An explanatory note:  Whenever we sin, two things happen.  We offend God and we damage our souls.  Even if we are sorry for our sins and are forgiven by God, the damage to our souls still exists and requires healing.  This healing is accomplished by God’s grace and our cooperation with that grace.  If, when we die, that healing is not complete, we go to purgatory.  The “punishments” of purgatory are therapeutic, intended to heal us so that we are fit for heaven.

Here on earth, we cooperate with God in healing our souls by prayer, good works, and acts of penance.  Indulgences are offered by the Church as an additional incentive to engage in these worthwhile practices.  If a work has a partial indulgence attached to it, whatever healing benefit it would ordinarily have—and only God knows this—is doubled.  It’s as if the Church guarantees a matching gift.  If the work has a plenary indulgence attached to it, then the Church guarantees a complete healing of the soul, or, to use the traditional language of the Church, a complete remittance of temporal punishment due to sin.  Remember, the punishment and the healing are related.

Indulgences can be earned for oneself or for the souls in purgatory.  In other words, I can say some prayer or do some work to which an indulgence is attached and offer it for a deceased loved one who I presume is in purgatory, and he or she will receive the benefit.

Now with all this in mind, here is Fr. Keep with some suggestions for how to take advantage of these gifts of God and the Church that we call indulgences.

 There are three grants of partial indulgences that I want you to remember.  Make a general intention of gaining all the indulgences you ever can and renew that intention from time to time.  Then look at these three indulgenced works, which have a very wide application.

We can gain a partial indulgence whenever in the performance of our duties or in bearing the trials of life, we raise our mind with humble confidence to God and add at least mentally some pious invocation.  This is meant to encourage us to put into practice the command of Our Lord that we “must pray always and not lose heart.”  If we lift up our minds with humble confidence in God as we do our duties or bear the trials of life and say some little invocation such as “Jesus, I love you,” or any other little prayer, we strengthen our union with Jesus in what we do, and we gain the indulgence.  If you do this when you have a very mild headache you will gain a small indulgence.  If you do this when you are in great pain you will gain a large indulgence.  If you do this when doing any duty in your life you gain the indulgence.  So there is one of the bonuses the Church gives us, or rather that Jesus gives us through the Church, that we can be gaining all day long, and at the same time we shall grow in the practice of the presence of God by our frequent little prayers.  All that is needed is that the little prayer be backed up by humble confidence in God.  This is a lovely indulgence!

A second widely available partial indulgence can be gained whenever we give of ourselves or of our goods to serve our brothers and sisters in need, provided that we do it in the spirit of faith and mercy.  The person we serve must be in need, for example of food or clothing or instruction or comfort for the soul.  This bonus is given by Christ through the Church to encourage us to perform more frequent acts of charity and mercy to those in need of one kind or another.  Some people are in need of our prayers, of course.

The third widely applicable partial indulgence is intended to encourage us to practice self-denial in the spirit of penance.  We gain this indulgence whenever in a spirit of penance we voluntarily deprive ourselves of what is lawful and pleasing to us.  I suppose that if out of penance you give up sugar in your tea, you gain the indulgence, for sugar in your tea is lawful and pleasing to you.  You would not gain much for so small an act, I dare say, but there are so many ways you can double the value of your self-denial.  Give up television for half an hour in a spirit of penance.  Give up those sweets from time to time.  Sit in a hard chair instead of that comfortable one sometimes.  There are thousands of little ways in which you can gain this indulgence over and over again during the day.  And what spiritual value these little sacrifices have—so many little acts of self-denial.

Well, those are the three partial indulgences I want to mention.  There are quite a number of other ones attached to prayers and visits, etc., but I must leave you to ferret them out for yourselves from someone who has the full list or from the official book called The Enchiridion of Indulgences.

Now I want to mention four plenary indulgences.  These are very valuable indeed, and the conditions for gaining them are more exacting than for partial ones.  A plenary indulgence, which remits the whole of one’s debt of punishment (for those whose guilt is  already forgiven) if you gain it fully, or part of it if you do not gain it fully, can be gained only once a day.  But once a day for so great a blessing is extremely generous, and the works that are involved are not all that onerous.  There are three conditions, apart from performing the actual work, that are needed for gaining a plenary indulgence.  They are sacramental confession, Holy Communion, and prayer (e.g. an Our Father and a Hail Mary) for the intentions of the Pope.  In addition one must be free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin.  If these conditions are fulfilled, then a plenary indulgence may be gained for the following works.

In the first place, although there is a partial indulgence for visiting the Blessed Sacrament to adore Jesus, if the visit lasts at least half an hour, the indulgence is plenary.  Secondly, there is a partial indulgence for doing spiritual reading of Holy Scripture with veneration due to God’s word, and this becomes plenary if the reading is continued for at least half an hour.  A third indulgence may be gained by making the Way of the Cross, moving round the fourteen Stations.  The fourth plenary indulgence I want to mention is gained by saying the Rosary, five decades, in a Church or in a family group or pious association.  Vocal recitation must be accompanied by pious meditation on the mysteries.

. . . it is a pity so few modern Catholics know about this matter, and since we can offer indulgences for the Holy Souls [i.e. the souls in purgatory], they lose a great deal if we ignore indulgences.  Moreover, why should we not try to get ourselves ready to go straight to heaven when we die?  We have plenty of helps.  Our Blessed Lord gave a plenary indulgence to the repentant thief on the cross.  May we receive a similar blessing?

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