What are plenary indulgences?
A plenary indulgence can reduce or eliminate our time in purgatory. It can be received for oneself or for a soul in purgatory. If you obtain a plenary indulgence with the intention for it to be applied to a particular soul in purgatory, if this person is actually already in heaven, then the plenary indulgence will be applied to free a different soul from purgatory.
The Church teaches that a plenary indulgence removes all of the temporal punishment due to forgiven sins (Catechism of the Catholic Church: “An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.”82) Temporal punishment is whatever will cause one to go to purgatory i.e. disordered attachments, bad effects from our sins.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Indulgences:
1471 The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance.
What is an indulgence?
“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”81 “An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.”82 Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead.
The punishments of sin
1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.83
1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the “old man” and to put on the “new man.”84
In the Communion of Saints
1474 The Christian who seeks to purify himself of his sin and to become holy with the help of God’s grace is not alone. “The life of each of God’s children is joined in Christ and through Christ in a wonderful way to the life of all the other Christian brethren in the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, as in a single mystical person.”85
1475 In the communion of saints, “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.”86 In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.
1476 We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church’s treasury, which is “not the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries. On the contrary the ‘treasury of the Church’ is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their effficacy.”87
1477 “This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission the Father entrusted to them. In this way they attained their own salvation and at the same time cooperated in saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.”88
Obtaining indulgence from God through the Church
1478 An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.89
1479 Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.
Obtaining Plenary Indulgences
To obtain a plenary indulgence for yourself or for a soul in purgatory, the Church teaches that these five conditions must be fulfilled:
- Make a sacramental Confession within 20 days before or after the day the indulgence is sought. (Source: Norms of Confession for Obtaining a Plenary Indulgence)
- Receive Holy Communion on that day (or within 20 days before or after).
- Have complete detachment from all sin, even venial sin. In other words, have a complete rejection of the desire to commit any sin.
- Perform the indulgenced work (See the Manual of Indulgences – Norms and Grant, Fourth Edition 1999 and Enchiridion of Indulgences of the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary of the Church)
- Pray for the Holy Father’s intentions (i.e. one Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be). [Right before reciting the prayers, you can say “For the Holy Father’s intentions, with the intention of obtaining a plenary indulgence for a holy soul in purgatory [or for myself]…”
Note: When you pray generically for the intentions of the Holy Father, four specific, objective intentions are prayed for every time. From the Raccolta, a collection of indulgences that used to be published by the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences:
“23. The Pope’s intention always includes the following objects:
i. The progress of the Faith and triumph of the Church.
ii. Peace and union among Christian Princes and Rulers.
iii. The conversion of sinners.
iv. The uprooting of heresy.”
What are the common ways to obtain a plenary indulgence each day of the year?
Indulgenced work for each day of the year:
The Church’s Manual of Indulgences outlines many indulgenced works that can be performed to obtain plenary or partial indulgences. The Manual of Indulgences states that “Deserving of special mention are grants pertaining to these works by any one of which the faithful can obtain a plenary indulgence each day of the year,” always remembering “a plenary indulgence can be acquired no more than once a day.”
1. ADORATION OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT FOR AT LEAST ONE HALF HOUR – spend 30 minutes adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament
2. THE PIOUS EXERCISE OF THE WAY OF THE CROSS – Perform the Way of the Cross devotion any time of the year. “The pious exercise must be made before stations of the Way of the Cross legitimately erected… According to the common custom, the pious exercise consists of 14 devotional readings, to which some vocal prayers are added. To make the Way of the Cross, however, it is sufficient to meditate devoutly on the Lord’s Passion and Death, and therefore reflection on the particular mysteries of the individual stations in not necessary… Progression from one station to the next is required.” But if we’re making it publicly such as done for a parish, only the one conducting it has to move while we remain in our place.
3. PRAY THE ROSARY WITH OTHERS – “Recitation of the Marian rosary or of the hymn Akathistos, in church or an oratory; or in a family, a religious community, or a sodality of the faithful or, in general, when several of the faithful are gathered for any good purpose;”
4. DEVOUT READING OR LISTENING TO THE SACRED SCRIPTURES FOR AT LEAST ONE HALF HOUR
Also when possible:
5. GO ON A RETREAT – “A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful, who spend at least three whole days in the spiritual exercises of a retreat.”
6. RECEIVE A PAPAL BLESSING – “A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who piously and devoutly receive, even by radio transmission, the Blessing of the Sovereign Pontiff, when imparted to Rome and the World.”( i.e., on Easter Sunday, “participation devoted to the blessing proposed by the Pope in Rome and to the world (Urbi et Orbi), even if heard by radio, internet, or television.”)
Any of the common every day indulgenced works listed above and/or…
1. A plenary indulgence is granted to those who visit the Most Blessed Sacrament for at least one half hour (or any of the common ways to obtain a plenary indulgence listed above.)
2. “Down in Adoration Falling” (Tantum ergo) (Roman Breviary) Plenary indulgence when recited or sung on Holy Thursday – Down in adoration falling, Lo! the Sacred Host we hail, Lo! o’er ancient forms departing Newer rites of grace prevail; Faith for all defects supplying, Where the feeble senses fail. To the Everlasting Father, And the Son Who reigns on high With the Holy Ghost proceeding Forth from Each eternally, Be salvation, honour, blessing, Might, and endless majesty. Amen. ℣. Thou hast given them bread from heaven. ℟. Having within it all sweetness. ℣. Let us pray: O God, who in this wonderful Sacrament left us a memorial of Thy Passion: grant, we implore Thee, that we may so venerate the Sacred Mysteries of Thy Body and Blood, as always to be conscious of the fruit of Thy Redemption. Thou who livest and reignest forever and ever. ℟. Amen.
Good Friday (Holy Friday)
A plenary indulgence is granted for those who piously exercise the Way of the Cross, actually moving from station to station where they are legitimately erected and while mediating on the passion and death of our Lord (“Enchiridion of Indulgences,” No. 63).
Pray the Holy Rosary in community
Vigil of Easter
Plenary indulgence for renewing one’s baptismal promises during the Easter Vigil or on the anniversary of one’s baptism.
Participation devoted to the blessing proposed by the Pope in Rome and to the world (Urbi et Orbi), even if heard by radio, internet, or television.
“Special graces” Our Lord promised for the feast of mercy vs. a plenary indulgence
In three places in her diary, St. Faustina records a promise from our Lord of specific, extraordinary graces He will make available through the devout reception of Holy Communion on this Feast Day; truly a “whole ocean of graces” is contained in these promises:
The Church teaches that a plenary indulgence removes all of the temporal punishment due to forgiven sins (Catechism of the Catholic Church: “An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.”82) Temporal punishment is whatever will cause one to go to purgatory i.e. disordered attachments, bad effects from our sins. The EFFECT of the Divine Mercy grace that Our Lord promises is essentially the same and as the EFFECT of a plenary indulgence. However, it is easier to obtain than a plenary indulgence.
Canon Ignacy Rozycki, Doctor of Dogmatic Theology and a member of the International Theological Commission also says: “The Sacramental grace of Baptism received by an adult is not only the removal of original sin but is also the forgiveness of all personal sins and any punishment due to them so the soul cleansed on the Feast of Mercy is like the soul of one newly baptised in the promises mentioned, however, Christ joined the forgiveness of all sins and punishment to the Holy communion received on the Feast of Mercy. In other words so far as that matter is concerned He raised it (the Holy Communion on the Feast of Mercy) to the rank of a ‘second Baptism. It is obvious that in order to effect a complete forgiveness of sins and punishment the Holy Communion received on the Feast of Divine Mercy must not only be partaken of worthily, but it must also fulfill the basic requirements of the Divine Mercy devotion. … However, received unworthily, without trust in Divine Mercy and devoid of some deed of mercy toward neighbour, it would be a contradiction of Devotion to the Divine Mercy. Instead of the exceptional grace, it would bring down upon the recipient the Divine Wrath. The spiritual good of the faithful demands that they know what graces they can obtain, and under what conditions through the reception of Holy Communion on the Feast of Divine Mercy”(Divine Mercy Second Baptism). This article explains how the: “Special Graces” promised by Our Lord for those who receive Communion and Confession on the Feast of Divine Mercy and the Plenary Indulgence are not the same thing!
Fr. John Larson M.C. of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, which promotes the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, confirmed that in order to receive Our Lord’s Divine Mercy promise, the Confession should and can be made before or on the Feast of Mercy, NOT after: “To ensure you obtain the special graces, the Confession needs to be made before receiving Holy Communion on the Feast of Mercy, on or before (as long as one stays in the state of grace of course) the Mass on the Feast of Mercy that one receives Communion at, and not afterwards.” Fr. Larson explains that this special promise of grace is actually easier to obtain than a plenary indulgence, because all that it requires is making a good confession and then receiving Holy Communion on the Feast of Mercy (Saturday vigil or Sunday Mass of the Second Sunday of Easter) with trust in God’s mercy, but it does not require complete detachment from all venial sin and prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father which are required in order for one to obtain a plenary indulgence.
Obtaining a Plenary Indulgence on the Feast of Mercy is separate and meant for those who are unable to obtain Our Lord’s Feast of Divine Mercy promise. Confession after receiving Communion would be devotional and can go towards obtaining a plenary indulgence. To obtain a plenary indulgence on any day, the Confession can be made within “about 20 days before or after doing an indulgenced work” according to the Apostolic Penitentiary’s Norm of Confession for Gaining a Plenary Indulgence | EWTN.
Other sources for this page:
“N11. While there is no change in the faculty granted by canon 935 of the Code of Canon Law to confessors to commute for those who are ‘impeded’ either the prescribed work itself or the required conditions [for the acquisition of indulgences], local Ordinaries [Bishops] can grant to the faithful over whom they exercise authority in accordance with the law, and who live in places where it is impossible or at least very difficult for them to receive the sacraments of confession and Communion, permission to acquire a plenary indulgence without confession and Communion provided they are sorry for their sins and have the intention of receiving these sacraments as soon as possible.” – Manual of Indulgences