31 December 2022

Ask Father: Are There Still “Partial Indulgences”? Notes on Indulgences in General.

Yes, there are! There is a link in the sidebar to Works and Prayers Listed in 'Enchiridion of Indulgences' that are indulgenced. Fr Zed explains further.

From Fr Z's Blog 

From a reader…


My 1956 Saint Andrew Daily Missal, pages 1111 et seq., allows for partial indulgences, measured in days and years, upon various prayers; yet, current my Baronius Press missal does not.

Two Questions:

1. Have partial indulgences been suppressed?

2. If not, should/must/or just-a-good idea words such as “the following prayer or act is in hope of earning a partial indulgence” or similar be said prior to praying or acting?

You raise a good point.

Firstly, let’s review.

An indulgence is the remission of temporal punishment due to sins the guilt of which has been forgiven.  We gain indulgences through certain works and conditions prescribed by the Church which has Christ’s authority to dispense and to apply the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and of the saints.

Indulgences can always be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased, but they cannot be applied to other persons living on earth.  

An indulgence can be full (plenary) or partial.

The reason for the discrepancy in your books results from the fact that in 1967 Pope Paul VI revised the way that indulgences can be gained.   The book called the Raccolta (a collection of indulgenced works) was replaced by the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum (Handbook of Indulgences).

Whereas before 1967 the Church thought in terms of the remission of the equivalent number of days, months, forty-day periods (quarantines), and years of assigned canonical penance, after 1967 the Church’s emphasis shifted to stirring in individuals sincere conversion (not that the Church didn’t do that before, of course!).

Your 1956 book reflects the Church’s practice before 1967.

Your Baronius Missal – lovely book!  – published I think in 2014 reflects the situation after 1967.

Partial indulgences have NOT been suppressed.   The extent of remission of temporal punishment now seems to depends on the fervor with which a person performs the prescribed work.

The general condition to obtain a plenary indulgence are four:

  1. Make a valid sacramental confession
  2. Reception of Communion in the state of grace
  3. Pray for the intentions designated by the Roman Pontiffs (such as an Our Father and a Hail Mary, ad libitum)

On that point of praying for the Pope’s intentions: that means praying for what he designates, not praying for him, though it is a good thing to pray for Popes.  I have written about what one could do in the case that the intentions designated by a Pope are, well, wacky.  HERE

You have about 20 days to make a good confession and good Communion though it is best if everything is completed on the same day.  One confession will suffice for a number of indulgenced works.  The idea is that one must be in the state of grace by the time the indulgenced work is completed. One can see why it is a real boon to have a priest available for confession during Holy Mass.

While single sacramental confession suffices for gaining several plenary indulgences, Holy Communion must be received and prayer for the intentions of the Roman Pontiff must be recited for the gaining of each plenary indulgence (Enchiridion Indulgentiarum 20.2).

Confessors can commute the work prescribed and the conditions (except for the following in the case of plenary indulgences).

When it comes to those works which can bring a plenary indulgence, a key to obtaining that full remission includes not just performance of the work, but also…

4. complete detachment from all sins, mortal of course, but also venial.

That is not the easiest state of intention to attain, but it is not by any means impossible.  The Church doesn’t require the impossible.  This is important to remember.

These days there seems to be a tendency to relax discipline and teaching from a false sense of compassion and a strange notion that people can’t be expected to live according to “ideals”.   For example, some people think that people who are divorced and remarried couldn’t possible live according to the “ideal” of perfect continence and – therefore – they should be admitted to Communion, even though they are in a manifestly adulterous relationship.   It is false compassion to suggest to people that ideals are impossible, and so they shouldn’t even try.

If the full disposition (complete detachment from sin) is lacking, or if the work and the three prescribed conditions (1-3 above) are not fulfilled (except in the case of those who are legitimately impeded) the indulgence will only be partial.  And, again, priest confessors can commute works and conditions except for that issue of detachment for a plenary indulgence.

So, some of the indulgences which the Church grants are partial.  Some of the grants are plenary.  But… some that are plenary are only obtained in a partial way if the full conditions are not met.

Finally, it is right and proper that you have a clear intention of gaining an indulgence so that you do what you do with focus and full sincerity.

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