I’m a great fan of indulgence and I know that in these lockdown days the temptation is to over-indulge in one or many of the enticing options available. The chocolate in the fridge is tempting at breakfast and my liking for coffee could easily get out of control.
Perhaps our attraction to this kind of indulging is a good starting point for a contemporary and life-giving understanding of indulgences in the church. And when I say I’m a great fan of indulgences it’s these holy Indulgences in the church that I am speaking about.
Let me explain why.
In these days of coronavirus uncertainty, when the lockdown brings to the surface every human fear of health, loss of loved ones, concerns about violence in the home and in society, and financial and material security, we are helped by seeking and receiving anew the love and mercy of God which casts out all fear.
Most of us have heard negative things about indulgences in the church. It’s true that at the time of the Reformation Indulgences were widely misused and abused. Because of this we naturally lost sight of their original Christ-centred purpose in providing a privileged and accessible way for Catholics to experience the mercy of God in a spring-time of faith, a fresh beginning, a new opportunity to know the love of God.
The sacraments of the church, instituted by Jesus, are the usual tools of trade for the priest as minister of the grace of Jesus Christ. This is widely appreciated since even though people know that Jesus loves the new-born baby people still want a baptism. When we are burdened by sin and know that God forgives, we seek the mercy of God through the ministry of a priest. And when we are dying we want the sacraments of the church and the presence of a priest.
However when a priest is not available (or when we celebrate a year of Jubilee), the church enthusiastically takes extraordinary steps to indulge those who seek God with an abundance of God’s mercy through Indulgences.
Because we humans need tangible signs and actions, to convey divine realities, specific and tangible words and actions are used as the way for the one who wishes to receive this new beginning.
In normal times (for example when on a pilgrimage) the steps required to receive an Indulgence involve reception of the Sacrament of Confession and Holy Communion. However in this Coronavirus lockdown priests are not available and the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist are not possible, so the conveying of this grace and mercy of God is entrusted to the people of the church.
In this situation the Church is able to be even more generous with God’s mercy, and the method for this mercy is the gift of the Indulgence.
One who desires to be free from every sin and sincerely seeks to live in harmony with God
Merv Duffy SM writing in the Marist Messenger a couple of years ago concluded his reflection:
“Indulgences have a very long history in the Church. They have encouraged virtuous actions and helped many people on their path to salvation. Thanks to Pope Pius V, they are no longer something to be bought or sold. Because of Pope Paul VI, indulgences are a simple and concrete support and encouragement for practices that should be part of the life of every Catholic.”
- Saint (Pope) John Paul spoke about God’s mercy in his Regina Caeli address on Divine Mercy Sunday 1984.. Allow these words to speak to your heart.
What is mercy
if not the boundless love of God,
who, confronted with human sin,
restrains the sentiment of severe justice and,
allowing Himself to be moved
by the wretchedness of His creatures,
spurs Himself to the total gift of self,
in the Son’s cross . . . ?
Who can say that he is free from sin
and does not need God’s mercy?
As people of this restless time of ours,
wavering between the emptiness of self-exaltation
and the humiliation of despair,
we have a greater need than ever
for a regenerating experience of mercy.
- Use these lockdown days to encounter Jesus in the gospels. Try picking up the gospel of Luke and read a passage or two each day. Begin the reading simply saying “Jesus, as I read, speak to me.” Then read slowly. Read only for a minute or slow then put down the bible, close your eyes, breathe deeply and ask again, “Jesus, speak to me.” Make a decision to make your way through the Gospel of Luke using this daily routine of contemplative reading and prayer.
Today this message below was sent from the New Zealand bishops to the priests of the country presenting the requirements for reception of a Plenary Indulgence during the COVID-19 lockdown.
When you cannot receive the Sacraments
because of Quarantine
On 20 March 2020, Pope Francis issued a statement for people affected by the Covid-19 lockdown. In it he gave a way (a plenary indulgence) for those in danger of death to be forgiven their sins and to be readied for eternity. The extract below clarifies the necessary steps to prepare for and to receive this abundant mercy of God.
For those unable to receive the sacraments:
do any one of the following:
- read the Holy Scriptures for at least half an hour, OR
- recite the Holy Rosary, OR
- do the Way of the Cross, OR
- recite the Chaplet of Divine Mercy,
to implore from Almighty God the end of the epidemic, relief for those who are afflicted and eternal salvation for those whom the Lord has called to Himself, and to pray for the Holy Father’s intentions.
And have the intention of going to sacramental confession and holy communion once these things are possible.
For those who are sick:
- recite the Creed and
- pray the Lord’s Prayer and
- pray the Hail Mary, or other prayer invoking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and
- pray for the intentions of the Holy Father
offering this trial in a spirit of faith in God and charity towards their brothers and sisters, with the intention of going to sacramental confession and holy communion once these things are possible.
For those who are dying:
This indulgence is granted to them, provided that they are well disposed and have recited a few prayers during their lifetime. The recommendation is that the dying person be given a crucifix to hold or to look at.
Click on the link below for printable version.