(With thanks to Fisheaters.com for particulars)
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. (1983 Catechism ¶ 1471)
In other words, an indulgence can take away some or all of the temporal punishment due to sin, either for ourselves or for others, as we choose. Temporal punishment is one of the consequences of sin, which does not go away even if the sinner truly repents of the sin in this life; the other is eternal punishment, which is due the unrepentant sinner. The amount of punishment due a particular sin includes all the possible consequences of the sin, not only to the sinner but to the community in the present and the future. Temporal punishment can occur in this life (penance and mortification are two examples of voluntary acts that can count to reduce temporal punishment; suffering the consequences of the sin involuntarily can count as well) or in Purgatory in the hereafter. Indulgences both partial and plenary are two other ways to reduce temporal punishment. Partial indulgences take away some of the punishment, but plenary indulgences take away all of it! Like all the best deals, there are rules. Plenary indulgences are not easy to obtain.
Plenary Indulgences can be acquired only once each day for the same work (unless one is at the moment before death, in which case the person may acquire another). Another exception is on All Souls Day — November 2 — when the faithful may gain a plenary indulgence, only for the souls in Purgatory, as often as they want). Notice that one might acquire additional plenary indulgences the same day as long as they are for different works.
Plenary indulgences are much more demanding than partial indulgences, for they require one to do all the following. These are “the usual conditions” for receiving a plenary indulgence:
• have the intention of gaining the indulgence
• receive the Sacrament of Penance (within several days before or after the prescribed action of the indulgence, though the same day is best, if possible)
• receive the Eucharist (within several days before or after the prescribed action of the indulgence, though the same day is best, if possible)
• pray 6 Paters (Our Fathers), 6 Aves (Hail Marys), and 6 Glorias (Glory Be’s) for the intentions of the Holy Father (within several days before or after the prescribed action of the indulgence, though the same day is best, if possible). The most recent Enchiridion [Church's official handbook on indulgences] prescribes at least one of each, but 6 is the traditional number.
• perform the prescribed action of the indulgence. If the prescribed action of the indulgence requires a visit to a church or oratory, one must visit devoutly and recite 1 Our Father and the Creed. This doesn’t refer to any visits to a church for Confession or the Eucharist in order to fulfill the requirements listed above; it refers to such indulgences as those granted to the faithful for visiting a church on the day of its consecration, visiting their parochial church on its titular feast day, visiting the stational churches of Rome, etc.
• be free from all attachment to sin, including venial sin. This last is most difficult, but if it can’t be fulfilled, a partial indulgence at least will be gained.
Some examples of actions to gain a plenary indulgence:
• Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for at least one hour
• Making the Way of the Cross or, if unable to get to a church, the pious meditation and reading on the Passion and Death of Our Lord for a half an hour
• Private recitation of five decades of the Rosary. This must be done vocally, continuously, and while meditating on the Mysteries
• Public recitation of five decades of the Rosary. This must be done vocally, continuously, and with the Mysteries announced out loud and meditated on.
• A plenary indulgence is granted on each Friday of Lent to the faithful who after Communion piously recite before an image of Christ crucified the prayer: “Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus.” On the other days of the year the indulgence is partial. The prayer is written below.
Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus, while before your face I humbly kneel, and with burning soul pray and beseech you to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments of faith, hope and charity, true contrition for my sins, and a firm purpose of amendment, while I contemplate with great love and tender pity your five wounds, pondering over them within me, calling to mind the words which David, your prophet, said of you, my good Jesus: “They have pierced my hands and my feet; they have numbered all my bones” (Ps 21, 17-18).
• A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who renew their baptismal promises in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil
• A plenary indulgence is granted when an Act of Consecration is publicly recited on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (go to end to see this prayer)
• A plenary indulgence is received by those who publicly make the Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart on the Feast of Christ the King (last Sunday in October per the traditional calendar, last Sunday of Pentecost per the Novus Ordo calendar) (Go to end to see this prayer)
• A pious visit to a church, a public or chapel on All Souls’ Day (November 2) with the prayers of one Our Father and the Creed; this indulgence is applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory.
• A devout visit to a cemetery with a prayer, even if only mental, for the departed souls, from the first to the eighth day of November.
Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, to Thee I consecrate and offer up my person and my life, my actions, trials, and sufferings, that my entire being may henceforth only be employed in loving, honoring and glorifying Thee. This is my irrevocable will, to belong entirely to Thee, and to do all for Thy love, renouncing with my whole heart all that can displease Thee.
I take Thee, O Sacred Heart, for the sole object of my love, the protection of my life, the pledge of my salvation, the remedy of my frailty and inconstancy, the reparation for all the defects of my life, and my secure refuge at the hour of my death. Be Thou, O Most Merciful Heart, my justification before God Thy Father, and screen me from His anger which I have so justly merited. I fear all from my own weakness and malice, but placing my entire confidence in Thee, O Heart of Love, I hope all from Thine infinite Goodness. Annihilate in me all that can displease or resist Thee. Imprint Thy pure love so deeply in my heart that I may never forget Thee or be separated from Thee.
I beseech Thee, through Thine infinite Goodness, grant that my name be engraved upon Thy Heart, for in this I place all my happiness and all my glory, to live and to die as one of Thy devoted servants.
Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart
Most sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us humbly prostrate before Thy altar. We are Thine, and Thine we wish to be; but to be more surely united with Thee, behold each one of us freely consecrates himself today to Thy most Sacred Heart. Many indeed have never known Thee; many too, despising Thy precepts, have rejected Thee. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to Thy Sacred Heart. Be Thou King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken Thee, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned Thee; grant that they may quickly return to their Father’s house lest they die of wretchedness and hunger. Be Thou King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbor of truth and unity of faith, so that soon there may be but one flock and one Shepherd. Be Thou King of all those who are still involved in the darkness of idolatry or of Islamism, and refuse not to to draw them all into the light and kingdom of God. Turn Thine eyes of mercy towards the children of that race, once Thy chosen people: of old they called down upon themselves the Blood of the Savior; may It now descend upon them, a laver of redemption and of life. Grant, O Lord, to Thy Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give peace and order to all nations, and make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: “Praise be to the Divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to It be glory and honor for ever.” Amen.
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