My children and I made a pilgrimage to the Cathedral's Holy Door after Mass on Christmas Eve (and after going to confession that same day). We received the plenary indulgence but wonder exactly what that means. Could you shed some light on that please?
The granting of indulgences is a part of Church’s life that is closely linked to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins. Among the occasions for which they are offered are during jubilees (such as the Year of Mercy), and they are often connected with making pilgrimages (such as to holy places, or, in particular, through the “holy doors,” as have been set up for the Year of Mercy).
According to the Catechism, which takes its explanation from the apostolic constitution of Pope Paul VI entitled The Doctrine of Indulgences, an indulgence is the removal of the temporal (earthly) punishment due to sins. This removal of punishment is accomplished by God, is granted when one’s sins have already been forgiven, and is completed when the person who seeks such removal of punishment fulfills certain prescribed conditions. This removal of temporal punishment is given through the Church, whom Christ has given the authority to forgive sins. There are two types of indulgences stated here, either partial (removing of some of this temporal punishment) or plenary (removing of all temporal punishment).
To make sense of this teaching, we first need to realize that our sins have two sets of consequences. On the one hand, our sin separates us from God. This separation is mended through forgiveness; however, this does not remove the hurt that may remain—the other set of consequences. For example, if you intentionally injure another, you can be forgiven of your sin but that does not take away the injury. Likewise with our sins—God forgives our sins in confession, but this does not remove earthly consequences of sin. In a spiritual way, therefore, the granting of indulgences to one who makes an offering for the sake of removing these consequences can indeed be assured by the Church that removal of punishments from their soul has taken place.
The granting of indulgences, while it seems like a quick fix, must be understood in the context of faith. For it is by way of God’s grace, received through the offering of prayers or acts of penance that indulgences attached to such prayers or actions can remove temporal punishments. Accordingly, underlying the reception of these
indulgences begins with a desire of detachment from every sin, including contrition for our sins and the desire for repentance. Many prayer books will list the proper
portioned indulgence, such as “3 days” or “7 days” that are gained by praying the given prayers—these are partial indulgences. Meanwhile, plenary indulgences,
because these remove all punishments, minimally require three conditions in addition to the prayer or action: sacramental confession, receiving communion, and prayers for the intentions of the Pope (which can be the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, mindful of his intentions). In this Year of Mercy, it is added that as part of the “act” of passing through the Holy Door for the Year of Mercy should include the making of a Profession of Faith after passing through the door, and to reflect upon mercy as part of our reception of Holy Communion – in addition to the other conditions mentioned above.
It is absolutely necessary to keep in mind that these indulgences are gained, not to be “stored up” or as a “free pass,” but for the sake of drawing us closer to God, through His grace. While their application is very fitting by seeking indulgences on behalf of another who has died—that the removal of these punishments from their soul will then free them for life in Heaven–the plenary indulgence for the Holy Door is properly to be applied personally to each who themselves pass through the door.
Given our proximity to the Cathedral, I hope that every parishioner is able to take advantage of this great gift of mercy during this holy year.
Fr. Joel Hastings