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WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE CHURCH’S PRACTICE ON GRANTING INDULGENCE?
By Rev. Fr. Victor Okhiria
 

Beloved reader, thank you for opening this page once again to find meaning to the Faith handed on by the Apostles as received from JESUS which you are proud to profess.

This year marks the 100thyear anniversary of the apparition to the three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal and the Holy Father declared 27th November, 2016 till the 26th November, 2017 as the Marian year. He also has granted a plenary indulgence opportunity throughout the centennial year. Detailed in a statement from the Fatima Shrine in Portugal, there are three ways the faithful can obtain the indulgence inclusive of fulfilling the ordinary conditions [of going to Confession and Communion, be interiorly detached from sin, and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father].

However, the issue of the Church’s practice of granting indulgence [though a long practice in her devotional life] has not been fully understood by many as it proves a difficulty in this regard. Therefore, this month’s edition of The Spiritual Pathway is geared towards throwing more light on this hallowed practice of the Church through a dialogue that ensues between John [pseudo name] and his Priest.

John:   … Ok Father, but I don’t seem to fully understand the Church’s practice of granting Indulgence. It has been so fuzzy for me even though I believe the Church in all that she does. So can you explain to me Father, What is an indulgence?

Pastor:            Well John, you are just like many Catholics but you may stand out because you have asked to know more about your faith which you are proud to profess even if some things are a bit blur. An indulgence is the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt have already been forgiven and which the follower of Christ with the proper dispositions and under certain determined conditions acquires through the intervention of the Church.

John:   I love to go to confession so well Father, to foster my relationship with God. Do you mean that I am not totally forgiven of my sins?

Pastor:            The LORD is most compassionate and gracious and he forgives all of our sins when we are contrite and remorseful. We confess to him through the Priest to acknowledge our wrong and receive from him Penance for the wrong done.

John:   Yes Father, that’s my point exactly; if he has forgiven me then why do we still talk about temporal punishment? Won’t that be included in God’s bouquet of Mercy?

Pastor:            This is how it is John. Do you remember breaking your Daddy’s windshield? Although your parents forgave you because you showed contrition and a purpose of amendment, the windshield had to be repaired and the previous level of trust reestablished. Sin is both an offense against God and a rupture of the relationship we enjoy with God through Baptism.

Every sinful act creates a disorder within the soul of the human person. In every sinful action, there is the guilt due to sin and the punishmentrequired by divine justice. Those who have received forgiveness for their sins through the Sacraments of healing still have a duty to experience a process [the temporal penalty for sin] to be purified of the consequences of their sins and to reinstate the unsettled relationship with God. This process can take place either in this life or whatever part of the process remains incomplete at death will be completed in Purgatory.

John:   Father, how can we talk of a good God and put it side by side punishment for sins which you have said is required by divine justice. Isn’t it scary?

Pastor:            Well that is true and the word itself is scary. There are a number of anthropomorphic notion of God’s vindictiveness that makes the Christian message of the punishment of sin seem ferocious. However, the concept of ‘Punishment’ in God is different from the civil world. Although the Catechism of the Catholic Church uses the word ‘punishment’ it may be better understood as ‘preparation.’ When you were much younger, it may have felt like a punishment at the time when your uncles or aunts were coming over for the Christmas season and you had to do some work like scrubbing the floors, washing the curtains and a host of other things. Yet now you are older, you see that those things were not so much punishments as preparations. This is the same with the understanding of God’s punishment for sins; it is pruning and purification for entrance into that state where nothing unclean will dwell in God’s abode and glory. What we call the ‘temporal punishment’ due to our sin, then, is the need to repair the damage done by sin.

John:   If that is the case, then what is the difference between Penance given to me at Sacramental Confession and Indulgence itself?

Pastor:            You must always remember that in every sinful action there is the guilt and punishment due to sin. An indulgence does not confer grace neither is it a remission of the guilt due to sin. The guilt due to sin is ordinarily taken away by the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance in which we receive forgiveness for sins through JESUS Christ. Although in Baptism, not only is the guilt of sin remitted but also the penalties attached to it. However in the Sacrament of Penance, the guilt is taken away and with it the eternal penalty that is due to sin, [that is, damnation; the eternal loss of the presence of God] there remain consequences for sins that those who have committed them must bear traditionally called the temporal punishment for sin.

The satisfaction, usually called “penance”, imposed by the confessor when he gives absolution is an integral part of the Sacrament of Penance; an indulgence is extra-sacramental; it presupposes the effects obtained by confession, contrition, and sacramental satisfaction. Since penance [satisfaction] happens within the Sacrament of Penance, it pertains to only those who are alive while an indulgence on the other hand can be applied to the living and/or the dead.

Also, another difference between the two is that, through prayer and ‘penance’ the sinner must come to learn the gravity of his offense and purify his attachments so that he is no longer attracted to sin. On the other, since every sin has a temporal punishment which must be repaid, it is done in this life [remitted by an indulgence] or after this life in purgatory.

John:   Father, how does the Church remit temporal punishment through indulgences?

Pastor:            Since the LORDJESUS Christ has established the Church as the means by which the Gospel is to be preached and as a result of the communion that exists between Christ and all the members of the Church, the Church has a treasury of spiritual goods that is inexhaustible. The source of these spiritual goods is the infinite satisfaction of JESUS Christ [his Passion, Death and Resurrection] and of the superabundant satisfaction of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the saints, such that through the Church’s union with Christ, the Church has the authority to dispense this treasury. John, do not forget that the beauty of the Church is conceived not without the Communion of Saints. It is because of the Communion of Saints and the graciousness of God, our Father, that some or all of the temporal punishment for sin is removed. We are linked with Christ and with the martyrs and saints, and we benefit from their holiness in such a way as to be freed from at least a portion of the temporal punishment for sin.

An indulgence may be either partial or complete [called plenary]. If an indulgence is partial, then it is said to free a person from some of the temporal punishment; if an indulgence is plenary, then it remits all the temporal punishment a person has as a consequence of sin.

John:   Alright Father, may I also ask who can receive an Indulgence and what is required?

Pastor:            Any of the baptized faithful, who are rightly disposed and who fulfill the definite prescribed requirement attached to the indulgence may gain it under the normal conditions for themselves or they can apply them to the dead but not to other living persons. The normal conditions which must be met for a baptized member of Christ’s body to receive a partial indulgence are that the person ought not to be excommunicated and that he or she must be in the state of grace at least at the time when he or she completes the prescribed activity. To gain an indulgence also, one must have the general intention of doing so. To receive a plenary indulgence, in addition to a good work or act of devotion prescribed by the Church, it is required that we [1] make a sacramental confession, [2] receive Holy Communion, [3] pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, and [4] be completely detached from all sin. If these conditions are only incompletely fulfilled, the indulgence obtained will be only partial. But due to the omniscience of God, he alone knows what penalty remains to be paid and what its precise amount is in severity and duration.

John:   One last thing Father, could you please take me through Scriptures for the Church’s practice of granting indulgence?

Pastor:            Most definitely John, and it is beautiful to see how the Church is so filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit to understand the Sacred Words and interpret them appropriately. In Genesis 22, Abraham faced the ultimate test of his life when God demanded him to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Abraham demonstrated his willingness but God spared Isaac and rewarded Abraham with a blessing of promise to his descendants. In the life of the people of Israel, the most bizarre way they forfeited this blessing was the act recorded in Exodus 32, where they fashioned a bull-calf out of gold and worshipped it; this sin merited death. Yet, we see Moses deliver the people from the punishment of death which they deserved but how did he do so? He said to the LORD “Remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel, your servants to whom you swore by yourself and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants and they shall inherit it forever.” [Exodus 32:13].

Do you notice what Moses did? His intercession was based upon the treasury of merits of their Fathers. The treasury of merits enabled them to safeguard God’s mercy and justice simultaneously. The same is the case in the stories of Noah, whose righteousness served to redeem future generations from the ravages of the flood. When we call to mind Matt 16:19, JESUS gave the apostles and their successors – the pope and bishops – the power of binding and loosing. So today, we see the Church exercising this authority that Moses once exercised on the Mount of Sinai, the right and the duty to call upon the merits of the saints.

John:   Thank you very much Father

Pastor:            Very well John, you are welcome. It feels great to explore the treasure of our faith. And one last thing to note son, in receiving indulgences, it won’t be right to think that we have earned them. Our struggles depict our readiness to receiving God’s mercy.

 

 


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