We are closely approaching a time of year in which we can do extraordinarily charitable acts for our brothers and sisters in purgatory. Pray in a way which grants those souls indulgences. You may not be familiar with this practice, and that’s okay – I’m a cradle Catholic and wasn’t raised with this knowledge. I used to see them as a cheap way to “get out” of your suffering in purgatory, but that’s not it at all. It wasn’t until I joined the church I attended in Dallas for two years that I learned what they were really about.
The Catechism defines an indulgence as the following
“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.” CCC 1471
So, an indulgence is not forgiving a sin. The sins have already been forgiven, but their effects still need to be purified. For example, let’s say you’re back in your angst-y teenage years. You get mad at your parents, so you throw things around in your room in a fit of anger. You realize your ridiculous act, apologize to your parents, and they forgive you. The effect of your rage (messy room) still needs to be cleaned up.
This is essentially what happens to our Church Suffering (the souls in purgatory). These souls have died in a state of grace, but may still have venial sins or did not do sufficient penance for sins they’ve been forgiven. Purgatory is a place to be totally cleansed, so we can go to heaven with the same clean, beautiful soul we had at Baptism. It’s a good place to go, and since I know I’m not perfect, I hope to get there one day.
That being said, the Church provides ways to help the souls in purgatory as well as our own. Indulgences cannot be granted to other living souls. Additionally, there are two types of indulgences: plenary and partial. Plenary indulgences grant a full remission of the temporal punishment from a forgiven sin whereas a partial indulgence only takes care of a portion of the temporal punishment from a forgiven sin. Using the example from above, think of the difference as someone cleaning your whole room versus someone making your bed.
November 1st – 8th is a special season of praying for the souls in purgatory to grant them a plenary indulgence. Each day, a plenary indulgence may be granted if you devoutly visit a cemetery and pray for the departed.
November 2nd is All Souls Day and a plenary indulgence may be granted for the souls in purgatory to each faithful who devoutly visits a church or oratory and recites an Our Father and the Creed.
These are very simple acts which will show much love to our Church Suffering. There are certain conditions (outlined below), however, for the full plenary indulgence to be granted. If you’ve ever read into indulgences, this is probably the part that you stopped and thought – ain’t nobody got time for that! That’s what I used to think, but since I am in a unique time of life and have free time, I know the love I can share with our brothers and sisters is more important than me people-watching at a coffee shop. I would certainly hope others pray for me this way one day.
Here are the conditions outlined by the Vatican:
For a plenary indulgence
~ Do the work while in a state of grace
~ Receive Sacramental confession within 20 days of the work (several plenary indulgences may be earned per reception)
~ Receive Eucharistic communion (one plenary indulgence may be earned per reception)
~ Pray for the pope’s intentions (Our Father and Hail Mary, or other appropriate prayer, is sufficient)
~ Have no attachment to sin (even venial) – i.e., it is sufficient that the Christian makes an act of the will to love God and despise sin
For a partial indulgence
~ The work must be done while in a state of grace and with the general intention of earning an indulgence
If these conditions seem too hard to fit into your life right now, I would at least suggest praying for the faithful departed during the Octave of All Saints.
I think the Eternal Rest prayer is particularly beautiful:
Eternal rest grant unto him/her (them), O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon him/her (them). May he/she (they) rest in peace. Amen.
Fish Eaters has also outlined some great customs and traditional food for All Souls Day if that seems like a simpler way for you to celebrate.
Check out Haley’s latest post at Carrots for Michaelmas about Liturgical Living for the month of November for more celebration ideas!
And, don’t forget to celebrate All Saints Day! It’s a holy day of obligation which happens to fall on a Sunday this year. Matt and I will be celebrating with a potluck at our church and maybe we’ll pray a Litany of the Saints as well.
I can’t get over how cute these peg doll Saints are!