What are indulgences?


Can someone put into easy to understand terms exactly what indulgences are? Was money involved at some point? I’m in search of the true and reason for indulgences. Thanks for your help.


newadvent.org/cathen/07783a.htm Is the Catholic encyclopedia’s information about indulgences. As far as them involving money…indulgences were one of the sticking issues for Martin Luther. Because our church is built with flawed individuals, there was some abuse of indulgences at one time regarding money.
However, plenary indulgences of modern times are freely given when you perform a specific set of guidelines. Like attend mass, receive reconciliation, and receive communion during a stuitable time frame of the church. They still have great value.Recently one was offered by the late great pope during the Year of the Eucharist.
by definition: A Plenary Indulgence is granted to all faithful and to each individual faithful under the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer in keeping with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff, with the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin), each and every time they participate attentively and piously in a sacred function or a devotional exercise undertaken in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, solemnly exposed and conserved in the tabernacle.

"A Plenary Indulgence is also granted, under the aforesaid conditions, to the clergy, to members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and to other faithful who are by law obliged to recite the Liturgy of the Hours, as well as to those who customarily recite the Divine Office out of pure devotion, each and every time they recite - at the end of the day, in company or in private - Vespers and Night Prayers before the Lord present in the tabernacle.

"The faithful who, through illness or other just cause, are unable to visit the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist in a church or oratory, may obtain a Plenary Indulgence in their own homes, or wherever they may be because of their ailment, if, … with the intention of observing the three usual conditions as soon as possible, they make the visit spiritually and with the heart’s desire, … and recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a pious invocation to Jesus in the Sacrament. “If they are unable to do even this, they will receive a Plenary Indulgence if they unite themselves with interior desire to those who practice the normal conditions laid down for Indulgences, and offer the merciful God the illnesses and discomforts of their lives.”



1471 The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance.

What is an indulgence?

"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."81 "An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin."82 The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.83

The punishments of sin

1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.84

1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the “old man” and to put on the "new man."85


In the Communion of Saints

1474 The Christian who seeks to purify himself of his sin and to become holy with the help of God’s grace is not alone. "The life of each of God’s children is joined in Christ and through Christ in a wonderful way to the life of all the other Christian brethren in the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, as in a single mystical person."86

1475 In the communion of saints, "a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things."87 In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.

1476 We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church’s treasury, which is "not the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries. On the contrary the ‘treasury of the Church’ is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy."88

1477 "This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission in the unity of the Mystical Body."89

Obtaining indulgence from God through the Church

1478 An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.90

1479 Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.


A plenary indulgence was granted by our late pope and it is attached to Divine Mercy Sunday as well. No money involved any longer but the blessings and indulgence is very powerful.


[quote=BrianK]Can someone put into easy to understand terms exactly what indulgences are?



[quote=BrianK]Can someone put into easy to understand terms exactly what indulgences are? Was money involved at some point? I’m in search of the true and reason for indulgences. Thanks for your help.

An indulgence is the official prayer of the Church for the mitgation of the temporal consequences of sin.


Absolution is the forgiveness of eternal punishment.
“Son, I forgive you, I’m not going to disown you, but you still have to go to your room for three hours.”

Indulgence is the forgiveness of temporal punishment.
“Son, since you did the pious act, you don’t have to go to your room.”


[quote=Genesis315]Absolution is the forgiveness of eternal punishment.
“Son, I forgive you, I’m not going to disown you, but you still have to go to your room for three hours.”

Indulgence is the forgiveness of temporal punishment.
“Son, since you did the pious act, you don’t have to go to your room.”

I think this is an excellent simplified version. Plus, it helps me clarify my biggest problem with indulgences.

Whenever I’ve heard of indulgences, they are behavioral exercises which may or may not involve any sort of actual repentance. I know of people who have jumped through all sorts of hoops (can you say “rehab”) to avoid temporal punishment without being sincere. Does it really impress God to follow a prayer cookbook? I suppose it at least means we are paying some lip service to God and not, for example, watching football and drinking beer.

Plus, what’s the point of purgatory if its time can be cut short? Isn’t it for spiritual cleansing? Is purgatory a place to get ready or purified, or a placed to be punished? Moreover, since time is a peculiarity of the physical world and not of the God world, then why do we presume to know anything about God’s purgatory “schedule?”



You commit sin, go to confession and are forgiven but you still must make up for the temporal punishment. A simple example is this:
You hammer a nail into a board(sin). You remove the nail(confession). There is still the hole in the board so you must fill in the hole(indulgences). I hope this kinda makes sense.




Think of purgatory as a state of purification, not a place. Those who simply act out the indulgence without thought or heart in it haven’t really gained it. The conditions for all indulgences involve confession, recieving Eucharist, and prayer. All these are tools to purify our heart and soul.

Purgatory cleanses, and can also be painful, but not as punishment. Think of it like this. God’s Presence is like an intense light - the Sun, the closer you get to it, the hotter and brighter it is. All the external attachments, burn away - this may hurt a bit, but we are so overwhelmingly happy to be in God’s Presence, the pain doesn’t matter. Those who gain heaven are warmed by God’s intense Love; those in purgatory are refined by His Love; and those in hell - those who reject God - are burned by it.

About your ‘schedule’ question, you may be wondering about the days that were mentioned in the old indulgences (this is no longer done as it has caused confusion in the past). These were days that the penitent made up for in prayer - for example ‘300 days indulgence’ means that indulgence is the equivalent of 300 days of prayer and good works done in penance. Because it was misunderstood to mean ‘days in purgatory’ the Church no longer labels this way.


Dear Michael_Thoma,

Thank you for your excellent reply. It clearly addressed the issues I brought up, and almost makes this stuff sound not so goofy as it is often made out to be.


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