Blurred line (in my mind) between penance/penitence, indulgences

I asked a question about purgatory here a while back and found this to be response to be particularly helpful:

Remember, an indulgence is the temporal remission of the stain of sin, thus eliminating some of the time in purgatory. An indulgence is not meant just to be a get out of jail free card. In fact, if it is taken like this, it looses most of its power to remiss the stain of sin. Indulgences are meant to be an act of purgatory while you are still on earth. You are not defeating the purpose of purgatory, but rather emphasizing it. You are proactively cleansing yourself so that, should you not be in a state of mortal sin when you die, then you are able to meet your Creator as quickly as possible.

When I go to confession, after the priest absolves me sometimes he will say “For your penance, say three hail Mary’s, three Glory Be’s and an Our Father”, or something similar.

When he says “For your penance”, Is he in actual fact prescribing an indulgence?

When I go to confession, after the priest absolves me sometimes he will say “For your penance, say three hail Mary’s, three Glory Be’s and an Our Father”, or something similar.

When he says “For your penance”, Is he in actual fact prescribing an indulgence?

No. What’s going on is this:

You have repented of your sins and gone to Confession. (These steps are also called contrition and confession.) The priest, in the person of Christ, has absolved you of your sins.

The next step is to show willingness to make reparation for your sins. You do this by accepting the penance that the priest gives you, and then doing it.

If you had done something like steal $100,000 of money, obviously the first reparation would be to give the money back (or as much as you can), so that would be part of your penance. If you did something like being mean to your brother, he could assign you the penance of doing nice things for him and making up with him.

In other cases, reparations are not as clear, or you have mostly sinned against God and need to make reparations to Him. The priest would then assign you a symbolic prayer or useful activity, like reading the Bible.

You don’t actually have your sins totally absolved off you until you perform your penance and thus, finish showing your willingness to make reparation. It’s like completing a covenant action. This is why priests are supposed to try to make penances very simple and definite, so that people can be sure they’re done. It’s also why you should always tell the priest if a penance will be really impossible to fulfil, either at the time or later on. If something happens to prevent carrying out a penance, go to Confession again with the same priest or another priest and explain what happened. You can get another penance.

So here’s the thing with penances. You’re not there to earn an indulgence (although, yeah, you can get a two-fer and get indulgences for yourself or the Poor Souls or some dead person you know! Bonus!). You’re praying to show God that you mean to make reparations and do penances, and to let the absolution take effect.

No, an indulgence would be if he later remitted part of that penance and said you could skip a Glory Be (as an example). Typically indulgences are given because the person obtaining the indulgence does some other good work instead of penance.

Indulgences remit a penalty; penance is a penalty.

But this is exactly why there is a blurred line in my mind between indulgences and penance.
In both cases you perform a work, and in both cases the temporal punishment due to sin is satisfied/completed/absolved/remitted (I don’t know the exact distinction between these terms).

Let me try to sort it out again:

  1. I steal 1 million bucks from my Auntie.
  2. I confess this
  3. The priest can prescribe either
    a) Penance - I give the 1 million bucks back to my Auntie
    b) Indulgence - I say an “our father” (for example) and I get to keep the money (This may result in either a partial or plenary indulgence and so I may still have to spend some time in purgatory)

It still feels to me as if penance is just a guaranteed plenary indulgence. For example if I steal the 1 million bucks and then give it back as penance, 1 million was lost, 1 million was returned. The scales of justice are obviously balanced. Whereas if I stole 1 million bucks and then received an indulgence, only God knows the true state of my heart and the full facts of the situation - the indulgence might only be a partial one.

I’ll put it another way, in both indulgences and penance the priest prescribes an act to perform. When I perform the act I no longer have to worry about the temporal punishment due to sin.
The only difference I can see is a fuzzy one: Penance is closer to the “Let the punishment fit the crime”/“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” end of the spectrum, while Indulgences are more flexible in how you make the repayment (and as such, only God can be sure of how effective they are).
And as you mentioned, even penance can be more abstract. For example masturbation or murder is not something you can just “undo” in the way that you can return the stolen $100,000. So penance in this case would look quite different.

Sorry if I seem slow. I’m really wrestling with this one :smiley: Want to understand the difference but so far I’m not seeing it. At a practical level indulgences and penance currently appear the same.

Indulgences and penances are two different things. Indulgences are spelled out in the bolded link below.

Penance is what you do after confessing your sins and being absolved. This is to show your sorrow and your thanksgiving (IMO) for His Mercy; it can also have the effect of making you think twice before committing that sin again. :wink: Whether proper or intended or not, it can be a deterrent to sin.

An indulgence is doing certain things here on earth, yes, in atonement for our sins, but not prescribed/directed by the priest or anyone else. These are choices you can make, in hopes that God will receive them as a removal of temporal punishment in Purgatory.

One of my favorite indulgences is attempted when I attend Saturday afternoon Mass at my nearby parish: recitation of the Most Holy Rosary with the group in Church before Mass, Confession before Mass, and Reception of the Eucharist.

For further reading on indulgences:

Confessing our sins and receiving penance does not remove the temporal punishment for our sin. Being ‘absolved’ (forgiven) doesn’t remove the punishment.

There are three parts to repentance: contrition, confession, and satisfaction. Both penance and indulgences related to the third part. In the past, penances were intended to make complete satisfaction for the confessed sins. If the person died before making complete satisfaction, that satisfaction was complete in purgatory before the person entered Heaven. Originally, an indulgence was practiced as a remittance for a good cause by a bishop of that need to make some or all of that satisfaction (it applied the collective merits of the Church to make the satisfaction vicariously on behalf of the penitent). Just as the need to make satisfaction carried into the afterlife, so did the remittance from an indulgence (ie you won’t suffer in purgatory for the satisfaction you didn’t personally make because it was remitted by an indulgence).

In more recent centuries, penance is no longer usually intended to make the full satisfaction, but is more a demonstration of contrition and a willingness to make amends, as well as a way of turning back to God. We focus more on making satisfaction through bearing the sufferings of life patiently and through almsgiving, fasting, and other acts of charity and mortification taken up voluntarily. Indulgences still remit some or all of this need to make satisfaction.

Confession removes Grave/Mortal sin from your soul,

to get an indulgence you have to be in a state of grace (have gone to confession) and perform a task… for example reading the bible is an indulgence. ( there is a book of indulgences that has a list of things you can do to get them ).

here is a list of indulgences online.

and in indulgence can lessin your time in purgatory or be used to help someone get out of purgatory faster.

Purgatory is the purification stage before heaven and i don’t believe the church speculates how long people are there for.

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