Monday, January 6, 2020
How Much Merit Does the Church Have to Give Away in Indulgences?
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What Are Indulgences?

Pope Paul VI said: "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 defined conditions through the Church’s help when, as a minister of redemption, she dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions won by Christ and the saints" (Indulgentiarum Doctrina 1).

An indulgence is a removal of the punishment from sin. Although you are forgiven in Confession for sins the punishment stills remains, which would have to be achieved through purification like in purgatory. If an indulgence is performed and earned, then part or all of the punishment is removed. Catechists often use the story of a boy hitting a baseball through his neighbor’s window to explain indulgences. The neighbor forgives the boy for the offense – which corresponds to our forgiveness in the confessional – yet the boy must still make restitution and pay for a new window – which relates to our need for penance to remove the temporal effects of sin.

Remember, indulgences are only possible because of God's love displayed on the Cross. Without Jesus Christ, we would have no chance to be forgiven and obtain salvation.


How Much Merit Does the Church Have to Give Away in Indulgences? 

The Church possesses an infinite treasury of merits that can be applied to souls. This treasury is composed of the acts of those who in Heaven or who are still on Earth that they did not need (i.e. their souls were already clean from the temporal punishment from sin). This excess is not lost and if the person performing the indulged act does not ask God to apply the merits to someone in particular, they remain in the Church’s treasury.

However, these merits are small, in fact infinitely small, in comparison to the merits won by our Lord on the Cross. By His Sacrifice, our Lord won for us an infinite treasure of merits which He entrusts to the Church. This treasury as such will never run out. There is no concern that the Church will run out of merits to apply to us for our indulged acts.

What Are The Kinds of Indulgences?

A universal indulgence is granted anywhere in the world while a local indulgence applies to only a specific place or area. A perpetual indulgence is one that may be gained at any time while a temporary indulgence only is available for certain times, for example, like certain indulgences for the Holy Souls in November. A plenary indulgence is the complete remission of the temporal punishment of sin.

Temporal punishments only “cancel out” a certain amount, of which only God knows. If more temporal punishment remains, more indulgences or time in purgatory (which is also biblical) is required in order to reach the perfection of Heaven.

Please also realize that many older documents like holy cards and prayer books would have a certain length of time printed on them. For example, a prayer could say it is a 300 day partial indulgence. However, realize that time does not exist in purgatory or Heaven or hell. The Church has never taught that if such a prayer was said, the person would get 300 days off purgatory time. An indulgence is only reduced as God sees fit. The dates corresponded only to early Church practices. The 300 days indulgence would correspond to 300 days of earthly fasting and penance. Since it was so misunderstood, most prayer cards no longer print these dates, referring to indulgences instead as either partial or plenary.

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