To be completely healed of our sins requires conversion, forgiveness and the repair of the damage caused by sin. For example, some children are playing baseball in a field behind the house. The parents have a simple rule. When the children play ball, they are not to bat toward the house. Because of the angle of the sun that day, the children disobey their parents and bat toward the house.
You can imagine what happens: a broken window. Though the parents forgive the children when they say they are sorry, the window is still broken and needs to be repaired. In our lives, even our venial sins damage ourselves, for they prevent us from loving God and others completely and entrap us in selfish attachments.
The repair of the damage that our sins do to ourselves has been called “the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin.” Bearing the trials of this life out of love for Christ and others enlarges our hearts for the healing love of Christ to take even deeper root.
Picking up our cross daily and following the Lord helps to heal us from the damage that our sins cause. Striving to grow in love of God and neighbor helps to heal the damage. If we have not been fully healed from the damage we have done to ourselves through our sins before we die, that healing or purification takes place by the fire of God’s love in purgatory.
Ultimately, Christ is the one who forgives and heals through his passion, death and resurrection. Yet he invites us to respond in freedom to participate in his healing work. Through his mercy and the pastoral care of the church, one way we can take part in this healing of the damage caused by sins is through obtaining indulgences.
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church” defines an indulgence in this way:
“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 satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”
An indulgence is either partial or plenary depending upon whether it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin. To obtain an indulgence we must have the intention of doing so, perform the good act to which the church has attached an indulgence, and we must be in the state of grace. We may obtain indulgences for ourselves or for other persons who have died. We may obtain a plenary indulgence once a day, and partial indulgences several times a day.
To obtain a plenary indulgence we must perform the prescribed good act and fulfill the following three conditions within several days before or after doing the prescribed act: Sacramental Confession, Eucharistic Communion, and prayer for the pope’s intentions. We must also be free of all attachment to sin, even venial sin, that is, we must be truly sorry for and reject all the sins in our life.
Here are a few examples of good acts which an indulgence is attached. A partial indulgence can be obtained any day of the year for devoting ourselves or our goods in compassionate service to our brothers and sisters in need. A plenary indulgence can be obtained any day of the year for the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for at least one half hour or the devout reading of the Sacred Scriptures for at least one half hour.
In addition, special indulgences have been established in the Year of St. Paul, as you have read in “The Compass.” You can learn more about the different indulgences that are available in “The Handbook of Indulgences” from Catholic Book Publishing.
Our sins have ripple effects that damage the lives of others as well as our own. Indulgences are a sign of the mercy of God who longs to heal us and have us freely participate in his healing work.
Fr. Doerfler is chancellor of the Green Bay Diocese.