Indulgence - FAQ​

​1. What is an indulgence?

An indulgence is one way for the faithful to reduce the punishment they have to undergo for their forgiven sins. Its root is in the Latin indulgentia, which means a show of kindness, as well as indulgere, which means to forgive.

The process of sanctification requires not only the forgiveness of sins but also purification from the harmful effects of sin. Different actions can help in our purification, including the use of indulgences.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1471:

​The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance. “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 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.

​2. Why do indulgences exist?

Christians are called to "be perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48). The process of sanctification requires not only the forgiveness of sins (confession) but also purification from the harmful affects of sin. This is why the Church firmly teaches the existence of purgatory, as "nothing unclean" can enter Heaven (Revelation 21:27).

The Church exists in communion and thus the path to purification is never solitary. Different actions can help in our purification, such as the sacraments, engaging in spiritual works, and, in this case, the use of indulgences.

3. What types of indulgences are available?

In current Catholic discipline there are two types of indulgences available: plenary and partial. A partial indulgence is one that partially frees from the punishment due for sins; a plenary indulgence totally frees from the punishment due for sins.

4. ​Can I apply an indulgence for someone e​lse?

Any member of the faithful can gain partial or plenary indulgences for themselves or apply them for a deceased member of the Christian faithful.

While Church history has admitted one member of the Christian faithful applying an indulgence to another living member of the Christian faithful, this is not currently contained in the Church's canonical discipline (see c. 994).​

5. What are the criteria for getting an indulgence?

To gain an indulgence, there are four basic criteria:

  1. Be baptized;
  2. Be in a state of grace (i.e. free from mortal sin);
  3. Have the intention to receive the indulgence;
  4. Perform the required work or prayer.

Further, plenary indulgences have three additional criteria:

  1. Not be excommunicated;
  2. Have no attachment to sin, even venial sin;
  3. Receive the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist and pray for the Pope's intentions within the designated period of time​

6. Can baptized non-Catholics receive indulgences?

Yes, baptized Catholics can receive partial indulgences if they fulfil the required criteria. However, since plenary indulgences have the requirements of making use of the sacraments, under normal circumstances baptized non-Catholics are unable to fulfil the necessary conditions to obtain the indulgence.

7. ​​How long do I have to go to confession or communion?

Historically, the Christian faithful had to satisfy this condition as early as noon prior to performing the act and up to eight days following. However, current Church discipline allows either twenty days before or after the specified act.

8. ​What are other ways to get an indulgence?

There are many, many other ways to obtain an indulgence.Some of these are "general grants", meaning they do not include specific actions. These are four-fold and are all partial indulgences:

  • In the course of daily duties and difficulties of life, raising thoughts to God and piously invoking His assistance
  • Giving of one's self or their goods in compassionate service to those in need
  • In a spirit of penance, freely abstaining from something that is otherwise licit (e.g. Fasting from meat on a Monday);
  • In an open witness to faith, render a sign of belief to others (e.g. Saying grace before meals in a restaurant, wearing a cross, etc.).
Some ways of obtaining a partial indulgence include:
  • Making use of blessed objects in prayer;
  • Praying for Christian unity;
  • Praying one of the following prayers to the Blessed Virgin: the Magnificat, the Angelus, the Maria, Mater gratiae, the Salve Regina, the Santa Maria succerre nobis, and the Sub tuum praesidium;
  • Invoking the help of one's guardian angel;
  • Praying for benefactors;
  • Post-communion hymns of thanksgiving;
  • Singing Eucharistic hymns (e.g. Tantum ergo, etc.).
  • Prayer to St Joseph;
  • Praying for pastors.
Some ways of obtaining a plenary indulgence include:
  • Praying the rosary in a church or oratory, in a family gathering, within a religious community or canonical association of the Christian faithful, or in any context in which the faithful come together for this purpose;
  • Spending at least half an hour in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament;
  • Praying the stations of the cross at a location where they are legitimately erected (e.g. a parish or shrine);
  • Participating in a preaching mission at a parish (e.g. during Advent or Lent);
  • Reading the Bible for at least thirty minutes.
  • Visiting a special site of pilgrimage. In the Archdiocese of Toronto, the Shrine to the Martyrs in Midland has been a site where pilgrims can obtain a plenary indulgence since 1644.​

9. How many indulgences can I obtain?

Plenary indulgences can only be obtained once daily. Further, the act of going to Confession and Communion can only be applied to a single indulgence. This means that if you want to receive a plenary indulgence two days in a row, you must also make two separate acts of approaching the sacraments. The exception to this is in cases of danger of death when the faithful can be given a plenary indulgence by a priest who imparts the apostolic blessing, regardless of whether they already received an indulgence that day.Partial indulgences can be granted as frequently as the faithful make use of them.

​10. Where can I read more about indulgences?

The current catalogue of indulgences was last updated in 1999 by the Apostolic Penitentiary and is called the Enchiridion indulgentiarum. This Latin text is available in English translation​ from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.​

Blessed Pope Paul VI revised the current discipline on indulgences substantially after the Second Vatican Council in a 1967 document called Indulgentiarum doctrinaThis is available on the Vatican website.

 

Learn more about ​​​​​indulgenc​e​s for the Jubilee of Mercy