In my last column I wrote about general grants of indulgences. Today I want to comment on indulgenced prayers or works, which are most probably what people mean when they refer to ‘indulgences.’ Such indulgences are listed as “partial” or “plenary” meaning it removes some of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven (partial indulgences) or all of the temporal punishment (plenary indulgences). The church does not define how much “partial” is other than it is not all the punishment (it could be 99%!).
To obtain a plenary indulgence, one must say the prayer or do the work (such as spending a half-hour in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament), and fulfill the following conditions (known as the “usual conditions”): (1) Be free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin; (2) receive sacramental confession (within about 20 days); (3) receive Holy Communion; and (4) say a prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father (e.g., an Our Father and a Hail Mary). The conditions may be carried out several days preceding or following, although it is appropriate to receive Holy Communion on the day the prayer or work is performed. If a person is not fully disposed or if the conditions are not fulfilled, the indulgence is partial. A plenary indulgence may be gained only once on any day. It can be applied to oneself or to the dead (but not to another living person).
So what are some of these prayers or works? Many prayers have a partial indulgence attached to them, such as the Acts of Faith, Hope, Love, and Contrition, as well as the Angelus, the Anima Christi, the Memorare, and the Apostles or Nicene Creed. The Rosary has a plenary indulgence attached to it when the rosary is recited in a church or when recited in a family (partial otherwise). Even the sign of the cross, while saying the customary words, has a partial indulgence attached to it.
Some of the indulgenced works are spending time in adoration the Blessed Sacrament (partial or, if a half-hour or more, plenary), visiting a cemetery and praying there for the dead (applicable to the dead only; partial but plenary from November 1-8), reading Sacred Scripture (partial or, if a half-hour or more, plenary), or attending the First Mass of a newly ordained priest (plenary).
Indulgences are a special gift to us from the treasury of the Church. We do not often think about the temporal punishment due to sin but we should. We should try often to keep ourselves out of purgatory by doing good here on earth and assisting those who have already died by Masses said for their souls and applying indulgences to them.