See also a short History of Indulgences.

Indulgences are the remission of temporal punishment do to sin*. Although this is still the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, indulgences have had a smaller role in the church's spirituality since the Second Vatican Council. One simple way to understand them is to realize that when a pope felt very strongly about a prayer or other religious practice, he would encourage its use by granting an indulgence. Therefore, indulgenced prayer is officially encouraged prayer. The document issued on indulgences after the Second Vatican Council and the text of indulgenced prayers is given at Enchiridion of Indulgences 1968. The norms state:

"N. 1. An indulgence is the remission before God of the temporal punishment due sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned, which the follower of Christ with the proper dispositions and under certain determined conditions acquires 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." Norms. See also the Apostolic Constitution on the Doctrine of Indulgences.
These norms inform us of the conditions for the obtaining the indulgence, i.e. confession, and communion within several days, and prayer for the Holy Father's intentions**. Sometimes there is an act rather than a prayer that is incouraged.
"N. 17. The faithful who use with devotion an object, piety (crucifix, cross, rosary, scapular or medal) properly blessed by any priest, can acquire a partial indulgence. "

If someone is at the point of death, he does not have to have a priest present to receive the plenary indulgence given through the Apostolic Blessing.


"N. 18. To the faithful in danger of death who cannot be assisted by a priest to bring them the sacraments and impart the apostolic blessing with its attendant plenary indulgence (according to canon 468, 2 of the Code of Canon Law) Holy Mother Church nevertheless grants a plenary indulgence to be acquired at the point of death, provided they are properly disposed and have been in the habit of reciting some prayers during their lifetime. To use a crucifix or cross in connection with the acquisition of this plenary indulgence is a laudable practice.

This plenary indulgence at the point of death can be acquired by the faithful even if they have already obtained an indulgence on the same day. "

One of the simplest indulgences to gain is the sign of the cross. Traditional, and older Catholics, were all trained to begin prayer with this action. We even start the mass by the sign of the cross.
 "55. Sign of the Cross (Signum crucis)

A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who devoutly sign themselves with the sign of the cross, while saying the customary words: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

First General Grant

A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who, in the performance of their duties and in bearing the trials of life, raise their mind with humble confidence to God, adding even if only mentally -- some pious invocation.

This first grant is intended to serve as an incentive to the faithful to put into practice the commandment of Christ that "they must always pray and not lose heart" and at the same time as a reminder so to perform their respective duties as to preserve and strengthen their union with Christ.

Second General Grant

A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who in a spirit of faith and mercy give of themselves or of their goods to serve their brothers in need.

This second grant is intended to serve as an incentive to the faithful to perform more frequent acts of charity and mercy, thus following the example and obeying the command of Christ Jesus.

However, not all works of charity are thus indulgenced, but only those which "serve their brothers in need," in need, for example, of food or clothing for the body or of instruction or comfort for the soul.

Third General Grant

A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who in a spirit of penance voluntarily deprive themselves of what is licit and pleasing to them.

This third grant is intended to move the faithful to bridle their passions and thus learn to bring their bodies into subjection and to conform themselves to Christ in his poverty and suffering.

But self-denial will be more precious, if it is united to charity, according to the teaching of St. Leo the Great: "Let us give to virtue what we refuse to self-indulgence. Let what we deny ourselves by fast -- be the refreshment of the poor."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

1471 The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church... What is an indulgence?
"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."

"An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin." Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead.

The punishments of sin.

1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures [i.e. things of this world, self-love, the flesh, etc.], which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.

1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the "old man" and to put on the "new man." Eph. 4:22,24. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ligouri edition, p. 370.

Norms for receiving an indulgence.
"To acquire a plenary indulgence it is necessary to perform the work to which the indulgence is
attached and to fulfill the following three conditions:
1.sacramental confession,

2.eucharistic Communion, and

3.prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff.


It is further required that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent. If the latter disposition is in any way less than perfect or if the prescribed three conditions are not
fulfilled, the indulgence will be partial only, saving the provisions given below in Norm 34 and in
Norm 35 concerning those who are "impeded."
27. The three conditions may be fulfilled several days before or after the performance of the prescribed
work; it is, however, fitting that Communion be received and the prayer for the intention of the
Sovereign Pontiff be said on the same day the work is performed.
28. A single sacramental confession suffices for gaining several plenary indulgences; but Communion
must be received and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff must be recited for the gaining of
each plenary indulgence.
29. The condition of praying for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff is fully satisfied by reciting one Our Father and one Hail Mary; nevertheless, each one is free to recite any other prayer according to his piety and devotion. " From, Norms, Enchiridion of Indulgences, June 29, 1968.

"[An] indulgence discloses the fulness of the Father's mercy, who

offers everyone his love, expressed primarily in the forgiveness of sins. Normally, God the Father

grants his pardon through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.(14) Free and conscious

surrender to grave sin, in fact, separates the believer from the life of grace with God and therefore

excludes the believer from the holiness to which he is called. Having received from Christ the power

to forgive in his name (cf. Mt 16:19; Jn 20:23), the Church is in the world as the living presence of

the love of God who leans down to every human weakness in order to gather it into the embrace of

his mercy. It is precisely through the ministry of the Church that God diffuses his mercy in the

world, by means of that precious gift which from very ancient times has been called "indulgence"...

Reconciliation with God does not mean that there are no enduring consequences of sin from which

we must be purified. It is precisely in this context that the indulgence becomes important, since it is

an expression of the "total gift of the mercy of God".(16) With the indulgence, the repentant sinner

receives a remission of the temporal punishment due for the sins already forgiven as regards the


Pope Paul VI, Indulgentiarum Doctrina (January 1, 1967) [French, Italian, Latin]
See Also: The Gift of Indulgences by Pope Johun Paul II, in GENERAL AUDIENCE Sept. 29, 1999.

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