The Raccolta (1910)/On Indulgences

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The Raccolta (1910)  (1910)  by Ambrose St. John
On Indulgences


PUNISHMENT, like a shadow, follows all sin, whether mortal or venial, and it is not usually remitted to the full when forgiveness is obtained. Eternal punishment, incurred by mortal sin, is always remitted with the guilt, but some temporal punishment generally remains due to the justice of GOD. This temporal punishment is inflicted by GOD either in this life or in Purgatory; but a man may anticipate the divine justice by works of penance, or by means of Indulgences.

The guilt, then, of sin is one thing, the punishment another. The guilt is remitted when a man truly repents, either with or without the Sacrament of Penance; but though the punishment, or a portion of it, may be remitted with the guilt, some usually remains, as a debt of satisfaction, to be paid in this world or the next. This truth is clearly indicated in the sacramental penances which always accompany Absolution.

These penances have, in course of time, under pressure of external circumstances, lost much of the severity which characterized them in earlier ages, but they still testify to the principle that after forgiveness satisfaction remains due. The comparative lightness of modern sacramental penances ought to suggest that they alone are not sufficient to satisfy the justice of GOD, and that they should be supplemented either by other penances, self-inflicted or patiently accepted at the hand of GOD, or by some equivalent. And in the case of sins forgiven either indirectly in the Sacrament, or by means of contrition alone, the satisfaction remaining due is left altogether to the individual’s patience under chastisement from GOD, or to his personal activity in applying himself either to works of penance, or to some equivalent. That equivalent is to be found in Indulgences.

What, then, is an Indulgence? An Indulgence is the remission by the Church, on specified conditions, of the whole or a part of the debt of satisfaction remaining due for sin. The Church has power to absolve from guilt; she has also power to remit the punishment. The one she exercises in the Sacrament of Penance; the other she exercises when she grants an Indulgence. And it is clear from what has been said that an Indulgence is supplemental to Absolution, and presupposes the forgiveness of the guilt of sin.

Theologically considered, an Indulgence is not a mere exercise of spiritual power and authority on the part of the Church ; it is truly a payment of the debt, made out of her Treasury of satisfactory merit; for in Page 11 of 187 this are stored up the superabundant merits of JESUS CHRIST, and the accumulated merits of our Lady and all the Saints. With this inexhaustible fund at her command, she has the means of satisfying the debts due from her children to the justice of GOD. In form, an Indulgence emanates from the Pope; leaving out of account the limited power exercised by Bishops in favour of their flocks and by Cardinals, Nuncios and others; and it is registered in a Decree or Rescript of the Congregation of Indulgences, or some similar document. It attaches to a specified prayer or good work an additional satisfactory value, such value being expressed in the terms of an ancient canonical penance, viz., so many days, Quarantines (which lasted forty days), or years, to which the Indulgence is there by declared to be equivalent. The earliest Indulgences were, in fact, remissions of these very penances.

Indulgences are either Plenary or Partial, according as a remission of all, or of part, of the debt of punishment due is granted. In either case the actual benefit obtained depends upon the dispositions of the penitent, and the care and accuracy he employs in fulfilling the conditions laid down. For the sake of clearness and facility of reference, the general and special conditions required for obtaining Indulgences are set out in tabular form below.

It only remains to add that, though the Church has no direct jurisdiction over the souls in Purgatory, she authorizes and encourages, as a work of supreme charity, the application of Indulgences, by way of suffrage, to the needs of those afflicted souls; and we may confidently assure ourselves that these suffrages are most acceptable to the Divine Majesty, and that what the Church would thus, as it were, indirectly loose in Purgatory is speedily loosed also in Heaven, amid the rejoicing of all the heavenly court, to the great glory of GOD, and to the incalculable benefit, as well of the suffering souls as of their earthly benefactors.

General Conditions required for all Indulgences.

1. STATE OF GRACE. (See Decisions i, 2,)

2. INTENTION. (See Decisions 3, 4,)

3. ACCURACY and DEVOTION in fulfilling the specified conditions. (See N.B. ibid.)

Special Conditions usually required for Plenary, and sometimes for Partial, Indulgences.



iii. VISIT to a church or public chapel. (See p, xiii.)

iv. PRAYER according to the intention of the Pope. (See p. xiii.) N.B. -- Too much stress cannot be laid on the importance of carefully noting and exactly fulfilling all that may be required for gaining a particular Indulgence. If there is any deviation, even though unintentional, from the strict letter of the specified conditions, no Indulgence can be gained.

To gain the full benefit of a Plenary Indulgence, it is necessary to have a true hatred of every, even venial, sin committed, and to be wholly free from all voluntary attachment to what is sinful.

NOTE. In the case of gaining Indulgences for the dead, the necessity of a state of grace is questioned by some theologians, unless it is specified or implied in the Grant; and therefore, in this particular case, the necessity cannot be insisted upon as absolutely certain; nevertheless, in practice, a state of grace should always be considered of the first importance, the opinion above quoted being" only probable.

The following decisions of the Congregations of Indulgences should be carefully noted:



1. A state of grace ought to precede everything, but in case it should not, it must at least be attained before the last of the acts prescribed for the Indulgence is completed. (Raccolta, p. vii.)

2. Although for Partial Indulgences Confession is not usually required as a condition, the usual formula being, "with at least a contrite heart," in case of conscious mortal sin it should precede the other acts; but in case of difficulty in getting to confession an act of true contrition with a firm purpose of confessing suffices. (December 17, 1870.) Under ordinary circumstances, the formula above quoted implies nothing more than a state of grace.


3. A general intention of gaining all Indulgences is sufficient. It should be renewed from time to time, say every morning. (Raccolta, p. viii.)

4. By a further general intention all, or by a particular intention any, Indulgences may be applied to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, either to the Holy Souls in general, or to individual souls (Ib. ) N.B. Indulgences to be applicable to the holy souls require a positive declaration to that effect in the grant. (Cf, Instruction 8, p. i.)


5. Confession, when required as a condition, is binding even on those who are not conscious of mortal sin. (May 19,1759.)

6. The Confession, or Confession and Communion, required as conditions may be made on the day previous to that appointed for an Indulgence, provided other acts remain to be done on the day itself. (January 12, 1878.)

6a. In cases of special feasts enriched with Indulgences, and of those days when as in the case of the Portiuncula many indulgences can be gained in succession; on account of the concourse of penitents, the Confession can now be made, in the first case, i.e. when a single Indulgence is in question, two days, and in the second case three days before the feast. (March n, 1908.)

7. Habitual weekly Confession, for those in a state of grace, suffices for all Indulgences during the week, except Jubilees. (March 12, 1855.)

8. By weekly Confession is meant Confession every seven days. (November 23, 1878, February 25, 1886.)

N.B. Daily Communicants are no longer required to make this weekly Confession. See Frequent Communion," No. 85, p. 70.

9. In cases of devotion extending over a period of days, the Confession and Communion may be made any time within eight days after the end of such a period. (December 8, 1 897.)

10. If the Bishop of the Diocese applies for it, a concession is made in favour of places where, through want of Confessors, people have a difficulty in getting to Confession before an indulgenced feast. In such cases, Confession made eight days before suffices, and covers all Indulgences during the period. (June 12, i822; September28, 1838; December 15, 1841.)

11. Under similar circumstances, and if the Bishop applies for the concession, the habitual Confession made once a fortnight, i.e. every thirteen days, suffices for all the Indulgences during the period. (November 23, 1878; February 25, 1886.)

12. Confession and Communion made on Easter Day satisfy for the Paschal precept and for the Indulgence attached to the Papal blessing given by the Bishop. (March 19, 1841.)

13. For a Jubilee, ordinary or extraordinary, a special Confession and Communion must be made. (May 10, 1844.)


14. One Communion satisfies for all the Indulgences of the day. (May 29, 1841.)

15. The Paschal Communion satisfies for the Paschal precept and the Indulgence of the day. (May 10, 1844.)

16. Unless specially required, the Communion for an Indulgence attached to a particular church need not be made in that church. (May 19, 1759.) 17. In cases of chronic infirmity, or physical impediment, the Confessor can commute the Communion for some other good work. And this has been made applicable to Communities. (September 18, 1862; January 16, 1886.)


18. Separate visits must be made for two or more Indulgences. (February 29, 1864.)

19. If the Communion be made in a church or chapel prescribed, or available for the visit, special prayer said at the time of Communion satisfies for one visit. (Raccolta, p. xviii.)

20. The chapels of monasteries, seminaries, and convents, to which the faithful have not public access, are not available for the visit. (August 22, 1842.)

21. Confessors can commute the visit in the case of chronic invalids, or those who cannot go out. And this has been made applicable to Communities. (September 1 8, 1 862; June 16, 1 886.)

22. The visit may be made before or after the other acts, i.e., any time from midnight to midnight, unless otherwise specified, e.g., from first Vespers on the vigil to sunset on the feast. (May 19, 1759; January 12, 1878.)


23. The Pope’s intention always includes the following objects:

i. The progress of the Faith and triumph of the Church. ii. Peace and union among Christian Princes and Rulers. iii. The conversion of sinners. iv. The uprooting of heresy.

These intentions may be fittingly recalled and prayed for after Communion, or at the visit; but a general intention of praying according to the mind of the Pope is sufficient ; and any prayers may be used which are not already of obligation, e.g., the Little Hours of a priests Office. (July 12, 1847; May 29, 1841.)


24. Vocal prayer is commuted for devout elevation of mind and heart. (February 16, 1852.)

25. At public Devotions, presence and a devout attitude of mind and heart suffice. (Ibid.)

26. Confessors can commute private prayers for other external works. (Ibid.)

27. Vocal prayers may be said by signs or mentally, or they may be read over without articulation. (July 16, 1902). Page:Theraccoltaorcol00unknuoft.djvu/18