Could someone explain indulgences to me please?


Hi everyone,

Well, My religion teacher was talking about indulgences. He said doing certian things like saying novenas, doing good works and stuff could lessen your time in Purgatory. (I don’t know about you, but I’d like to get to heaven as soon as I can :slight_smile: )

I know there are 2 different types, but I’m not sure what’s the difference between the two. Also, what are some things one could do to gain an indulgence?



Indulgences are the remission of the temporal penances prescribed by the priest for confessed sins. In the past, indulgences were described as being so many days. This is not ‘time off Purgatory’ as is commonly believed. Purgatory is outside of time. What it is referring to is the remission of so many days of earthly penance.

Nowadays, indulgences are described as being either partial or plenary. Check out the Enchiridion of Indulgences which explains in more detail and also lists what is currently indulgenced.


Until recently, indulgences were “measured” in terms of their equivalence to an amount of time of public penance. So if you saw something that had 100 days’ indulgence, it was equivalent to doing 100 days of public penance. A common misconception was that it would take 100 days off your time in Purgatory. Since we don’t know even if there IS time in Purgatory, we know that can’t be correct.

Now, these indulgences are simply called “partial,” since they really can’t be measured.

The other type is the “plenary” indulgence, which remits all of the temporal punishment due to sin. If you gained a plenary indulgence and died immediately after, you would go straight to heaven. In order to gain plenary indulgence, a person must go to confession within two weeks of performing the indulgenced work (prayer, pilgrimage, etc.), go to Mass and receive Holy Communion on the day one does the work, pray for the intentions of the Pope, and be totally detached from sin, even venial sin. If you miss any of the requirements, you will still receive a partial indulgence.

Almost any prayer you say will have some kind of indulgence attached to it. It’s a good thing to form the habit of intending to receive all the indulgences you can each day. You might mention this as part of your morning prayers.

There are a number of things to do to gain a plenary indulgence, some of which are: the Stations of the Cross, spending a half hour reading the Scriptures, saying the Rosary with others in a church. I’ll leave it to the next poster to give you a better list.

Hope this helps!



Hi, kid.

In addition to the preceding answers, there is also this: The Church tends to award indulgences for devotional work. I.e., it doesn’t just spray indulgences onto the crowds like water from a firehose. The Church is the minister for man’'s relationship with God. So, it uses indulgences as a reward for fulfilling sacramental and other conditions – always, as a carrot on a stick. This is appropriate: God demands that we come to Him through His Church.


There is a lot of good information in the foregoing responses, but, in addition to all that, it is important to remember that we are in relation to God with the Church as mediator. You should not look on Indulgences as some form of magic amulet that gets you out of detention early. Even though people feel good about doing the acts prescribed for a plenary indulgence, that doesn’t mean they automatically receive them. There is a story in the life of St. Philip Neri where he was in church doing something that was noted as gaining a plenary indulgence. Oul Lord appeared to him and told him that of all the people in the church who participated in that service only he and an old woman received the plenary indulgence. One has to assume that the judgement call on “complete detachment from all sin, even venial sin” is made by an all knowing, all just and all merciful God. If someone is going to confession with the same litany of sins every week, (month, year), it would appear they have some attachment to those sins. Jesus decides that. The best thing we can do is talk to the priest in confession on how to avoid them in the future or, better, to find a spiritual director and confer with them on a regular basis.
One thing I would like to correct from the previous responses is that the temporal punishment for sins is NOT assigned by a priest; he assigns you a penance - a penitential prescription that you must fulfill in order to receive his absolution. The term “temporal punishment” may have had a more real time definition in earlier church history but the real significence it has is the cleansing of the soul of all the effects of sin on our soul which is necessary for us to enter, completely pure, into the Lord’s banquet. How much that might be in earth time has been commented on in private revalation but we’re not required to believe private revalation; although those revelations reported by saints would reccomended for serious consideration.
One last thing, the “Enchiridion Indulgentiarum” was revised by Pope Paul VI in 1967 and again by Pope John Paul II in 1999. It gives a complete list of devotions, etc. that are indulgenced with partial and /or plenary indulgences.
The most recent English translation is available from the USCCB, under the title “Manual of Indulgences” for $19.95 ( ) or from Amazon for 13.57 ( ).
Hope this helps, even though late. God Bless!


There’s the Enchiridion of Indulgences available online, you can look up the prayers and acts that are indulgenced in it. :slight_smile:

Every time we sin we create an imbalance in justice, we deserve punishment. While confession frees us from the eternal punishment due mortal sins, it does not free us from all of the punishment due our sins.

Justice still requires some balancing, so we do penance to make up for it. Indulgences are a way the Church helps us make up some of the penance done by applying the merits of the saints to our punishment.

The more merit we have before God the better our place in Heaven in the next life, and the closer we are to God in this life, and the more holy and good works we can achieve in the Lord. :slight_smile:

If you ever wondered why when you say a prayer it isn’t instantly answered but when a saint says one, poof, it often is, the difference is: merit before the eyes of God. The love we have shown Him in thought, word, and deed.


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