Indulgences: God’s love overflowing

Categories: Around the Diocese,Year of Mercy,Year of Mercy Resources

By Timothy Johnston
This is the logo for the Holy Year of Mercy, which opens Dec. 8 and runs until Nov. 20, 2016. (CNS/courtesy of Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization) See JUBILEE-MERCY May 5, 2015.
For The Visitor

Pope Francis has called the church to celebrate an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy and to reflect on God’s abundant mercy and love for us.

For centuries, when a jubilee year is proclaimed, popes have announced special ways that Catholics can ask for and receive God’s forgiveness and mercy for their sins or the sins of those who have died. These special graces are called “indulgences.” This term carries a lot of baggage. During the Reformation, the practice received a lot of critique, as the common understanding was that the church was selling God’s mercy. Many individuals were led to believe that they could buy or earn God’s mercy.

However, God’s mercy and love are always a free gift that we cannot earn. Neither can we buy them or store them up for the future. God freely offers us mercy because God is deeply in love with us. The gift of mercy is a gift of God’s self, a share in the divine life. When we receive this gift, we are bathed in God’s grace and nourished on our pilgrimage to be faithful disciples of Christ.

In the bull introducing the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis describes God’s indulgence as a mercy that goes even beyond forgiving our sins:

“In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God forgives our sins, which he truly blots out; and yet sin leaves a negative effect on the way we think and act. But the mercy of God is stronger even than this. It becomes indulgence on the part of the Father who, through the Bride of Christ, his Church, reaches the pardoned sinner and frees him from every residue left by the consequences of sin, enabling him to act with charity, to grow in love rather than to fall back into sin” (“Misericordiae Vultus,” 22).

God’s love not only liberates us from sin, it also frees us from the consequences that those sins have in our lives. Sins don’t just break God’s law. They set up patterns of behavior that make it easier for us to sin in the future, and they set up chain reactions of negative effects in our communities that have effects on our friends, families and neighbors.

But just as sin has consequences for our communities, God’s indulgence heals us through the community of the church. As Pope Francis continues, “to gain an indulgence is to experience the holiness of the Church, who bestows upon all the fruits of Christ’s redemption, so that God’s love and forgiveness may extend everywhere.”

These indulgences are God’s free gift given to his people. They heal us and our communities, and can even extend to the portion of the Body of Christ who has died. The church teaches that Christians who have died may still need to be cleaned (purged) of the remaining effects of the sins they committed when they were alive. These, too, belong to the Body of Christ and can be healed by God as part of the free gift God makes to the church as the community of salvation united with Jesus. Our participation in the gift of the indulgence can also heal people connected to us, even if they have died. No one is outside of the boundaries of God’s reach.

Our actions as the people of God are themselves God’s gift and demonstrate God’s love for us, his forgiveness and his indulgence. There are several particular actions that Pope Francis has asked the faithful to participate in as part of receiving God’s indulgence during this Year of Mercy.

Plenary indulgence

n Make a pilgrimage to one of the designated Holy Doors, pass through it, and internally express a detachment from and rejection of sin at the time of indulgenced work (i.e. pilgrimage to the Door of Mercy);

n Pray for the intention of the Holy Father at the time of the indulgenced work (i.e. pilgrimage to the Door of Mercy). This can be one “Our Father,” and one “Hail Mary;” it can be the “Glory be to the Father” or other suitable prayers, like the Holy Father’s Jubilee Prayer.

n Make a “Profession of Faith” (Nicene or Apostles’ Creed) at the time of the indulgenced work (i.e. pilgrimage to the Door of Mercy).

n Celebrate the Sacrament of Penance and make a sacramental confession within 20 days after performing the indulgenced work (i.e. pilgrimage to the Door of Mercy);

n Receive Holy Communion within 20 days after performing the indulgenced work (i.e. pilgrimage to the Door of Mercy);

Whenever you respond to God’s gratuitous gift of mercy by doing one of these acts, you will receive the Jubilee Indulgence for yourself or for your deceased loved ones. Receiving this indulgence also commits you to live by mercy so that the fruit of God’s gift to you may flourish. The plenary indulgence can be obtained once each day. A single sacramental confession suffices for several plenary indulgences, but separately receiving Holy Communion is required for each indulgence.

The following churches and shrines are designated pilgrimage sites with Holy Doors in the Diocese of St. Cloud.

• Assumption (Grasshopper) Chapel, Cold Spring

• Cathedral of St. Mary, St. Cloud

• Chapel of the Sacred Heart, St. Benedict’s Monastery, St. Joseph

• Chapel of the Sacred Heart, St. Francis Convent, Little Falls

• Divine Mercy Shrine, St. Paul Church, Sauk Centre

• Poor Clare Monastery, Sauk Rapids

• St. John’s Abbey Church, St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville

• Shrine of St. Cloud, St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Cloud

• Shrine of St. Odilia, Crosier Priory, Onamia

• Shrine of St. Peregrine, St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville

For the homebound

Pope Francis has decreed that the sick and the elderly, who are unable to make a pilgrimage, may receive the jubilee indulgence by “living with faith and joyful hope this moment of trial, receiving Communion or attending Holy Mass and community prayer, even through the various means of communication, will be for them the means of obtaining the jubilee indulgence.”

For the imprisoned

Pope Francis has decreed that the imprisoned, who are unable to make a pilgrimage, “may obtain the indulgence in the chapels of the prisons. May the gesture of directing their thought and prayer to the Father each time they cross the threshold of their cell signify for them their passage through the Holy Door, because the mercy of God is able to transform hearts, and is also able to transform bars into an experience of freedom.”

Performing the Works of Mercy

Pope Francis has “asked the Church in this jubilee year to rediscover the richness encompassed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The experience of mercy, indeed, becomes visible in the witness of concrete signs as Jesus himself taught us. Each time that one of the faithful personally performs one or more of these actions, he or she shall surely obtain the Jubilee Indulgence.

Hence the commitment to live by mercy so as to obtain the grace of complete and exhaustive forgiveness by the power of the love of the Father who excludes no one.”

Timothy Johnston is the director of the Office of Worship for the St. Cloud Diocese.