Participate in the Concurrent Mass, or support a charity, or make an act of penance, and fulfill the general conditions for a plenary indulgence.
What is an indulgence?
- The word ‘indulgence’ comes from the Latin word ‘indulgeo’ which means ‘to be kind or tender’. In a general theological sense, it refers to God’s kindness and mercy. In the specific context here, it refers to the remission of temporal punishment for our sins that have already been forgiven.
- Temporal punishment, as opposed to eternal punishment, is either satisfied on earth through suffering or in purgatory after death. This means that indulgences act as our earthly ‘suffering’ in the hope that we have purified ourselves enough to spend less time in purgatory.
Why should I want an indulgence?
- By purifying ourselves on earth, we shorten the time it takes for us (and the souls in purgatory that we pray for) to get to Heaven!
- Additionally, and more importantly, when we add the spiritual practice of obtaining indulgences into our daily lives, it helps us cultivate holiness because we desire to live lives detached from all sins, pray regularly, and receive the sacraments often.
- This is the desire of the Church as well: “…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”. (CCC 1478)
How do I obtain an indulgence?
- There are three general partial indulgences obtained through regular prayer, service, and almsgiving.
- Then there are special indulgences attached to certain days such as praying the Te Deum on 31st December or adoring the Holy Cross on Good Friday. Some indulgences are obtained by visiting certain places such as the Patriarchal Basilicas in Rome.
- Indulgences are also given on special occasions such as the Year of Mercy in 2015. Recently, Pope Francis also granted a plenary indulgence to those suffering from COVID-19 as a way of “entrusting each and every one to divine Mercy”.
- For a complete list of indulgences obtained through prayers and acts of service, please refer to The Enchiridion of Indulgences.
- For the special occasion of the Catholic200SG celebrations, the Archdiocese of Singapore has requested and been granted, a plenary indulgence from the Apostolic Penitentiary of the Holy See. Refer to Question 9 for details of how to obtain it.
Why are some indulgences plenary and some partial? What is the difference?
- Indulgences can be obtained in two ways: plenary and partial. One can seek a plenary indulgence for the full remission of temporal punishment, or several partial indulgences for some remission.
- To acquire a plenary indulgence one must carry out the work attached, and fulfill the following three conditions: sacramental confession, receive eucharistic Communion, and pray for the intentions of the Pope. It is further required that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent. If a person tries to obtain a plenary indulgence with the incorrect disposition or does not meet all conditions, the indulgence will only be partial.
Why am I able to obtain an indulgence for someone who has died but not for someone who is alive?
- Indulgences can only be obtained for sins that have already been forgiven. Additionally, the person receiving the indulgence must want it.
- As we can never know the true desires of another living person, we cannot ‘force’ an indulgence upon another person by praying on their behalf.
- Those in purgatory, however, already desire to have eternal life and are already going through temporal punishment. In this case, we can be sure that they want to be relieved of their sufferings so as to be with God in heaven.
What is the difference between going for Confession and obtaining an indulgence?
- Two things happen when we sin.
- The first is a separation of us from God such that we are incapable of eternal life. God alone grants eternal life. When we sin, we are intentionally saying ‘no’ to God, and therefore, ‘no’ to eternal life.
- The second consequence is that we attach ourselves to earthly things. This means that we love ourselves and the pleasures of this world more than we love God, or at the bare minimum, we use earthly things in a way that distorts God’s love and truth.
- In Confession, our sins are forgiven so that we can return to our relationship with God and have eternal life.
- The second consequence remains and needs to be purified on earth (with indulgences or suffering) or in purgatory.
- Here’s a simple analogy: Jim steals money from his friend, Tom, and spends this money on himself. Realising that he did something wrong, Jim apologises to Tom and Tom forgives him. Even though Jim is forgiven, justice is not fully restored until he returns the stolen money to Tom.
- Jim’s apology is like the Sacrament of Reconciliation that restores our relationship with God. The indulgence is akin to Jim’s effort to earn the money back and willingly return it to its rightful owner such that justice is restored.
Indulgences still exist?
- Yes they do!
- Indulgences received a bad reputation during the Reformation when Martin Luther wrote against them in 1517. They were being sold for a couple of centuries and those who bought them were given letters promising them a guaranteed place in heaven.
- In 1967, Pope St. Paul VI announced revisions to the Church’s norms on indulgences “to give greater dignity and esteem to the use of indulgences”.
- Many acts of faith and prayers can be used to obtain indulgences when done with the right disposition ranging from doing the sign of the cross intentionally to praying the Stations of the Cross in church. (See question 3).
- However, indulgences alone may not secure us a place in heaven as only God can know and judge how sincerely we carried out the indulgence. We are invited to trust in God’s justice and mercy, and seek constant opportunities to remain in grace.
Where does the Church get the idea of indulgences from?
- The teaching on indulgences is founded on Scripture.
- We know that there are temporal punishments for sins: “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16).
- And we also know that while a sin is forgiven, temporal punishment can still follow: “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan answered David: ‘The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin; you shall not die. But since you have utterly spurned the Lord by this deed, the child born to you must surely die’” (2 Sam. 12:13-14).
- From the very early Church, Christians have prayed for the souls of the dead. We also see in the Old Testament that we inherited the practice of praying for the dead from our Jewish brothers and sisters. In 2 Maccabees, Judah collects an offering for soldiers who died in sin, sending the money to Jerusalem in atonement for their sins (2 Macc. 12:43, 46).
I’ve obtained an indulgence previously. Do I need another one?
- Indulgences only apply to sins that already have been forgiven. So you may need another if it has been some time since the last indulgence you obtained.
- More importantly, seeking indulgences in our daily lives can be a way of cultivating ongoing holiness because we would desire to live lives detached from all sins, pray regularly, and receive the sacraments often.
- If not for ourselves, indulgences can be obtained for a soul in purgatory. Praying for the dead is a spiritual work of mercy and encouraged of all Christians.
How do I get the Catholic200SG Plenary Indulgence?
- Firstly, one must meet the following conditions:
- Have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin (i.e. desire never to sin again)
- Receive sacramental confession
- Receive the Holy Eucharist
- Pray for the intentions of the Pope (e.g. praying an “Our Father” and a “Hail Mary”)
- Secondly and specifically for the Catholic200SG indulgence, you must also carry out one of the following:
- Participate in any of the concurrent Mass celebrated in the 32 parishes in Singapore, on 11 December 2021, via online Mass if necessary; OR
- Support with a charitable contribution, works of a religious or social nature, for the betterment of society; OR
- Make a personal act of penance for at least one  whole day, either abstaining from unnecessary consumption (e.g. smoking, alcohol, etc) or fasting.
- Firstly, one must meet the following conditions:
I cannot go for mass to receive Holy Communion and go for Confession because I’m sick and/or housebound. I cannot receive the sacraments with the current COVID-19 restrictions. What should I do instead?
If you want to obtain the indulgence, you must have the intention to confess in due time your individual serious sins and to receive the Holy Eucharist as soon as possible.
Where can I learn more about indulgences?
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a section on Indulgences that provide a brief but complete overview on their theological foundations.
- Pope Saint John Paul II explained the connection between Indulgences and God’s mercy in his General Audience in September 1999.
- For an extensive explanation on Indulgences and a complete list of prayers and acts of faith through which one can obtain an Indulgence, please refer to The Enchiridion of Indulgences (1968).