Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Indulgences: antiquated or helpful?

I recently got together with a young man who is a good friend of mine. He has had a rough year. He is still recovering from a serious brain injury he suffered after being attacked in Adams Morgan one night out with friends. Not too long after he got out of the hospital, he learned that one of his best friends who was living in the South had died suddenly. My buddy, who is a man of faith, expressed his serious sadness over these events, especially the loss of his good friend. He felt so badly that he couldn’t be there for his friend because of his own hospitalization; mainly, he has had great remorse that he didn’t do anything to help him.

Thanks be to God and His Spirit, the discussion took a tremendous turn (one that I didn’t initially anticipate) toward what he could do now to help him. We talked about praying for the dead and what we can do as Catholics for those who have died. I mentioned about having Masses said his friend which is the greatest prayer he can offer for him. Then, we discussed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the powerful prayer of intercession for the souls of those who are “most in need of God’s Mercy”. I also suggested the practice of gaining a plenary indulgence for his buddy and gave him a brief explanation of and theological basis for indulgences. By the end of the conversation, my friend’s discouragement had become encouragement; his despair had become hope. He could do something now to help his friend!

Here are some more questions from anonymous bloggers about indulgences:

1) “When I asked why, if they have the power to eliminate temporal punishment, why doesn’t the Church eliminate it for everyone who died in a state of grace? It was explained to me that temporary suffering is part of God’s plan for us. I can understand and accept that. So, if God’s plan is for us to experience temporal punishment, then why would the church offer something that would eliminate it?”

Just like any suffering, God doesn’t actively will temporal punishment; He allows it. Like any evil, it is part of His passive will. It is a result of sin, so it is an evil. God does bring good out of it as He does with all evil.

We might ask a similar question regarding a natural evil like poverty, “why does the Church offer ways to reduce or even eliminate poverty?” God brings good out of poverty (and even extols the poor), but it is still an evil that the Church works to eliminate.

2) “Can a plenary indulgence be gained and given to any soul in purgatory? Do you have to have a certain person in mind?”

A plenary indulgence should be done with a particular person in mind. Partial indulgences might be offered up for souls in general; for example, “all the souls in Purgatory”.

When I pray my daily rosary, I include prayers for the Holy Father (Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be) knowing that it gains at least a partial indulgence. In my mind, I offer the indulgence for “the souls in Purgatory”, confident that God will know how and to whom to disperse the benefits of the indulgence. Whether an indulgence is plenary or partial, though, I wouldn’t worry too much if you offer it up for souls in general; God knows what to do with it (better than we do!).

3) “Can a plenary indulgence be applied to a non-Christian loved one?” Yes.

4) “Who decided that a person can free someone from purgatory with a plenary indulgence? What is the source of it? I have a hard time believing in it because it sets out a very mechanical list of things to do in order to accomplish something so profound as sending someone to heaven. It reads like a "to do" list that you might stick on your fridge. Isn't it a little antiquated?”

For my friend, gaining an indulgence for his buddy doesn’t seem antiquated at all; it is the source of hope and encouragement that he is actively helping him now get to Heaven.

Tom answered Anon’s question:

“Indulgences are acquired ‘through the intervention of the Church which, as minister of the Redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of the satisfaction won by Christ and the Saints’ (quoting the 1968 Manual of Indulgences).

Nothing antiquated about that.

I'd say the to-do list impression comes from the fact that a plenary indulgence is the kind of request that will only be heard from someone who is in a state of grace and in close communion with Christ's Church (freedom from attachment to sin and reception of the sacraments ensure personal sanctity, and the prayer for the Pope signifies union with the Church).

Partial indulgences are granted, more or less straightforwardly, for all sorts of things. All you have to do is ask.”


At 1:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've definitely got a lot of questions about death, but not quite sure how to put them into words...

Working with Code Blues I see life and death almost everytime I work and it never fails to amaze and scare me. Sometimes we do everything we can, the patient has a pulse and starts to breathe, and then 2 minutes later that all goes out the window. I never understand it, why they would be so alive one minute and the next all the life's going out of them.

I am very sorry to hear about your friend's troubles and I am praying for him.


At 2:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When a child in our family died, everyone in my family was distraught- especially my eldest daughter. Before the child passed on, my daughter cried and cried that there had to be something we could do. I was grateful that I had something to offer her- prayer.

We were sitting on my bed and she asked what she should pray. I had a pamphlet on praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet in my night stand. Honestly, I had not been someone who prayed the devotions very much (I still should do it more), but there was something really comforting about saying this then. I had remembered reading that one of the intentions for Divine Mercy Novena was for the souls of children, and, because we knew her death was immanent, we prayed for her soul. It helped to be able at ask for mercy for that child and for her family.

At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been praying for the dead and even had the privilege to be with a friend as they were dying. I prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy several times along with many other prayers. I blessed them with relics etc. But when the priest came and gave the final blessings...that was when real peace came to them and they passed gently a half hour later.

I did the plenary indulgence that FG told us about for all souls day, Nov. 2. (I never knew about this indulgence) But after reading this blog I really feel encouraged to pray, pray, pray for these souls and I plan to do just that.
I have always wondered if we could ask for their prayers for us?

At 8:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ten years ago, my best friend’s father died. I was there, in the room. I remember thinking that “he” was gone, even though we all stayed in the room waiting for family and friends to come to say their goodbyes. My best fiend cried that she no longer had a father, and I hugged her for hours. I never had a father like hers, but I remember thinking, in that moment, I wished my best friend had a different faith. Her earthly father was gone, yes (and it was a great loss), but it was the first time ever that I realized that I had something different from what she had. I had a father who would never die; it was one of those moments in my life that reaffirmed my faith.

She cried for the death of her father and I prayed for his life everlasting. He was a good man, and I believe I will see him again. It was one of those moments that reaffirmed for me who I am and what I’m about. It’s a good thing that I’ve been reminded of that time.

At 10:21 AM, Anonymous Tom said...

There are, I believe, four any-time plenary indulgences available to us (under the "usual conditions" of confession within several days, reception of Communion, prayer for the Pope, and (the hard one) freedom from attachment to all sin):

* Reading the Bible "with the veneration due the divine word" for at least half an hour.

* Praying the Rosary (one set of five mysteries) in a church or with your family, a religious community, or a pious association.

* Pious meditation on the Way of the Cross before formally erected stations (e.g., those found in every Roman Catholic church).

* Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for at least half an hour.

Extra Special Bonus Plenary Indulgence: Visiting your parish church on the feast of its titular saint and praying one Our Father and the Creed is good for a plenary indulgence. This Sunday, November 30, is the Feast of St. Andrew.

At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Extra Special Bonus Plenary Indulgence: Visiting your parish church on the feast of its titular saint...This Sunday, November 30, is the Feast of St. Andrew."

I would think that listening to karaoke would earn an extra EXTRA Special Bonus Plenary Indulgence.

At 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I see death, there are two types, final and transitional. I gave up a long time ago on trying to understand either. In final death, there is no hope for eternal life with God; one's earthly life is judged by God as being one that was lived with no regard or respect for His teachings and beliefs. The reward is one of Hell. Period. End of conversation. In transitional death, there is hope for eternal life with God; one's earthly life is judged by God as being one that was lived with regard and respect for His teachings and beliefs. The reward is eternal life with Him in Heaven. No period. No end of conversation. A hiatus? Perhaps, in Purgatory. After all, yearning to live with Christ in Heaven makes it all the more special when achieved.

Death is the one and only thing that I feel, with 100% certainty, I will experience. I don't have control over it, doctors don't have total control over it and our technology and medicines don't have control over death. God does. I figure I better be trying to understand what it is I'm supposed to be doing here on earth. That's what really matters.


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