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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What Must We Do?

Because my company, Bridegroom Press, produces the Calendar of Indulgences every year, I get the following kind of question all the time:
If there is an indulgence attached to a devotional prayer (i.e. Rosary, DMC, Mass,) if one is praying fervently, is he required to ask for the indulgence or is it automatic?
You only have to have the "general intention" to receive an indulgence.
You don't have to specifically intend to receive the indulgence, but just generally intend it.

What does this mean? As long as you are doing the work in order to draw closer to God or in order to heal the world, then that is sufficient intention to win an indulgence.

You don't have to think "I'm doing an indulgence now" in order to receive it.

Keep in mind, however, that while this "general intention" works well for partial indulgences, the numerous conditions attached to a plenary indulgence would be hard to fulfill without actually thinking about them and "checking them off" one by one, as it were.

It could happen, I suppose, but it would be the unusual Catholic who has the kind of habit of prayer that would normally fulfill all the conditions for a plenary every time they prayed.

On the other hand, you could easily argue that the Church is asking us to build precisely that kind of habit of prayer, and encourages us to do this by giving us the "general intention" condition instead of asking us to have the specific intention.

The conditions for a plenary indulgence:
  • Be in a state of grace when doing the work,
  • Go to confession within twenty (20) days of the indulgenced act, either before or after. One confession can stand for several indulgences.
  • Receive the Eucharist once for each plenary indulgence. It is best to receive on the same day the indulgenced work is perform, but the reception can be on another day if necessary.
  • Pray for the Holy Father's intentions - an Our Father and a Hail Mary is generally sufficient.
  • Have no attachment to sin, even the most venial. People think this is the most difficult condition, but it isn't as bad as it sounds. We aren't expected to be immune from concupiscence. After all, even baptism doesn't wash away concupiscence, so it would be ridiculous to expect us to have no concupiscence in order to win a plenary. A movement of the flesh to desire something is not the same as attachment to sin. In order to have no attachment to sin, an act of the will is sufficient, e.g., praying, "Lord, I do not desire anything or anyone except Yourself" or "Lord, I reject all sin and all attachment to the things of this world; I cling to the things of heaven, most especially the Beauty and Glory of Yourself."
  • Only one plenary indulgence may be won each day, but there is no limit to the number of partial indulgences which may be won on any given day.
So, if you habitually go to confession about once a month, avoid serious sin, attend daily Mass and receive the Eucharist, routinely pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, and routinely make an act of the will to reject the world and accept only God, then you are probably winning indulgences left and right and don't even know it.

If not, then you will probably need the specific intention in order to win the plenary. On the bright side, whenever we fail to fulfill all the conditions for a plenary, we get a partial instead.


Fr Joe Mack said...

Interestingly enough, I've had a series of articles included in the parish building explaining indulgences for the last 3 weeks. The final is this coming weekend and includes the link to bridegroom press in the hopes that at least some of my parishioners will be motivated to check it out.

Bekah said...

Thanks for this, especially the part about having no attachment to sin. I'm so far from saintliness I'd just about resigned myself to never fulfilling the requirements for a plenary indulgence.

I also wanted to say I love your "Indulge Yourself" post from a couple years ago. As a convert, indulgences were the one thing I just chose to believe without any sort of grasp on the subject. Everything I found about them was very dense and didn't express what an awesome gift they are. Your post was so clear and easily understandable that they're now one of my favorite things about the faith.