'To abstain from sinful actions is not sufficient for the fulfillment of God's law. The very desire of what is forbidden is evil." - St. John Baptist de la Salle
As we are aware, one of the key requirements to receiving a plenary indulgence is being "free from all attachment to sin." What exactly does this mean? How can we be free from all attachment to sin? A question has arisen from a reader of this blog that deserves an explanation:
One of the requirements for a plenary indulgence is "free from all attachment to sin." What do you think is meant by this? What if a person considers a certain sin to be appealing, or is easily tempted by it? Would this be an attachment to sin? What if a person has not adequately atoned for his sins? Would this be an attachment to sin?I wish to direct you to the following words taken directly from Enchiridion of Indulgences -- Norms and Grants, authorized English Edition, translated by Fr. William T. Barry, C.SS.R., Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York, New York, from the Second Revised Edition of the Enchiridion of Indulgences issued by the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary, 1968 and originally published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 1968.
The author uses the plenary indulgence associated with the Way of the Cross as an example:
To gain a plenary indulgence, however, several additional factors must also be present. All together, they are the following:
- The person must be a Catholic, not excommunicated, and in the state of grace, that is, free from mortal sin that has not been confessed and forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance.
- The recipient must go to Confession, receive Holy Communion, and say at least one Our Father and one Hail Mary for the intentions of the Sovereign Pontiff. These can all be done several days before or after performing the prescribed "work," in this case, making the Way of the Cross. But it is more fitting that the Communion and the prayers for the Pope's intentions be on the same day that the "work" is performed. A single Confession suffices for gaining several plenary indulgences, but sacramental Communion must be received and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff must be recited for the gaining of each plenary indulgence.
- The recipient must be free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin. Although a person might still sin, as we all do, or even be inclined to an habitual sin, such as using God's name in vain, yet so long as the attachment to the sin or the desire to commit it is absent from the person's soul, he or she would be considered "free from attachment to sin." (If this disposition is in any way less than perfect or if any of the prescribed three conditions are not fulfilled, the indulgence will be only partial.)
- Only one plenary indulgence may be gained per day. But one can obtain the plenary indulgence "for the moment of death;" even if another plenary indulgence had been acquired on the same day.
- The person must perform the prescribed work, in this case, make the Way of the Cross -- with at least the general intention of gaining indulgences. In making the Way of the Cross, the following norms apply:
- The pious exercise must be made before stations of the Way of the Cross legitimately erected.
- For the erection of the Way of the Cross, fourteen crosses are required, to which it is customary to add fourteen pictures or images, which represent the stations of Jerusalem.
- Although according to the more common practice the pious exercise consists of fourteen pious readings to which some vocal prayers are added, yet nothing more is required than a pious meditation on the Passion and Death of the Lord, which need not be a particular consideration of the individual mysteries of the stations.
- A movement from one station to the next is required, but if the pious exercise is made publicly and if it is not possible for all taking part to go in an orderly way from station to station, it suffices if at least the one conducting the exercise goes from station to station, the others remaining in their places.
- Those who are "impeded" can gain the same indulgence if they spend at least a half hour in pious reading and meditation on the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Being free from mortal sin is not only a requirement for gaining a plenary indulgence, but also a requirement for gaining a partial indulgence, and a prerequisite to receiving the Eucharist. To free one's self from a state of mortal sin, one must celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If one commits mortal sin regularly, it is likely that he is attached to this sin, so even after celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation and receiving the Eucharist, he can only gain a partial indulgence.
Remaining free from mortal sin is a normal state for a Christian. The more mature Christian can also achieve the higher state of being free from all attachment to sin. This is usually the deciding factor as to whether an indulgence is plenary or partial. The individual may have the intent of gaining a plenary indulgence, but any attachment to sin will cause the indulgence to be only partial. This should not deter one from seeking a plenary indulgence and a state of being free from all attachment to sin. Once one is truly free from all attachment to sin, it become easier to remain so.And thus we see attachment to sin is likely quite common in our society. But as affirmed above, we should trust in God and seek out indulgences regardless. At the least, our indulgence will be partial and for someone attached to sin, partial indulgences will help them atone for sin and increase in virtue. On a similar note, please see The Hermeneutic of Continuity's post on Plenary Indulgences: Not Impossible.
Being free from all attachment to sin is not only a requirement for gaining a plenary indulgence, it should be a goal of every Christian. Consciously renouncing all attachment to sin is required to make a good Confession. It is also required in preparing one's self to receive the Eucharist. After receiving the Eucharist or Absolution, one may fall back into attachment to sin, sometimes almost immediately, but that should not discourage one's efforts. Frequent Communion and Confession are the two most effective aids in becoming free from all attachment to sin.
The ultimate goal of a Christian is to not only be free from all attachment to sin, but to be free of all sin. This is an impossible goal to achieve on Earth, but nonetheless, it is the goal. The goal of achieving freedom from all attachment to sin is achievable on Earth, although it required a great deal of effort. It should be noted that being free from all sin and being free from all attachment to sin are two very different things. One can sin without being attached to that sin.
To be attached to a sin is to be comfortable in that sin; to return to it again and again without much resistance to the temptation to commit it. It is an addiction, where the desire to commit the sin is stronger than the desire to serve God. In essences, it is serving God with reservation and not with total abandonment.
Attachment to sin can be an obvious addiction, such as to alcohol, or to pornography, but it can also be subtle, such as being pridefully pious, saying prayers instead of praying them, or ignoring the promptings of the Holy Spirit. One must be careful though not to fall into scrupulosity, which itself is a sin that one can become attached to.
One can be attached to sin without being conscious of it, making it even harder gain a plenary indulgence. One must delve deep down into his soul and honestly evaluate his sinful nature to discover in what way he habitually resists the will of God.
Ridding yourself from all attachment to sin is necessary in gaining a plenary indulgence, but it is also the only way to grow in your Christian faith. Regularly gaining an indulgence is admirable, but what is more important is to grow in faith, which is a side effect of regularly gaining an indulgence.