Is an indulgence a type of penance?




Oops! I just realized I put this in the wrong forum! :o


I accidentally asked this question in the Apologetics forum. :o


I bet anytime certain christian bodies see the word indulgence (they think back to abuses) it could very well end up an apologetics affair in no time! LOL

Just trying to make you feel better.:slight_smile:


:smiley: Thanks!


No, you gain an indulgence from a prayer or a penance.

An indulgence is a way to lessen your future suffering in Purgatory by doing deeds in this life.

This is related to the Church’s power to bind or loosen on earth, and which is subsequently bound or loosened in heaven.

The Church applies certain levels of “indulgence”, or remission, of punishment to certain prayers or penances.


I was told that an act of penance wether it be prayer or fasting remits temperal punishment…so I’m trying to figure out how indulgences fit in here.



You are on the right track, although calling an indulgence a type of penance is, strictly speaking, misleading. Rather an indulgenced act is penitential.

Sometimes what is overlooked is that the indulgenced act in itself, regardless of the indulgence attached to it, has a penitential value. If you perform these acts in the state of grace it remits temporal punishment on its own. When the Church attaches an indulgence to these acts She applies her own merits *on top of the merits *acquired by the actor in the first place. The Church grants an equal remission of punishment from the her treasury of merit of which she is custodian.

So, if you perform an indulgenced act, even if you fail to gain the indulgence by failing to meet one of the conditions (expect the condition of being in the state of grace), you would still merit some remission of temporal punishment.

That help?


Maybe specifics will help. Go to the link to get more information.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent:

“The word indulgence (Latin indulgentia, from indulgeo, to be kind or tender) originally meant kindness or favor; in post-classic Latin it came to mean the remission of a tax or debt. In Roman law and in the Vulgate of the Old Testament (Isaiah 61:1) it was used to express release from captivity or punishment. In theological language also the word is sometimes employed in its primary sense to signify the kindness and mercy of God. But in the special sense in which it is here considered, an indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment due to sin, the guilt of which has been forgiven. Among the equivalent terms used in antiquity were pax, remissio, donatio, condonatio.”


"Dispositions necessary to gain an indulgence

The mere fact that the Church proclaims an indulgence does not imply that it can be gained without effort on the part of the faithful. From what has been said above, it is clear that the recipient must be free from the guilt of mortal sin. Furthermore, for plenary indulgences, confession and Communion are usually required, while for partial indulgences, though confession is not obligatory, the formula corde saltem contrito, i.e. “at least with a contrite heart”, is the customary prescription. Regarding the question discussed by theologians whether a person in mortal sin can gain an indulgence for the dead, see PURGATORY. It is also necessary to have the intention, at least habitual, of gaining the indulgence. Finally, from the nature of the case, it is obvious that one must perform the good works – prayers, alms deeds, visits to a church, etc. – which are prescribed in the granting of an indulgence. For details see “Raccolta”. "

Also, I was always taught that one must be free from attachment to sin to gain a Plenary Indulgence. This means not wanting to sin, not enjoying sin… kinda hard, i mean who doesn’t enjoy breaking the speed limit or talking about people who aren’t in the room?


AND from Wikipedia at
are some examples:

"Actions for which indulgences are granted

There are four general grants of indulgence, which are meant to encourage the faithful to infuse a Christian spirit into the actions of their daily lives and to strive for perfection of charity. These indulgences are partial, and their worth therefore depends on the fervour with which the person performs the recommended actions:

  1. Raising the mind to God with humble trust when performing one’s duties and bearing life’s difficulty, and adding, at least mentally, some pious invocation.
  2. Devoting oneself or one’s goods compassionately in a spirit of faith to the service of one’s brothers and sisters in need.
  3. Freely abstaining in a spirit of penance from something licit and pleasant.
  4. Freely giving open witness to one’s faith before others in particular circumstances of everyday life.[14]

Among the particular grants, which, on closer inspection, will be seen to be included in one or more of the four general grants, especially the first, the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum draws special attention[15] to four activities for which a plenary indulgence can be gained on any day, though only once a day:

  1. Adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist for at least half an hour.[16]
  2. The pious exercise of the Stations of the Cross .[17]
  3. Recitation of the Rosary or the Akathist in a church or oratory, or in a family, a religious community, an association of the faithful and, in general, when several people come together for an honourable purpose.[18]
  4. Piously reading or listening to Sacred Scripture for at least half an hour.[19]

A plenary indulgence may also be gained on some occasions, which are not everyday occurrences. They include:

* Receiving, even by radio or television, the blessing given by the Pope Urbi et Orbi (to the city of Rome and to the world) or that which a bishop is authorized give three times a year to the faithful of his diocese.[20]
* Taking part devoutly in the celebration of a day devoted on a world level to a particular religious purpose.[21] Under this heading come the annual celebrations such as the World Day of Prayer for Priestly and Religious Vocations, and occasional celebrations such as World Youth Day.[22][23]
* Taking part for at least three full days in a spiritual retreat.[24]
* Taking part in some functions during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity including its conclusion.[25]

The prayers specifically mentioned in the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum are not of the Latin Rite tradition alone, but also from the traditions of the Eastern Catholic Churches, such as the Akathistos, Paraklesis, Evening Prayer, and Prayer for the Faithful Departed (Byzantine), Prayer of Thanksgiving (Armenian), Prayer of the Shrine and the Lakhu Mara (Chaldean), Prayer of Incense and Prayer to Glorify Mary the Mother of God (Coptic), Prayer for the Remission of Sins and Prayer to Follow Christ (Ethiopian), Prayer for the Church, and Prayer of Leave-taking from the Altar (Maronite), and Intercessions for the Faithful Departed (Syrian).

Apart from the recurrences listed in the Enchiridion, special indulgences are granted on occasions of special spiritual significance such as a Jubilee Year[26] or the centenary or similar anniversary of an event such as the apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes[27] or the celebration of a World Youth Day.

Of particular significance is the plenary indulgence attached to the Apostolic Blessing that a priest is to impart when giving the sacraments to a person in danger of death, and which, if no priest is available, the Church grants to any rightly disposed Christian at the moment of death, on condition that that person was accustomed to say some prayers during life. In this case the Church itself makes up for the three conditions normally required for a plenary indulgence: sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer for the Pope’s intentions.[28]"

Go to the link above to see the footnotes or get to more links in the text above.

Hope that helps, bp. Sometimes its concrete examples that make it clearer. :slight_smile:


Thanks! :smiley:


This is where it belongs…**Choosing Your Forum Wisely


I think there is a slight technical error here.
The Church can authorize the application of its merits (the suffering of the saints, collective fasting and suffrage etc.) through granting plenary or partial indulgences for certain pious acts. But the Church admits that is has NO formal authority beyond earth. The Church can loose and bind sins of sacramentally confessed sins on earth but it does not have the authority to remit punishment in purgatory. Only God can do that. The Church simply attaches its authorization to use the Church’s merits to any of the faithful who want to avail themselves to a particular indulgent act and also gives its highest recommendation to God to consider the merits of the Church and consider the petition.

There are no guarantees to those in purgatory like there are in sacramental confession made with a contrite heart on earth. We hold in faith that no prayer is ever wasted and that if God does not grant a full plenary indulgence he will opt for a partial indulgence or to apply it in a way of His own choosing to another soul in need; perhaps with consideration of how you would choose to use it if you had his omniscience of what deceased family or friends etc. are most in need. God can also apply it to you personally but you can not direct it to any other living person.

The bottom line is “God does the right thing”.



James, I think you might have made a slight technical error while pointing out the slight technical error. :wink:

I don’t think that’s quite right. The Church’s authority extends beyond earth (i.e. through the power of the keys). Her jurisdiction, however, does not. In other words the effects of her authority here, apply there. But her jurisdiction pertains only to those in a wayfaring state.

But She can also loose and bind sins, and their effects, extra-sacramentally in some cases, as is the case with indulgences.

That is true, the Church doesn’t have authority to remit punishment of those already *in *Purgatory.

So, the Church can remit temporal punishment through an indulgence granted to one still living. If, however, the indulgence is applied to someone who has already died, and who is consequently beyond Her jurisdiction, it is applied “by way of suffrage” and not directly.

That is my understanding.
What do you think?


I agree. I did not make the proper distinction between authority that has recognition in heaven with the jurisdictional limits of the Church. The Church is essentially a bridge between earth and heaven. It’s jurisdictional range of authority is on earth but that authority has a cause and effect relationship in heaven and on earth.

The most subtle thing to be gleaned here is that the Church’s recommendation before God with attached Church merits have profound and substantial weight with God. So intercessions made through the merits of the Church we can assume in faith are immediately heard by God and are never without some positive outcome. We just don’t always know specifically how God elects to apply the merits. We can assume however that there is an economy of merit and God is a spend thrift and will not waste a single prayer and will release the highest and best grace possible for a specific petition. Given God’s nature of being generous it is most probable that God exceeds our wildest hopes when we trust Him to hear our charitable petitions for the poor souls and our own private remissions of temporal debts.


closed #16

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