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What Is A Plenary Indulgence? (…And Why You Should Care!)

One of the more mysterious aspects of the Catholic Faith is the plenary indulgence. If you’re unclear as to its meaning, you’re in good company. The majority of Catholics don’t fully understand the concept, as evidenced by their lack of interest in obtaining this tremendous gift. Let’s look at the Church’s definition of an “indulgence”:

An indulgence is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) as “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 the satisfactions of Christ and the saints. An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin. The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.” (CCC 1471)

The Church teaches that unforgiven grave sin makes it impossible for us to get to Heaven. Fortunately, we can obtain forgiveness for our sins through the sacrament of Confession. However, even though our sins can be forgiven, we still need to be cleansed of the “attachment to creatures” that caused us to sin in the first place. That cleansing process is known as “temporal punishment”. That purification can take place here on earth or after death in Purgatory. That’s great, but what does this have to do with indulgences?

If you read the Catechism’s definition of an indulgence above, you’ll see that a plenary indulgence removes all of the temporal punishment due to sin. Reading further, you’ll note that an indulgence can be applied to the dead. Therefore, if you have a friend or relative that has died and may be in purgatory (and despite what some may incorrectly try to tell you…we have to assume that this is everyone with the exception of canonized saints) you can obtain a plenary indulgence for them and allow them to go directly to Heaven!

Do you see why this is such an important matter? It becomes even more important when we consider the fact that the individuals in Purgatory can’t help themselves get to Heaven any faster. Yet, we can do something that helps them achieve eternal happiness instantly. It sounds unbelievable, but it’s really true.

In tomorrow’s blog, I’ll discuss how it’s possible.

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