October 28, 2020 // Diocese

Praying for the dead in November — How to gain a plenary indulgence

For centuries, praying for the dead has been seen as one of the greatest acts of charity in which a Christian can engage. In this month of November, Catholics are especially encouraged to remember the dead in their prayers. A significant part of our Christian practice of praying for the dead is the gaining of indulgences for the dead.

Maricela Collins/OneSecretMission
A plenary indulgence for the dead can be gained from Nov. 1-8 by devoutly visiting a cemetery, praying for the dead in some manner and fulfilling other conditions.

What is an indulgence?

When we are sorry for a sin, that sorrow means that we regret doing the sin, that we intend with God’s help to do the best we can not to do the sin again, and that we have the intention to make up for the sin. The intention to make up for sin means that we have to be willing to right the wrong that we did. For example, if we steal $500 from someone, then repent of it, we ask forgiveness from God and from the person from whom we stole, but that is not the end of it. If we are truly sorry, we must give the $500 back.

Now, every sin is this way. With every sin, we hurt someone. Indeed, we hurt the whole body of Christ. So, our sorrow for sin must include an intention to make up for the wrong to the whole body of Christ that we have done. Jesus forgives us freely. That is why He died on the cross for us so that our sins could be forgiven, but, once forgiven, we are asked by God to make up for the wrong that we did. Therefore, we are called to live a life of penance. By our prayers, reception of the sacraments, sacrifices and so forth, we make up spiritually for the sins that we committed. Spurred on by God’s grace and dependent on God’s grace, good works mystically “repair” the body of Christ from the sins that we have done.

However, our sins do great damage to individuals and to the body; more damage, maybe, than we could ever make up in this life. So, God in His great love and mercy has provided a way for the damage that we have done to be made up for. That is what an indulgence is. God “indulges” us: that is, He wipes clean even the damage that our sins have caused. Through an indulgence, God uses the infinite good offered Him by Jesus, Mary and the saints, and applies that good to us as a making up for our sins. What a beautiful sharing in the mystical body of Christ!

Who determines how one gets an indulgence?

By virtue of the power and authority that Christ gave to Peter and his successors, the pope is the one who determines by what good acts one can receive an indulgence.

How does one get an indulgence?

There are two kinds of indulgences: partial and plenary. Partial indulgences make up partially for the damage our sins have done. To get a partial indulgence one simply has to do the prescribed act with a sorrowful heart for their sins and with the intention to receive the indulgence. For example, a partial indulgence is attached to saying the act of contrition.

Plenary indulgences make up fully for the damage that our sins have done. To get a plenary indulgence five conditions must be met. One must go to sacramental confession within 20 days of doing the good act necessary for the indulgence; one must receive holy Communion on the same day as that good act; one must offer prayers for the intention of the pope on the same day as that good act; one must do the act itself; and one must be completely free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin. If the last condition is not met (it is difficult for one to be completely free from all attachment to sin), one does not receive the plenary indulgence, but a partial indulgence is still received.

So, for example, a plenary indulgence is attached to a half-hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. If one were to do this with the intention of receiving the indulgence on the same day as having received Communion and within 20 days of having gone to confession and having prayed for the pope’s intention, then one would receive a plenary indulgence if one is completely detached from all sin.

A plenary indulgence for the dead can be gained from Nov. 1-8 by devoutly visiting a cemetery and praying for the dead in some manner and fulfilling the other conditions mentioned above.

For whom can I offer the indulgence?

One can receive an indulgence either for oneself or for the dead in purgatory. If one receives a plenary indulgence for one’s self, all sin is made up for up to that point. If one receives a plenary indulgence for the dead, the person going through the process of purification in purgatory would then go to heaven. Partial indulgences can be applied the same way.

How often can I receive an indulgence?

A person may receive a plenary indulgence once a day. There is no limit to the number of partial indulgences that may be received.

How can I know what good acts have indulgences attached to them?

A complete list of ordinary indulgences is published in a book called “The Handbook of Indulgences” published by the Catholic Book Publishing Corporation. Special indulgences are granted by the Holy Father from time to time, for instance, during jubilee years.

Time frame extended

Plenary indulgences traditionally obtained during the first week of November for the souls of the faithful in purgatory can now be gained throughout the month of November, the Vatican said last week.

Also, those who are ill or homebound and would not be able to physically visit a church or cemetery in the prescribed timeframe still will be able to receive a plenary indulgence when meeting certain conditions, the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican tribunal that deals with matters of conscience, said in a notice released Oct. 23.

The new provisions were made after a number of bishops asked for guidance as to how the faithful could perform the works required for receiving a plenary indulgence given the ongoing pandemic and restrictions in many parts of the world limiting the number of people who can gather in one place.

The full indulgence traditionally offered Nov. 2 for those who visit a church or an oratory and recite the Our Father and the Creed can also be gained any day in November.

Those who cannot leave their homes or residence for serious reasons, which include government restrictions during a pandemic, he said, also can receive a plenary indulgence after reciting specific prayers for the deceased or reflecting on a Gospel reading designated for Masses of the dead before an image of Jesus or the Blessed Virgin Mary, or by performing a work of mercy.

In all cases, one also must fulfill the normal requirements set by the church for all plenary indulgences, which demonstrate a resolve to turn away from sin and convert to God. — (CNS)


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