What Were Those “Days” That Used to Be Attached to Indulgences? [Akin]

jimmyakin.com/wp-content/uploads/calendar-300x300.jpgIf you look at old indulgences (e.g., as found on holy cards from before the 1960s), you’ll find that they often contain a reference to a certain number of “days.”

What do those days represent? If you’ve got a 500 days indulgences, what does that mean? Does it mean you get out of purgatory 500 days earlier than you would have otherwise?

No, but a lot of people were confused on this point, which is why–when the regulations regarding the granting of indulgences were revised in 1967, Pope Paul VI eliminated all references to “days” had had all such indulgences labeled “partial” (in contrast to “plenary”)–see**Indulgentiarum Doctrina**chapter 5; also norm 4.

So indulgences no longer have days attached to them, but when they did, what did they refer to?

The early 20th century Catholic Encyclopedia (s.v. Indulgences) explains them this way:

A partial indulgence commutes only a certain portion of the penalty; and this portion is determined in accordance with thepenitentialdisciplineof the earlyChurch. To say that an indulgence of so many days or years is granted means that it cancels an amount ofpurgatorialpunishment equivalent to that which would have been remitted, in the sight ofGod, **by the performance of so many days or years of the ancientcanonical*penance**. Here, evidently, the reckoning makes no claim to absolute exactness; it has only a relative value.

In the early Church, the penitential discipline frequently required a period of time in which a person did penance before they could be absolved and lead a normal sacramental and liturgical life.

The penalty for procuring an abortion, in some times and places, was ten years of penance.

Gaining an indulgences “of one year” thus would cancel the**equivalent* of one year of penance according to the early Church’s way of reckoning penances.

The “days” attached to indulgences were this**analogous* to the days used in the ancient penitential system.

I’ve known that for a long time, but I’ve always wanted an official statement of the fact, not just an explanation offered by the theological expert who wrote the article in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

So I thought: Why not look in the**Raccolta*?

The Raccoltawas the Church’s official collection of indulgences before the 1967 revision. It’s the equivalent of the modernEnchiridion (Handbook)*of Indulgences.

So I looked up a 1903 edition of the**Raccolta* online. Sure enough, it carries an introduction (“On Holy Indulgences and the Conditions Requisite for Gaining Them”), which addresses the matter.

It states:

By Partial indulgences of days, or quarantines, or years, so much of the temporal punishment which had to be undergone either in this life or in the next, is remitted in favor of him who gains them, as would have been remitted by the performance of the penances of so many days, quarantines (penances of forty days’ duration), years, etc., prescribed in the ancient penitential canons of the Church.

This confirms what the Catholic Encyclopedia says.

It appears that the introduction was composed by the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences and Sacred Relics (see section VII), which would make it an official explanation and not something added by a publisher.

If so, that gives me the official explanation I’ve been wanting of what the “days” were.



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