is not in a state capable of receiving an indulgence. And on this account it is, that in all grants of Plenary Indulgences, it is generally required as a condition for gaining them that the person apply first to the sacrament of confession, in order to put his soul in the state of grace, without which he is incapable of receiving that benefit.
INDULGENCES ALWAYS GRANTED ON CERTAIN CONDITIONS.
Second, That the conditions required in the grant of the indulgence be exactly performed; for, as indulgences are always granted on certain conditions, to be performed on our part, such as approaching to the Holy Sacraments, works of charity and mercy, exercises of piety and religion, prayers for the necessities of the Church, and the like; if these conditions required, are not exactly performed as required, we have no title to the favor of the indulgence.
Third, In order to gain the full effect of a Plenary Indulgence, it is also necessary to have a perfect repentance, and sincere detestation of all our sins, even the least venial sin; because, as the punishment of sin will never be forgiven, while the guilt of it remains in the soul, and as a sincere repentance is absolutely required for the remission of the guilty; therefore, this sincere repentance must precede the remission of the punishment. Hence we may see how few there are who gain the full effect of a Plenary Indulgence, as there are few who have a sincere and efficacious repentance of every venial sin, and a sincere and firm resolution of avoiding every sin, great or small, with all the occasions of sin. Yet this ought not to hinder us from using our beset endeavors for gaining a Plenary Indulgence when occasion offers; because, though we should not gain the whole effect of it, the more endeavors we use, and the better we be disposed, the more ample benefit we will reap from it; and whereas, we can never be certain how far we gain this benefit, and have but too much reason, from our own imperfect dispositions, to fear, that we may have yet a great debt remaining unpaid; therefore, our endeavoring to gain an indulgence ought not to make us remiss in leading a truly penitential life, but rather encourage us to do so the more exactly; because, the more we endeavor by works, worthy of penance, to satisfy the Divine Justice, the better we will be disposed, when the opportunity comes, for gaining the more abundant effects of indulgences; for, when we have done our best, it is perhaps little to what we ought to have done; and what we gain by indulgences makes up for the deficiencies of human infirmity, but can never be supposed to patronize negligence and sloth.
Q. When a person dies in the grace and friendship of God, but before he has discharged the debt of temporal punishment which he owes to the Divine justice, what becomes of him?
A. The soul is sentenced to purgatory, “out of which he shall not come till he pays to the last farthing,” Matth. v. 26.
Further exploration of Gaining Indulgences can be found HERE.