Why would anyone want an indulgence


If purgatory is a process we go through to get rid of remnants of sin, and to sanctify us, then, why would we want to shortchange ourselves of this important process by getting an indulgence.
Also if this process is necessary to sanctify us, how can it be ‘waived’ because of an indulgence or because of others praying for us?


Firstly, the prayer and good works in and of themselves achieve exactly the same thing as Purgatory, they too help us get rid of the remnants of sin and they too sanctifies us. Hence the indulgenced acts and prayers being substitutable for punishment in Purgatory. So we’re not short-changing ourselves of anything by obtaining indulgences.

Seondly - because Purgatory is painful! More painful than the worst earthly pain you can imagine. It’s a natural and healthy human desire to have pain and suffering lessened, since it spurs us on to charity. When we’re sick or see others who are sick don’t we pray for our suffering or theirs to be alleviated? Don’t we ask others to pray for us at such times?

Didn’t Jesus Himself pray in Gethsemane that His own cup of suffering be taken away? Suffering isn’t a good in and of itself, suffering is good when it achieves some greater good - if that greater good can be achieved without it we’re not short changing in any way.


Nicely said, Lily.



Well said. :thumbsup:


I’d like to add that an indulgence is only good if done with the right attitude. If we go through with a “let’s just get this over with” attitude, then it isn’t any good. We can’t afford to become indifferent. That only serves to throw everything out.


Thank you for the answer LilyM. This brings up another question… In some cases, the prayers or pilgrimage or other action involved in getting an indulgence don’t have the indulgence attached to them unless you do them in a specific way required to get the indulgence. I understand that prayer, fasting, etc., help sanctify us, and naturally reduce our time in purgatory with or without an indulgence. But, sometimes a plenary indulgence specifies a specific action which normally wouldn’t be enough to completely sanctify us. What about that case?



All indulgenced acts, as the act itself without the attached indulgence, are meritorious when done in a state of grace and expiate a certain amount of temporal punishment due for sin.

An indulgence, which is attached to an act which would expiate temporal punishment in itself, functions to increase the amount of temporal punishment expiated.



Part of the purification process is integrative with receiving and giving love to one another as a family in Christ. Thus, in a natural way, the Church militant (you and I) are compelled through charity (love of God and Neighbor) to render assistance to our departed brethren. In turn the souls in purgatory, joyous in anticipation of full communion with the Church (militant and triumphant) are given to the desire to reciprocate those that have rendered them assistance. Upon release from purgatory these souls will join with the entire celestial court to pray unceasingly for each of us who came to their aid and will petition special favors and protections on our behalf. It’s all part of the win-win giving and receiving from each other that is integral with Jesus’ Church and sharing in the glory as The Family of God.



An additional aspect has to do with “merit”. Our purification in purgatory will make us ready for heaven. But all of that pain will not gain us any more merit for heaven.

However, if we gain indulgences on earth and take away our need for purification after death, we will gain more merit by our works here on earth. We’ll have greater glory in heaven. Also, we won’t be as burdened by our debt of sin and our sufferings now can be offered for the salvation of the world.

The more pure we get and the less debt we have, the more powerful our prayers will be and the more our simplest actions will do to bring grace and conversion to other people.

Additionally, if we need the purifying pain and we’re ready for it here on earth – God will give it to us on earth. We won’t lose out on any of the purification we really need.

When we get very pure and scrubbed clean of past sins (and we have less and less current sins) we’ll have a lot more strength to endure redemptive sufferings – and believe me, they will come.

Indulgences take away the debt we owe so we can start paying the debts of sinners and bring graces to them that they would never have had.


See Lee Perkins
You mention the cup here, do you know what was in it?



Let me jump in for Lily and convey some insights that I have.

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures the cup is often used as a symbol of God’s judgment. For example, the cup of fury, the cup of judgment, the cup of trembling and the cup of horror and desolation appear throughout the Old Testament. Yet we also find the Psalmist crying out, “I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:13). **So the symbol of the cup carries with it pictures of both wrath and redemption, of judgment and blessing. **

There is an obligation to drink four cups of wine during the Seder. Each cup is connected to a different part of the Seder. The first is for Kiddush (קידוש), the second is for ‘Magid’ (מגיד), the third is for Birkat Hamazon (ברכת המזון) and the fourth is for Hallel (הלל).

The Four Cups represent the four expressions of deliverance promised by God Exodus 6:6-7: “I will bring out,” “I will deliver,” “I will redeem,” and "I will take"

In the garden of Gethsemane He cried out to the Lord in anguished prayer, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). In His humanity, Jesus could wish that this cup of judgment—the one that everyone except Him deserved for breaking of God’s covenant—would pass over Him. Yet, as the obedient Son of God, Jesus knew that the cup of blessing could only be poured out for the salvation of many if He would first drink the cup of God’s judgment on all humanity

Recall that at the last supper Jesus did not partake of the 4th seder cup of wine. Jesus took His 4th cup on the cross when he was given a sponge filled with bitter wine. Thus, the passover ritual was finished on the cross. (John 19:30) 'Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. This was the consummation of the New Covenant as Jesus, the only just soul in all Creation as God judged Him worthy on account of His obedience and sinless life.

This also relates to the OT story of Joseph and his brothers. After they betrayed and sold him into slavery in Egypt, God exalted Joseph to a place of great prominence and power. During a famine his brothers came to Egypt to buy grain. They didn’t recognize the mighty prince of Egypt as their own brother, yet Joseph recognized them. He kept his identity a secret and demanded that they return with their youngest brother, to prove they weren’t spies.

Joseph had a plan. He hid his own silver cup in his youngest brother’s sack of grain. As the sons of Israel were returning home for the second time, Joseph’s soldiers intercepted them. They found Joseph’s cup and accused Benjamin of theft. That cup became an indictment against Benjamin and a symbol of judgment—certain death, as far as the brothers could see. They all tore their clothes in horror and returned with Benjamin to Egypt.

There they discovered the true identity of the prince of Egypt and were reunited with the brother who had every right to execute all but the youngest—not for his silver cup—but for selling him into slavery. The cup that brought them back to Egypt was, to them, a symbol of judgment and death. Yet, it became the occasion for redemption and forgiveness.

More insight here:



Do we gain merit by resisting temptation, or only by doing good works? I think I read somewhere that we do gain merit by resisting temptation, but later I couldn’t find where I read that, so now I’m confused.


I find it a bit confusing,

when we apologize to protestants, we say that purgatory is a necessary process to sanctify us and that it requires pain to be sanctified - thats why Jesus sacrifice doesn’t get rid of purgatory, because we need to fix the effects of sin on ourselves

but… then someone ELSE can do penance and reduce our purgatory time. Why can’t Jesus penance on the cross reduce our purgatory time just as well? And reduce it to zero?

Something just doesn’t add up. I’m all confused now. Not trying to be a pain, I just wish I understood.


I think, but I’m not positive, that its because Jesus had only one physical body and could only do so much penance. Since members of the Church are members of the Body of Christ, our penance can be used to mitigate the sins of others, similar to the way Jesus’ suffering did, because as members of the Body we join our suffering to his. I’m still just understanding this myself, so I may need to be corrected here. :blush:


We gain merit by both resisting temptation and doing good works. Resisting a temptation is a “good work” of sorts – on the spiritual level. We can see it in the lives of the saints. As they fought temptations they grew in spiritual stature. We gain the merits that God wants us to have that way.


It has to do with the communion of saints and of divine justice.

St. Paul said that he made up in his own body that which was lacking in the cross of Christ.

Col. 1:24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church …

That passage should be shocking to most Protestants (although they explain it away). How could Christ’s sufferings be wanting anything at all?

But there it is – St. Paul offers his own sufferings for the church. That’s what we do with indulgences. We make up for the sins of others. That is the divine economy. That is the purpose of life – to gain merits (grow closer to God) and to live in charity (bringing grace to others).

It’s one of the many paradoxes of the Faith of Jesus Christ. To quote St. Francis – In giving, we receive. That is a paradox. It should be “in taking we receive”, or “in giving, we lose”. But it’s not – by giving, we recieve.

The central component of the Catholic Faith is that same paradox. In dying we are born. “Whosover loses his life shall find it”.

This is the same as the offering we make through Christ. We share in His Cross – for the redemption of others.

Jesus’ death made up for Adam’s sin and opened the gates of heaven for all mankind. This means, it is now possible for anyone to become united with God in a way that was never before possible.

But that is the healing of mankind in general. What about all of the individual sins that a person commits? These are forgiven through Christ, through the Church. But through the mystery of the Communion of Saints, we are all called to do as St. Paul did – and make up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.

What is lacking? It’s the reparation of each individual sin that can only be repaired through petition to God. It’s not an automatic thing where a person commits a sin and then asks forgiveness from God and then walks away.

In practical terms – a person robs the company pension account of $250,000 and spends it all. Years later, he repents and is forgiven through the Sacrament of Confession. He offers prayers of penance.

But what about all the people he defrauded from their pensions? Doesn’t he have the responsibility to make up for that?

Apparently, the Protestant would say “no” – Christ has forgiven him already. He is free of sin so he just walks on.

This is ridiculous and unjust (if Protestants believe that way, which would be perfectly consistent with their doctrine). There would be no need to repay the many people who suffered because of that man’s sin (unless he was arrested).

So, let’s say the thief decides to try to repay all the money he stole. There is no way he is going to do it.

What happens when he dies? Is the debt and suffering he caused others just wiped out? That is unjust. No, that’s where purgatory comes in.

But what if, before he died, someone helped him by repaying his financial debt – thus setting his account right. Does he get credit for repaying the people he defrauded? Yes, he does. They will receive their money and the account will be right.

If it was a gift from a friend, the thief does not have to pay that back. That’s pure charity – setting his debts right, and sparing him from a purgatory with an unpaid debt (how else would God bring justice to this situation?).

So, no – it would make no sense to say “Jesus paid all of my debts” unless Jesus miraculously repaid all of the people the thief had defrauded.

So, we shouldn’t be deceived by the deceptive Protestant notions of “being set free”. When crimes are committed (as all sins are in some way), the justice of God requires that they be repaid.

But God has also given us charitable friends to help us pay debts (how could some sinners ever pay the debts of their sins?) and he has given us indulgences which are amazing gifts of grace – from His pure love.

Yes, we are forgiven. But God wants us to repent and to ask for his forgiveness. Why? Some Protestants will say that we don’t even have to ask God to forgive our sins since “they’re already forgiven”. I hope we can see how foolish that is.

We have to ask God for forgiveness, even though Jesus has already forgiven us. Beyond that, the Scripture teaches that we have to confess our sins and receive sacramental forgiveness. That, in itself cleans our souls.

But beyond that, we need the grace of God to be able to pay for all of the sins we commit. Indulgences are a great way for that to happen.

Purgatory, finally, is the gift that God gives us to prepare us to enter into his pure and heavenly kingdom. Our last imperfections are corrected and our desires are absolutely pure – a total love for God.

But we can reach that state here on earth. If we do, the merits and graces we recieve (and those we give) will be tremendous. “Be ye perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.

How is that possible? Jesus commanded it, so there is a way — it’s a matter of being perfected and sanctified over time.


I’d like to go back to this question …

I think one reason why it doesn’t seem to make sense is that indulgences are so “easy” and the pains of purgatory seem painful to endure (and can be long) – although it’s a different pain and it is mixed with incredible joy.

How could a prayer or visit to a shrine make up for years of purgatory?

This is the way God has done it, through the Church. I think that there are so many who don’t take advantage of indulgences, and so many who have lost faith – that God is doing everything with incredible generosity to win them back.

Think of the Divine Mercy revelations to St. Faustina. Jesus offered the full forgiveness of sins on Divine Mercy Sunday – even easier than most indulgences. There is not even the conditions for a plenary indulgence attached (although some think it is the same). In any case, Jesus is offering his mercy.

In the early church, indulgences were long and painful. They weren’t short-cuts at all. But later, the Holy See made them shorter. Simpler actions carried more “weight”. It was meant to invite more and more people to receive these graces.

The other issue is that we build up sins all the time. If Purgatory was “necessary”, then our purgatory would only keep getting worse. We’d never be able to make up for it.

But that’s why we have indulgences (and other good works make up for our purgatory also).

The fact that people pray for us while in purgatory is given to us as credit. But God knows who will pray for us also and our time in purgatory will be measured by that also.

It’s difficult to think about God’s justice because even though it is totally perfect in every way – it is also tempered by His mercy. So, it’s not just a matter of paying back every thing – it’s balanced with mercy that comes from a number of factors.


Excellent ReggieM! :thumbsup:
I got some deeper insight myself from reading that.

This is why being a prayer warrior can be such a wonderful ministry. The more we pray and work indulgences to offset our temporal debts the more God rewards us with extra supernatural grace. We become his soldiers here in earth (hence the term Church Militant) and essentially rise in rank to become holy warriors. The more we develop our prayer skills and abide in grace the more we can pray for others - especially any of those in our lives we have induced to sin by poor example without even knowing it or through mutual cooperation. These in turn are flooded with grace to repent and soon we have a huge cascade of grace cross feeding each other and building up The Church and making us quite formidable spiritual warriors that demons dread. The more they attack us the more it costs them.

As we get to the highest levels of spiritual detachment from sin then we start to develop the ability to gain the holy nuke of “the full plenary indulgence”. This is the goal for us. This is what liberates souls from purgatory and gets more souls before the throne of God praying for us and how we personally repay the large debts owed for our forgiven past sins. I don’t think people realize just how offensive sin is. A forgiven mortal sin like fornication could very well require the equivalent penitential earth time of a century in purgatory sufferings. Scale that by the number of occassions and its sobering to realize that many souls are probably in purgatory till the end of time (2nd comming).

So, anyone who does not avail themselves of indulgences is going to be so upset with themselves on their day of judgement. Not a single penny of temporal debt will go unpaid.

God wants us to participate in our own salvation as well as each others and share in the sufferings and the penitential acts so that we can have a feeling of ownership in a share of the glory. God does not want us to feel like beggars and slaves to God’s generosity. He wants us to be His inherited Children and His friends and to feel like we have contributed in our own small ways to cooperate with His Salvation gift. Imagine yourself a tolder learning to walk and God as your father standing before you with His arms out and signaling us to take steps toward Him. This is what indulgences are all about - learning to walk with God and and paying of occasional falls and paying for our mistakes; and helping others too.



Thank you, this makes perfect sense! I was hoping there was a logical explanation! Yay :smiley:


James – thanks. That’s a great description of the prayer warrior also. I’m going to print that out and re-read it.

Neil – I’m glad that helped. :slight_smile:

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