If you're like me, you don't think much about what exact indulgences you're receiving when you perform various acts of faith, hope, and love. I know that whatever acts I perform out of love for Christ (whether self-giving or self-restraint, in addition to receiving the Sacraments often) are doing a great amount of good for my soul, and also a great amount of good for the Church as a whole (after all, we are all one body).

Whether not stressing the details is a good or bad approach, it's simply difficult to keep track of exactly what counts as a partial or plenary indulgence, what requirements are involved to gain them, and if you've met the requirements adequately.  My imperfect understanding grasped that sometimes confession is required, sometimes certain prayers, the absence of sin, etc. It just all seemed like a lot of confusion, so I haven't bothered too much with figuring it out.  I was content knowing that I'm gaining some indulgences for the pious things I do, but I don't exactly keep track of for what, when, and how many. I just make sure I'm regularly doing pious things so that my faith will continue to grow.

However, I've recently learned that there is actually a handbook on indulgences that list everything out for you, and you can find it online. This handbook is called the Enchiridion of Indulgences.  It tells you exactly what kind of indulgence (partial or plenary) are granted for what acts, and what the conditions are for each.

Now, it was perhaps better that I didn't know that this handbook existed, because I'm given to over-analysis and scruples, but nevertheless I took a peek. I was pleased to find a few “easy” ways to gain indulgences; that is, things that are already a part of my walk of faith:

  1. Eucharistic Adoration for at least ½ hour
  2. Devout reading of the Catholic Bible for at least ½ hour
  3. Performing The Way of the Cross
  4. Recitation of the rosary in church, with your family, religious community, or pious association.

Now, these four things are “easy” in that they're probably things you do often anyways. But, it's the conditions that must be performed along with the above actions that make gaining the indulgence a bit harder (as it should be, of course, because this is not a game or superstition; performing these acts along with meeting their conditions means that something is going on in your soul for which you merit the indulgence).

In order to gain a plenary indulgence for the above actions you must, a) perform the act, b) receive Holy Communion, c) go to confession, d) pray for the intentions of the Holy Father (an Our Father and Hail Mary will do), and—the real kicker—e) all attachment to sin must be absent (mortal and venial).

Now, if you've just been deflated after realizing that even if you could easily do one of the above, you couldn't possibly meet all the conditions . . . there is some good news.  First, some of these conditions may be performed several days before or after the act. Second, even if you don't fulfill all the conditions perfectly, you still gain a partial indulgence, which is the next best thing to a plenary indulgence, and way better than no indulgence at all. So be of good cheer!

For example, if you pray a rosary before Mass or do the stations of the cross, you're already halfway there, because you'll receive Communion the same day as well, and can easily pray for the intentions of the Holy Father too. Then you can just go to confession the next time it's offered.  Now, making sure you have no attachment to sin is probably going to be the thing that makes your indulgence most likely a partial one; however, simply having the desire to be free from attachment to sin (that is, a desire to have all that keeps you from loving Christ removed) then that desire itself is sufficient for action on God's part to make that desire a reality. Then, in the future, your partials will start to become plenaries as you more and more perfectly meet that most difficult condition.

What do you think about indulgences?  Do you actively try to gain them?

Copyright 2012 Gretchen Filz