What is an indulgence?

Written by Bishop Christopher Coyne

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1471:

“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.”

This means that one has already celebrated the sacrament of Confession and Reconciliation, confessed ones sins, received absolution, and completed the penance. Thus, an indulgence is not a substitute for the Sacrament. It is extra-sacramental and involves the concept of divine justice.

Even after our sins have been forgiven, the justice owed to God – meaning what recompense we may still owe to God for the sins we have committed – is still very much a part of our life. We talk about this often in connection to Purgatory, an existence of the soul after death in which temporal punishment (meaning punishment of a particular limited nature) for sins is completed. An indulgence is a gift to us from God through the Church by which we in this life can fulfill any requirement of divine justice that we owe to God by properly engaging in the work that the Church has given us so as to receive the boon of the indulgence.

This is not an automatic, something that we receive as a kind of “free pass.” When we engage in any spiritual, devotional, or liturgical act of which one benefit is an indulgence, we are to be properly disposed in hearts and mind to see this as a time of contrition for the sins of our past, a celebration of praise for the gift of God’s forgiveness of those sins, and an opportunity to give thanks for God’s merciful love and the offer of salvation given us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During this Year of Faith, we are all encouraged to grow in our relationship to and our love for our Lord, Jesus Christ. We are also encouraged to become more sincere and authentic disciples in the manner in which we live our lives and spread the “Good News.” The opportunity given us in these pilgrimages to various sites around the archdiocese and to receive the gift of an indulgence is one more way of growing in that love and spreading the Good News. Oh, and you might want to take a friend along with you.

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