A 'how to' for Year of Faith plenary indulgences

The sale of indulgences shown in "A Question to a Mintmaker," woodcut by Jörg Breu the Elder of Augsburg, circa 1530.

You might have read that Catholics who participate in events connected with the upcoming Year of Faith can receive a special plenary indulgence. I must admit the idea of appointed clerics having the authority to grant indulgences carries a bad taste.  I cannot help but connect the whole notion of indulgences with old theologies and with the funding of the building of St. Peter’s basilica. The sales of indulgences were an abusive and lucrative practice at the time and led to an uprising, headed by Martin Luther of Germany, resulting in the Reformation and a split in the church.But they have continued as part of the Catholic tradition – though there has been little emphasis on indulgences in recent decades. This, like many other aspects of our traditional faith, is getting more attention. Notably, Pope Benedict XVI this week authorized the granting of a plenary indulgence – officially the remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven – for the performing of certain pious acts related to the Year of Faith, which begins this month.I thought it would be instructive to list the necessary requirements for penitents who wish to gain a plenary indulgence: Penitents can gain one:

  • Each time they attend at least three sermons during the Holy Missions, or at least three lessons on the Acts of the Council or the articles of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in church or any other suitable location.
  • Each time they visit, in the course of a pilgrimage, a papal basilica, a Christian catacomb, a cathedral church or a holy site designated by the local ordinary for the Year of Faith (for example, minor basilicas and shrines dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Apostles or patron saints), and there participate in a sacred celebration, or at least remain for a congruous period of time in prayer and pious meditation, concluding with the recitation of the Our Father, the Profession of Faith in any legitimate form, and invocations to the Blessed Virgin Mary and, depending on the circumstances, to the Holy Apostles and patron saints.
  • Each time that, on the days designated by the local ordinary for the Year of Faith, in any sacred place, they participate in a solemn celebration of the Eucharist or the Liturgy of the Hours, adding thereto the Profession of Faith in any legitimate form.
  • On any day they chose, during the Year of Faith, if they make a pious visit to the baptistery, or other place in which they received the Sacrament of Baptism, and there renew their baptismal promises in any legitimate form.

An additional note: Faithful who, due to illness or other legitimate cause, are unable to leave their place of adobe, may still obtain a Plenary Indulgence "if, united in spirit and thought with other faithful, and especially at the times when the words of the Supreme Pontiff and diocesan bishops are transmitted by television or radio, they recite ... the Our Father, the Profession of Faith in any legitimate form, and other prayers that concord with the objectives of the Year of Faith, offering up the suffering and discomfort of their lives".

Now you know.

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