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Friday, February 26, 2016


 Tertullian On Repentance ch 7 [160-240 AD]

If the Lord's indulgence grants you the means of restoring what you had lost, be thankful for the benefit renewed, not to say amplified; for restoring is a greater thing than giving, inasmuch as having lost is more miserable than never having received at all.
Tertullian To His Wife ch 8 [160-240 AD]
The indulgences granted by the Lord are regulated by their own grace; the things which are objects of man's striving are attained by earnest pursuit...

Where did Indulgences come from?
In the very early days of the Church, committing mortal sin merited automatic, formal excommunication from the Church.

After A.D. 217, with the Papal relaxation of this original Apostolic discipline and the introduction of the principal of indulgences (literally, the sinless Body of Christ tolerating / "indulging" members who were non-saints, who were still struggling to overcome repeated sins), there developed a distinction between true or essential membership in the Church (i.e., living in a state of grace and/or persistent loyalty to Christian doctrines) and formal or institutional membership in the Church.  

James 5: 19-20
My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Galatians 6:1=2
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.

We were visiting our son’s family in Florida and our daughter-in law suggested we go visit an old Benedictine convent in a quaint small town close to Tampa. Our daughter “Jeanine” was with us, and since she is a Benedictine Nun we appreciated and looked forward to our adventure. The Nuns were in a silent retreat so we did not get to visit with them, but the grounds, an old Parish Church and even a small Catholic College on the beautiful grounds made it a fun outing. We noticed a sign for a grotto that was located on the property, and to see it, required a small walk. The walk toward the grotto was a beautiful Florida scene with palm trees and native plants and was refreshing (beautiful Florida winter day) as we journeyed toward the grotto...  And as we finally arrived at the grotto, it was a simple structure made of rock and was constructed to look like a cave. Inside were pews, statue of Mary, Jesus, other religious items and was beautiful, but primitive, and was a special place to sit and meditate and pray. Here, off the beaten path of the world, surrounded by the beauty of natural Florida wildlife we had arrived at the grotto. As we were all examining this grotto, my son, who has supported our Catholic conversion, found a sign on the trail.. It read: "Pope ? (can't remember which Pope) has authorized an indulgence for pilgrims that visit this grotto." Our son, who has supported our journey, but I know also who is confused and wonders why, especially when it comes to some Catholic teachings... you know the teachings that have scandal attached to them for 500 years?
Our son in reading the sign to us, then said; "so what does it mean you get an indulgence for visiting this place?" 
My reply; "Well, that's a hard question and one I have struggled with, wrestled with and found nuggets of TRUTH, not understanding at times, and then times it makes sense. To explain indulgences to you today, I would confuse you and even myself... I'm at a place in my Catholic faith, that I sometimes have to put items on a self, ponder, pray and trust Mother Church, she has 2,000 years of wisdom.. But, one day, I hope I can explain indulgences to you and even to myself without confusion and doubt.... It's a tough subject...”

So, this study of indulgences, I'm sharing with my Parish tonight, I will also be sharing with our son...and I hope I can answer his question as well as yours.. I have come to realize I’m not the only Catholic here that has a hard time understanding indulgences and explaining them.. Purgatory to me is so much easier to explain… In my studies I have come to the conclusion, you can not separate the “workings” of indulgences, purgatory, reconciliation from each other, but you need to separate the “understanding of each word” then put those “workings” in the same filing system as really being the same…three distinct separate acts, but “one” purpose.. The purpose is eternal life.

We’ve all heard the news and it has made it on Facebook, all social media, local and national news and I cringe every time I hear it.. “Pope Francis is offering indulgences if you make a pilgrimage to the “Jubilee Door – Door of Mercy during the
Year of Mercy.”
Why do I cringe? I can feel all my Protestant family and friend; rejoicing in how wrong Jim and Julie are in converting to Catholicism… “See… they are so lost.. we need to pray them out of that occult…”
We know, we have sat through many teachings about why Catholics are not Christians. We were taught so many untruths about purgatory, penance, indulgence and many other things.. I just wish folks would do their own research and go to the source.. Not what others, who are not Catholic say about these things, but go to the teachings of what the Catholic Church teaches about these things..
So, Plenary indulgences aplenty…..says Pope Francis.
“Like all previous Jubilees, the Jubilee Year of Mercy features a very special plenary indulgence (the complete remission of all temporal punishment due to sin).
I wish that the Jubilee Indulgence may reach each one as a genuine experience of God's mercy, which comes to meet each person in the Face of the Father who welcomes and forgives, forgetting completely the sin committed.”
     Pope Francis, Letter to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, Sept. 1, 2015.

There have been many Jubilee Years in the Church– 26 ordinary Jubilees and three extraordinary – and each has featured a special plenary indulgence.

This time around, Pope Francis is seeking to make the indulgence as widely available as possible. In the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, a Holy Door is to be opened in every cathedral around the world, as well as in particular shrines, such as the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where large numbers of pilgrims come to honor the mercy of God.

Really? Those Catholics think they can still work their way into heaven… Right?

First lets look at what is a jubilee year? In the Old Testament, for the Israelites, the year of Jubilee was a time of joy, the year of remission or universal pardon. "Thou shalt sanctify the fiftieth year," we read in Leviticus- 25:10, "and shalt proclaim remission to all the inhabitants of thy land: for it is the year of jubilee."
 The Jubilee Year in the Old Testament represented for the Jewish people a half a century (50 years). It was part of the legislation of the Old Law, that each fiftieth year was to be celebrated as a jubilee year, and that at this season every household should recover its absent members, the land returned to its former owners, the Hebrew slaves be set free, and debts be remitted. Wish this was the case for today.. Have my debt wiped out. But, can we our sin?

The Church bringing to life, using Old Testament Traditions and making it very symbolic and spiritually filled with God’s graces, we celebrate from time to time a “Jubilee Year” and generally a “Jubilee Year” has been celebrated in the Church every 25 or 50 years; with extraordinary jubilees in addition depending on need. The last “Jubilee Year” was celebrated in 2,000 and declared by Saint Pope John Paul II.

It’s been 16 years since the last “Jubilee Year” and its my understanding the Pope sees a great need, an extraordinary “Jubilee Year” for a world that is hurting and is in great need of God’s Mercy.

So, what does it mean to go through a “Jubilee Door-Door of Mercy”?
A very important symbolic and spiritual act of God’s mercy takes place as a pilgrim passes through the Holy Door.  Christ identified Himself as “the door.”  In his bull Incarnationis Mysterium proclaiming the 2,000 Holy Year, Pope John Paul II stated that the Holy Door “…evokes the passage from sin to grace which every Christian is called to accomplish.  Jesus said, ‘I am the door’ (John 10:7) in order to make it clear that no one can come to the Father except through Him. This designation which Jesus applies to Himself testifies to the fact that He alone is the Savior sent by the Father.  There is only one way that opens wide the entrance into this life of communion with God:  This is Jesus, the one and absolute way to salvation.  To Him alone can the words of the psalmist be applied in full truth:  ‘This is the door of the Lord where the just may enter’ (Psalm 118:20).”
Therefore to pass through the door from the outside of the Basilica is to pass from this world into the presence of God, just as in the old Temple of Jerusalem, the High Priest on the Feast of Yom Kippur passed through the veil covering the doorway of the Holy of Holies to enter into the presence of God to offer the sacrifice of atonement.   Moreover, to pass through the door is to confess with firm conviction that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Lord, and the Savior who suffered, died, and rose for our salvation.  With great courage, a person freely decides to cross the threshold leaving behind the kingdom of this world so as to enter the new life of grace of the Kingdom of God.
In opening the door, the Holy Father traditionally strikes the door three times with a silver hammer.  The striking of the door has symbolic meaning:  Moses struck the rock so that water would pour out miraculously to quench the thirst of the people (Numbers 20:6ff); the Holy Year is a time when God pours forth abundant graces to quench the thirst of our souls.  God struck the earth to free St. Paul and Silas from prison, which resulted in the jailer and his family asking for baptism (Acts 16:25ff); God has struck our hearts opening them to His graces, beginning with the saving grace of Baptism.  As our Lord hung upon the cross, the soldier struck His most Sacred Heart, and out flowed blood and water, symbols of the Holy Eucharist and Baptism (John:19:31f) which nourish each of our souls.  In all, the striking of the door symbolizes the release of graces, flowing abundantly to the faithful.
Moreover, when the door opens, the obstacles of passage to our Lord are removed.  During the Holy Year, we hope and pray that the obstacles of personal weakness, temptation, and sin will be removed so that we will have a holy union with our Lord.
The construction of the door itself reminds us of the history of salvation.  The door consists of sixteen panels, four panels grouped into four rows; the “door” itself is divided into two with two columns of panels for each door.  The very top row has two panels showing the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden after the Fall with the sword wielding angel guarding the entrance with the fiery sword.  The opposite two panels depict the Annunciation with the Archangel Gabriel asking Mary to be the Mother of Jesus.  The inscription covering both panels reads, “What sad Eve took away [paradise], you [Mary] give back with life-giving child” (“Quod Heva tristis abstulit, Tu reddis almo germine”).
The next row of four panels highlight gospel stories of the mercy and forgiveness of God:  First, the baptism of our Lord by St. John at the Jordan with the inscription, “You come to me?” (“Tu venis ad me?”).  The second, the good shepherd finding of the lost sheep:  “To save what had been lost” (“Salvare quod perierat”).  Third, the prodigal son asking forgiveness from his father:  “Father I have sinned against Heaven and also you” (“Pater, peccavi in coelum et coram te”).  Fourth, Jesus curing the paralytic, but first saying, “Your sins are forgiven”:  “Take your mat and walk” (“Tolle grabatum tuum et ambula”).

The third row continues the same theme:  First, the penitent        
woman washing the feet of Jesus in the home of Simon the
 Pharisee:  “Her many sins are forgiven her”
(“Remittuntur ei peccata multa”).  Second, St. Peter asking our Lord how many times must a person forgive and our Lord replying,  “Seventy times seven” (“Septuagies septies”).  Third, Peter weeping after he had just denied our Lord three times outside the home of Caiphas the High Priest on Holy Thursday evening:  “The Lord turned and looked at Peter” (“Conversus Dominus respexit Petram”).   Fourth, the crucifixion, with our Lord between the two thieves, and saying to the “good thief,” “Today you will be with me in paradise” (“Hodie mecum eris in paradiso”).
The final row proclaims the Easter mystery and the birth of the Church:  First, St. Thomas inspecting the wound marks of Jesus:  “Happy are those who have believed” (“Beati qui crediderunt.”).  Second, Jesus appearing to the apostles on Holy Thursday night, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (“Accipite Spirituum Sanctum”).  Third, Jesus appearing to Saul (St. Paul) on the road to Damascus:  “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (“Sum Jesus quem tu persequeris”).  Finally, a picture of the Holy Father striking the Holy Door, “I stand at the door and knock” (“Sto ad ostium et pulso”).  In all, these scenes remind us of our call as pilgrims to enter the mystery of salvation and to pass from sin to grace, from separation to union with God, and from death to eternal life.
As we consider going through the holy door we must keep these TRUTHS written on the door, very close to our hearts. Our Lord stands at the door of our hearts knocking.  We must open our hearts to Him and cross the threshold of hope, striving for holiness.

Now, if you go on a pilgrimage to the “Jubilee Door-Holy      
Door” this year as we celebrate the “Year of Mercy.” There is no magic in this. If you take the time to go and if you do not  
prepare your heart, I promise you, you will come away, just
like you came. But, if you understand the significance of what Mother Church is doing, if you understand what an indulgence is, if you understand what the door is saying to you as you walk through it, you will be changed, and you will feel and receive God’s Mercy.
Pope Francis is telling us, if we go walk through the “Jubilee Door” we will receive a very special plenary indulgence (the complete remission of all temporal punishment due to sin). How can this be? Jesus can only take our sins away, not a door. TRUE! YOU MUST BE SEEKING JESUS FOR HIS MERCY AS YOU WALK THROUGH THE DOOR!
Matthew 16:  18"I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." 
Pope Francis has the keys, Christ gave them to Peter and Peter passed them to Linus, Linus passed the keys to Clement, Clement passed them to the next Pope and 266 Popes later Pope Francis has those keys in which Christ entrusted to His Church. Pope Francis has the power, given to him by Christ to bind and loose. Christ told the Apostles to follow His example; “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20;21). Just as the Apostles were to carry Christ message to the whole world, so they were to carry His forgiveness: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18). This power was understood as coming from God: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18). Indeed, confirms Paul, “S0 we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor.5:20)
Here is another wonderful resource to understand the "Jubilee Door" the "Door of Mercy."  http://www.odw.org/Portals/199/Year%20of%20Mercy%20Holy%20Door%203.pdf

2013 Jim and I traveled to Rome, our 1st Pilgrimage and last May 2015 we returned. I will never forget in 2013 when our tour guide pointed out the “Jubilee Door” at St Peter’s Basilica… It was locked and you could not enter through it. I was an aw of its sizes and felt much like “Jack and the bean stalk.” I even stood there and said “Fee-fi-fo-fum,

I smell the blood of an Englishman.”

Our tour guide also told us the Church always opened the
door during a “Year of Jubilee” and we were very touched, and to be honest with you, we did not know the Church had such a beautiful symbolic celebration in which we remember what a “Jubilee Year” meant to the Children of Israel in the Old Testament and how we can apply it to our lives today. Then last May when we were in Rome and we knew 2016 the Pope would be opening that door, for the “Year of Mercy”, we were sad, because we knew we would never get to experience going through that door, in our lifetime. The chances of another “Jubilee Year” in the Church might not happen again in our lives. But, we did not know, that the Church has “Jubilee Doors” in most major Basilicas in the world. I’m learning! We are so excited we will get to pass through the open door of “Mercy” in our own Diocese, a week after Easter when the Church celebrates the “Divine Mercy.” Now we are excited! We will be healed, loosed from the “effects” of sin in our lives. Right? Do you believe in what Pope Francis is offering us?

Now lets get to Purgatory and Indulgences

We know we can come to the fountain of forgiveness.. Jesus will and does forgive us, if we have a sincere heart and a heart that understands the seriousness of our sin...  and He will remember it no more..

But, what about the "effects" of the sin? What if you did something against someone? Say, you gossiped untruths about someone and ruined there reputation, or you stole something, or you lost your temper and cursed someone out, or you cheated on your spouse, or it could be as bad as murdering someone.
We as Catholic Christians believe there is no sin in which Christ will not forgive. And this is TRUTH...
But, what about the "effects" of our sins we leave behind?
Your "free" your “forgiven” from the sin of gossip when you  
seek forgiveness....right? But, what about the effects? Did your words cause damage to someone's soul, did you ruin someone’s reputation? Did you try to repair the damage?
What if you stole something and you ask for forgiveness? ....Christ is there to forgive...and He does. What about the
"effects" of that sin? Did it cause pain and hardship to someone to be without their property? Did you give what you took back to them?
What if you lost your temper with someone and you curse them out.. You are sorry, you go to Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and ask for forgiveness.... Does He forgive you? Yes!..... But what about the "effects" of that sin? Did you damage or hurt a soul with your tongue? Did you go reconcile and say; “I am sorry”, with the soul you damaged?
You cheat on your spouse.. You ask God to forgive you, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, He does.. But, what about the "effects" of that sin? The damage it does to your spouse.. Sure, God has forgiven you, but in this moment you have a person you have hurt and damaged.
I can't imagine someone killing another life... we could even put abortion in the equation.. Yes, God forgives even the murder when they come to the Mercy of God with a sorrowful heart and ask Him to forgive them.. But, what about the "effects" of the sin? What about the left behind loved ones of the person they killed? What about the life aborted? The "effects" of our sins most of the time, is not about us, it's about others... 

We are forgiven.....but the "effects" may be taken to eternity..  I wonder if this is what penance could be all about? Can "penance" take away the effects? What about indulgences?
It just might, if your "confession, penance, indulgence” is to
be used to fix the window we broke... 
Do you think an "all just loving God" is concerned with the "effects" of our sins? The "effects" after we confess them... most of the time become not about us, hey, Jesus died for my sins... I'm forgiven...
But, the "effects" can still be there if we do not make
amends... through confession, penance and indulgences.. What happens to the “effect?” Can we take them to our graves?

Someone asked me... and thanks to the question it helps me explain to others..
The question was; "how could indulgences help repair the soul of those we hurt and our own souls?"
           Indulgence alone, may not..

First we need to look at the BIG picture.. The Catholic Faith offers us the Sacraments, which includes the gift of confession, reconciliation.. When we go to confession, our Lord meets us there and we are forgiven... We are then given a penance to fix it... Many times it's a prayer, other times it could be we need to go ask someone for forgiving us with our BAD actions against them.. Sometimes the ones we have harmed are not opened to our need to fix things. They are hurt and God will have to, in His timing, heal them. That's when I believe indulgences help us to amend things.. We have a treasure chest to pull from... We can offer prayers, ask saints to pray for the situation, rosaries, a Mass, acts of charity and etc.. for their healing.  Our indulging with our faith for them is an amends... We might not witness the outcome of reconciliation for them on this side of heaven, but I believe our indulging in our faith will produce good fruits for eternity. Our indulging will also, in time heal the "effects" of our sin. God is faithful...
I'm reminded of working with girls who have had abortions.. Yes, God has forgiven them, but it is so hard for them to forgive themselves. I've witness women that have truly been healed from the "effects".. Those who indulge in their faith and are very active in the Pro-Life mission. They have worked through the process with our Lord in the Sacraments and with "works" indulging in the mission to save lives, the "effects" are healed on their souls. 
We can not separate all the "gifts" the Church offers us to heal the "effects" of sins. They are truly a treasure chest to help us on our journey to the Promise Land... Mother Church has much wisdom...and sometimes we might not understand, but, that's okay.... We just need to keep indulging
God forgives, but reconciliation, penance, and indulgence heals the soul of the offender and those they sinned against, who were "affected" by the sin....
Since nothing unclean enters heaven. (Rev 21:27)

Before we get into understanding these words; reconciliation, penance, and indulgence…
Let us ponder a father and child..
Actually we can use my son and my husband as an example.
My husband “loved” playing football and he could not wait to teach our son how to play. It was a very long process and it took much patience and instruction and years. If our son had not fallen in love with the game, I am sure he would have never finished as a good football player his senior year in high school. But, in time and much encouragement from his dad he did fall in love with the game and became a good player.
Our son came to love and play the game, by engaging in it. He and his dad during his high school years would study each game he played, look for the mistakes he made and areas he could improve.. He indulged with his whole heart and desired to be a special and good football player.

As I also ponder the Jubilee Door and indulgences I am reminded of my Protestant upbringing and the many churches we attended that had altar calls. Which today being a Catholic is kind of funny to me, because these churches did not have an altar, it was a stage, and they called an altar. There were many times during the year a Pastor would call those attending the service to the altar (stage) to accept Jesus as their Savior or if they had backslidden to confess ones sins and start new. It was important you came forward to the altar (stage) and the Pastor would say; "if Jesus is calling you, listen to Him, come forward, you have to make steps to meet Him, He is waiting.." If you did feel the tug on your heart and did not go to the front, the Pastor would remind the audience that someone is holding back and Jesus is waiting.. If you missed your opportunity to go forward, you would in the Pastor’s opinion, had missed meeting Jesus or being reconciled at the altar with Him..
Well, my thought many times, were; "can't God meet you at your seat, or at home?  Why did I have to go forward?" And when I surrendered to the Pastors urging, I always got a touch, a blessing, knowing somehow being obedient and taking those steps, grace did flow and I was healed and grew in my faith. I will never forget as a 16 year old Baptized in the Christian faith as a baby going forward and asking Jesus into my heart. I was a high school student at the time in a Baptist school.. I will never forget that moment and I cried like a baby.. Christ touched me that day.. And He has touched me many times since then, at other altar calls, in which I was obedient to go forward, when the pastor encouraged me to get out of my seat.. Isn't this in many ways an indulgence? The altar (stage) did not save me, it did not take away all my sins, and it was not a magical thing, in “works”... The Pastor calling me to perform this "work" of going forward was not the results of my actions in many ways..  Could it of been a mystery of being obedient to the voice of a pastor and following through to go to the stage, with a sincere heart and a heart full of sin, ready to be forgiven? And "yes" graces from above touched me and I knew at that moment I was forgiven of my sins, and I knew that Christ was inviting me into His life. And I wanted to be apart of His life.. I was tired of doing it own my own.
Going to the Jubilee Door is not magic, it's indulging, taking the steps to a "call" from our pastor; Pope Francis, telling us we will be reconciled, totally healed from sin at that moment.. If we surrender and take it to the door, Jesus is the way, the truth and nobody can enter except through HIM.. We should all want to stand at the door and knock, He is waiting.. My question to everyone, including me, in confirmation we confessed Christ as our Lord, did we really mean it? Did our hearts ask Him to be Lord of our lives or was it words we really did not understand what we were doing? Going through the Jubilee Door in many ways is surrendering and asking for God's Mercy, just like walking up to the stage (altar) and giving our lives totally to Him and us knowing that making those steps forward, we will meet Christ there and be forgiven. We will be starting new... Now what we do after we walk away from the door is a different story.. Will we return from where we came or will we really be changed? Do we want to be changed is the key, do we want to continue in our journey of seeking God's love and mercy? Pope Francis is making this available to a world that is in need of God's mercy...in many ways the indulgence he is offering, can be a new beginning with Christ. 

What does the dictionary say the word indulge means?
It’s a verb… its an action word… it takes action to indulge.
to allow (yourself) to have or do something as a special pleasure;
to allow (someone) to have or do something even though it may not be proper, healthy, appropriate, etc.
 (yes, we can indulge in unhealthy things); to patiently allow (someone) to do or say something; to give free rein; to
to take unrestrained pleasure in gratify….. to treat with excessive leniency, generosity, or consideration
What does a dictionary say the word indulgence means? the action or fact of indulging.
Yes, my husband and son were both indulging in something they loved and the result was not only our son becoming a pretty good football player.. Their love for each other grew and a father and son bond was deeply rooted when they both indulged with “works” of being the best football dad and football player. It took action, commitment and work. Many fruits came from the “indulgences” of indulging in football.
Do you think “indulgence” given as “works” by the Church could make us Holy? Could they create in us a desire to be a Saint? A few years ago I was teaching CCD to a few young boys about a Saint. They were not paying attention at all. I finally said; “Don’t you want to learn about this Saint, so it will encourage you to be a Saint? Don’t you want to be a Saint? “NO!” was their reply… In which I said; “Well, only Saints make it to heaven.” With that fact in place they informed me that they did want to be a Saint. Hopefully a seed was planted.
Do you think “indulgence” given as “works” by the Church could make us Holy? Especially when the “indulgences” of indulging is with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Mother Church, the Saints, the Holy Sacraments, works of mercy, charity and the “works’” in which Jesus calls us to participate with HIM.. Do you think our relationship will grow if we indulge, will we be changing? Do we want to change and grow and have an intimate relationship with Christ? Or do we want to be making our own destiny? What will that destiny be for eternity?
Since nothing unclean enters heaven. (Rev 21:27)
The Lord commanded us to be holy as He is holy, to be "holy in every aspect of (our) conduct" (see 1 Pt 1:15-16). Holiness is the very character of God, and our heavenly Father wants His children to act and look like Him. We are called to be a "holy nation" (1 Pt 2:9), and the Lord is coming back a final time for a Holy Church, "holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort" (Eph 5:27). Without holiness, we cannot go to heaven and see God (Heb 12:14).

What does it mean to be Holy?
The word HOLY in Hebrew is kodesh and means apartness, holiness, sacredness, consecration, and separateness. Holiness can mean without sin. It can also mean dedicated or set apart for God. If our lives become set apart for God and we indulge in our faith, what do you think could happen?

 The following thoughts from Catholicbridge...
"Indulgences are not a payoff for sins: here's what they are and what they are not
We can see on the Catholic side of the table that indulgences are the last stage, after someone has been forgiven and has been reconciled with God. It is not an attempt to pay off sins. An indulgence is a free gift from God through the Church to a faithful servant who has a penitent heart and who is already headed toward heaven. It removes part or all of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven. (Catechism 1471). It's not a "get out of hell free" card.

The Apostle James says, "you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinners soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:20). These are not brownie points. It is simply God looking at someone's heart and blessing him or her.

Church Treasury
The Catholic Church Treasury actually has nothing to do with money. It is a doctrine that says the Church has a storehouse of treasures in heaven. (Mat 6:19) The Church believes that all of the blood of the martyrs and prayers of the faithful Christians (and prayers of the Saints) over the centuries have pleased the Lord. The Church believes that it has been given the power to return these graces to people in need. (Mat 18:18) This is the basis of an indulgence. An indulgence is a gift out of this treasury. 
As an ex-protestant, I witnessed many pray for the lost, prayers for healing, prayers for needs to be taken care of. Through the treasure chest God’s people praying and reaching out to the needs of many lost souls… I have witnessed many saying “Thank-you for your prayers, your acts of charity and loving, I have been restored back to Christ or I have come to know and given my life to Christ, because of you not giving up on me with your prayers, charity, love and sacrifices. The “works” of God’s people is powerful. Catholics believe this too, but we also believe in a treasure chest in heaven as well, to help us in our journey into eternal life.

"An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus (Matthew 16:19), 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 punishment due for their sins" (Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1478). The granting of indulgences is the logical extension of the Church's ministry of forgiveness (John 20:21-23).
There is some misunderstanding concerning the term "the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints." It is feared that the Church is somehow equating the saints with Christ. However, this is not so. The treasury consists of the prayers of Christ and the saints. The term is simply an acknowledgment that they both pray for us (Hebrews 7:25, Revelation 5:8).
Furthermore, the use of the word "merits" does not mean that we can earn anything from God. James Akin addressed this point in an article that appeared in the November 1994 issue of "This Rock" magazine entitled, "A Primer on Indulgences." He wrote:
Humans can't earn anything from God, though by His grace they can please him in a way He chooses to reward. Picturing the saints' acts under a single, collective metaphor (such as a treasury) is biblical: "It was granted her [the Bride] to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure" (Revelation 19:8). John tells us, "For the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints." Here the righteous deeds of the saints are pictured under the collective metaphor of clothing on the bride of Christ, the Church. Jewish theology also recognizes a treasury of merits. Jewish theologians speak of "the merits of
the fathers" the idea being that the patriarchs pleased God and inherited certain promises as a reward. God fulfills these promises and ends up treating later Jews more gently than they would have been treated. The idea of "the merits of the
“fathers" is essentially the same as the Catholic concept of the "treasury of merits." Both postulate a class of individuals, the Old Testament patriarchs on the one hand and Christ and the saints on the other, who have pleased God and whom God chooses to reward in a way involving lesser temporal punishments on others.
An example of this principle can be found in 2 Kings 8:16-19:In the fifth year of Joram the son of Ahab, king of Israel, Jehoram the son of Jehosophat, king of Judah, began to reign. He was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for the daughter of Ahab was his wife. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Yet the Lord would not destroy Judah, for the sake of David his servant, since he promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.
That indulgences exist is reasonable and to be expected. The same loving Father who, through the death of His only Son provided a way to eliminate our eternal punishment, also provided a way to eliminate our temporal punishment.

Oh and by the way, It is good to give to the Church. Evangelical ministers are right when they say Christians should dig deep. "It will be a blessing to you." Tithing is a good thing.
"The Lord loves a Cheerful Giver." This also conveys the concept of an indulgence. Most certainly the Lord loves all people, but he also looks with favor on a contrite and generous heart.
To me an “indulgence” is an invitation from the Church to participate in my faith, and I will be blessed or I can use my blessing (indulgence) for my loved ones in purgatory or on earth and they will become blessed. And as an ex-Protestant who did not know about indulgences, in many ways have been doing indulgences on my own, for years, not knowing I was. The “workings” of my faith doing them out of love for my Savior, and most of the time not doing them perfect, failing much and also learning much, but in indulging with God, His grace has given me more than my heart can hold at times. I truly believe my indulging, my seeking Truth gave me the grace from above to journey into the Catholic Church.. My conversion is far from over and I still need His grace to become like “Him.” Isn’t that the goal, the race in which St Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 9: 24-25 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.…
2 Timiothy 4:6-8 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing."

reommend you reading these two links on Catholic Bridge. They do an excellent job to help bridge the difference between our separated brothers and sisters in Christ.

The following link is about Purgatory and when we come to understand; sin, effects of sin, indulgence, confession, reconciliation, and suffering we are thankful for purgatory..


More additional readings on Indulgences
From Vatican website..
Since nothing unclean enters heaven (Rev 21:27), Sacred Scripture refers to purification after death, that somehow repairs the damage caused by our offenses (Mt 12:32, 18:34-35).
The practice of praying and offering sacrifice for the dead who have need of this purification is considered honorable (2 Mc 12:39-43). Based on Scripture, the pious practice of praying for the deceased and offering sacrifice for their sake has been with the Church since her origin.
 An indulgence is an antidote to an ailment which we all have contracted: sin. Since it is impossible to understand any cure without understanding the disease, it is impossible to understand indulgences without understanding sin and its effects.
Every sin, mortal or venial, has a double consequence. First, the sin itself, an offense against God, drives a wedge between us and God, harming our relationship with Him.
This offense is forgiven through absolution in sacramental confession. But, every sin also entails an unhealthy attachment to the created world, an attachment which arises from the very nature of our sinful acts. This attachment, also called temporal punishment, is not expunged through confession, but persists and must be purified before entering our entrance into the blessedness of heaven (CCC 1472).
Purification by indulgence
The whole Church, on earth, in Purgatory, and in Heaven, is united in a Communion of the Saints. Just as the sins of one person harm the whole body, even more can the sufferings and good works of one person benefit the whole body. The Church is a guardian of a great “treasury” containing the merits of Christ and the saints, which she can dispense to all the faithful through indulgences.
To encourage the faithful, the Church attaches indulgences to actions that are already good in themselves. 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” (CCC 1471).
In other words, it is a participation in that purifying fire already here on earth through the spiritual treasury of the Church, which contains the boundless love and mercy of Christ, along with the prayers and works of the saints throughout history. The effect of an indulgence is the cleansing of those unhealthy attachments which remain even after the sin has been forgiven. We can apply this purification to ourselves or to the souls of the deceased (c. 994).
Proper disposition required
As with all the graces which Christ wishes to give us, we need a proper disposition to receive indulgences. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that everything is received according to the mode of the receiver (ST I, q. 84, a. 1), meaning that if we are not properly disposed to receive God’s grace, we will not receive it.   
To receive an indulgence, one must be baptized, not excommunicated, in a state of grace at least at the end of the prescribed work, be inwardly contrite for sins, and have the general intention of acquiring an indulgence (c 996).
Types of indulgences
There are two types of indulgences, plenary and partial. A plenary indulgence, from the Latin for “full,” removes all the temporal punishment due to sin, whereas a partial indulgence removes only part (CCC 1471). In order to gain a plenary indulgence, besides the dispositions listed above, one must also be free of all affection for sin, even venial sin. This requirement, which makes the reception of a plenary indulgence most difficult, is more than just a commitment to avoid sin.
Rather, it means a true freedom from affection for sin, the elimination of all fondness to sin, and the exclusion of any openness to sin. St. Francis de Sales defines affection for sin as “sundry inclinations and tendencies to venial sin” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chap. 22). Freedom from any affection for sin does not come easily or quickly. This should not be a cause for despair, however, since even if we have some affection for sin, we still receive a partial indulgence, which is certainly salutary.
Obtaining an indulgence The pope, as Successor of St. Peter, to whom Jesus entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven for binding and loosing (Mt 16:19), has the authority to open the treasury of Christ and the saints by attaching an indulgence to certain prayers or works of piety. Currently, this power has been delegated to the Apostolic Penitentiary for the universal Church, and it also belongs to bishops for the faithful entrusted to their care.    
To obtain an indulgence, besides having the proper dispositions, we must do four things.
First, we must carry out the pious work to which the indulgence is attached (e.g., praying the Rosary with our family).
Secondly, we must go to sacramental confession within 20 days before or after performing the indulgenced work. One sacramental confession, though, suffices for gaining several indulgences.
Thirdly, we must devoutly receive the Eucharist.
Finally, we must pray for the intentions of the Roman Pontiff, which can be satisfied by one Our Father and one Hail Mary, or by any other prayer according to individual devotion. It is preferable that reception of Communion, prayer for the pope, and the indulgenced work occur on the same day.
Examples of indulgences
The current legislation regarding indulgences is contained in the 1999 Enchiridion Indulgentiarum from the Apostolic Penitentiary, an approved translation of which can be found in the USCCB’s Manual of Indulgences. This book contains the norms regarding indulgences mentioned above, plus a complete list of indulgenced prayers and works. Some examples of plenary indulgences include:
   Spending at least an hour in Eucharistic Adoration (n. 7)
   Participating in the Way of the Cross (n. 13)
   Reciting a Rosary in a church or oratory, or in a family or religious community (n. 17)
   Assisting at the first Mass of a newly ordained priest (n. 27) 
   Visiting a cemetery to pray for the departed between November 1 and 8 (n. 29, 1°)
   Visiting a church or oratory to pray for the faithful departed on All Souls’ Day (n. 29, 2°)
   Reading of Sacred Scripture for at least 30 minutes (n. 30)
There are many more plenary indulgences contained in the Enchiridion, in addition to a whole host of partial indulgences. Furthermore, in the Year of Faith, the Apostolic Penitentiary has promulgated even more indulgences, which can be obtained until November 24, 2013. You can find a listing of these indulgences in Bishop Morlino’s decree which is printed in this week's edition of the Catholic Herald.
Bring on indulgences!
It is fitting to close with the words of His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York and one of the first members of the newly created Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, who referred to an indulgence as, “a beautiful, tender, powerful, tangible sign of God’s potent mercy” and a “classic component of the Church’s arsenal against sin” which “has been ridiculed and forgotten the last four decades”. Instead of relegating these gifts of God’s mercy to the past, Cardinal Dolan exclaims, “Bring on indulgences!”
[Augustine would flunk the entrance exams to many Protestant seminaries, with these sorts of eminently Catholic beliefs]
. . . such is the case also in the Church, that what is bound on
  earth is bound in heaven [penance], and what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven [indulgences],— for when the Church excommunicates, the excommunicated person is bound in heaven; when one is reconciled by the Church, the person so reconciled is loosed in heaven . . . 
(Tractates on the Gospel of John, 50, 12; my bracketed clarifying additions)

Catechism of the Catholic Church
1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:607

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.608
1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin."609 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.610 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: 

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.611
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 redemptiondispenses 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 Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead.      
The punishments of sin
1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequenceGrave 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 venialentails 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.83
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."84
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."85
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."86In 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 effficacy."87
1477 "This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immenseunfathomable, 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 the Father entrusted to them. In this way they attained their own salvation and at the same time cooperated in saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body."88
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 Jesusintervenes 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 devotionpenance, and charity.89
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.

by Sebastian R. Fama                   
It is claimed that the Catholic Church invented the doctrine on indulgences in order to extract money from the faithful. Critics are quick to remind us that it was the selling of indulgences in the Middle Ages that sparked the Protestant Reformation. No one disputes that there were abuses by individuals in the past. But past abuses should not be used as a reason to reject indulgences. The Bible itself has always been subject to abuse. Should it too be rejected? Of course not! Both the Bible and the doctrine on Indulgences should stand or fall on their own merits.
To begin with, indulgences cannot be bought. Some will claim that the fees attached to Masses for the dead prove otherwise. However, the fees are small and usually go to the priest who says the Mass. Certainly priests, just like all full time ministers, deserve to get paid for the work they do. The Apostle Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 9:11-12: "If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? If others share this rightful claim upon you, do not we still more?"
The use of indulgences goes back to the early days of the Church and is firmly based on scriptural principals. As we saw in the essay on Purgatory the Bible clearly teaches that some punishments are eternal (lasting forever), and others are temporal (lasting for only a time). Indulgences are granted for the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin. The Church has always taught that temporal punishment is required in this life or in Purgatory to heal the wounds of sin and prepare us for eternal happiness with God. Pope Paul VI speaks of that dual role in his "Apostolic Constitution on Indulgences:" "The aim pursued by ecclesiastical authority [The Church] in granting indulgences is not only that of helping the faithful to expiate the punishment due sin but also that of urging them to perform works of piety, penance and charity particularly those which lead to growth in faith and which favor the common good" (4:8). The Bible itself encourages such behavior.
On piety: "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1).
On penance: "Yet even now," says the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil" (Joel 2:12-13).
On charity: "But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:17-18).
Those receiving indulgences must be sorry for their sins. The wrong attitude toward sin renders our prayers ineffectual. In Psalm 66:18-19 we read: "If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened." Performing acts of piety, penance and charity
helps us to focus on the effects of sin, thus promoting in us a genuine contempt for it. A truly repentant individual is more likely to grow in holiness.       
 Indulgences may be partial, remitting only a part of the temporal punishment due, or plenary, remitting all of the temporal punishment due. Some Protestants are fond of claiming that the Catholic Church tries to keep its members away from the Bible. Ironically, "A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who, with the veneration due the divine word, make a spiritual reading from Sacred Scripture. A plenary indulgence is granted, if this reading is continued for at least one half an hour" (Enchiridion of Indulgences No. 50).
Strictly speaking, the granting of indulgences is not the forgiving of sins. "An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven" (Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1471). Thus indulgences may be applied to the souls in purgatory by way of prayer. This was taught by the early Church as evidenced by Tertullian, who wrote: "We offer sacrifices for the dead on their birthday anniversaries" (The Crown 3:3, 211 AD).
"An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus (Matthew 16:19), 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 punishment due for their sins" (Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1478). The granting of indulgences is the logical extension of the Church's ministry of forgiveness       
 (John 20:21-23).
There is some misunderstanding concerning the term "the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints." It is feared that the Church is somehow equating the saints with Christ. However, this is not so. The treasury consists of the prayers of Christ and the saints. The term is simply an acknowledgment that they both pray for us (Hebrews 7:25, Revelation 5:8).
Furthermore, the use of the word "merits" does not mean that we can earn anything from God. James Akin addressed this point in an article that appeared in the November 1994 issue of "This Rock" magazine entitled, "A Primer on Indulgences." He wrote:
Humans can't earn anything from God, though by His grace they can please him in a way He chooses to reward. Picturing the saints' acts under a single, collective metaphor (such as a treasury) is biblical: "It was granted her [the Bride] to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure" (Revelation 19:8). John tells us, "For the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints." Here the righteous deeds of the saints are pictured under the collective metaphor of clothing on the bride of Christ, the Church. Jewish theology also recognizes a treasury of merits. Jewish theologians speak of "the merits of the fathers" the idea being that the patriarchs pleased God and inherited certain promises as a reward. God fulfills these promises and ends up treating later Jews more gently than they would have been treated. The idea of "the merits of the
“fathers" is essentially the same as the Catholic concept of the "treasury of merits." Both postulate a class of individuals, the Old Testament patriarchs on the one hand and Christ and the saints on the other, who have pleased God and whom God chooses to reward in a way involving lesser temporal punishments on others.
An example of this principle can be found in 2 Kings 8:16-19: In the fifth year of Joram the son of Ahab, king of Israel, Jehoram the son of Jehosophat, king of Judah, began to reign. He was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for the daughter of Ahab was his wife. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Yet the Lord would not destroy Judah, for the sake of David his servant, since he promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.
That indulgences exist is reasonable and to be expected. The same loving Father who, through the death of His only Son provided a way to eliminate our eternal punishment, also provided a way to eliminate our temporal punishment.

                  A PRIMER ON INDULGENCES
by James Akin
You've heard it many times: "Catholics used to believe in indulgences, but we do not believe in them today." This statement is heard from the lips of many Catholics, even from some priests. It is said with mild embarrassment and a desire to close a chapter of Church history with which many Catholics feel uncomfortable.
Those who claim that indulgences are no longer part of Church teaching have the admirable desire to distance themselves from abuses that occurred around the time of the Protestant Reformation. They also want to remove stumbling blocks that prevent non-Catholics from taking a positive view of the Church. As admirable as these motives are, the claim that indulgences are not part of Church teaching today is false.
This proved by The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states, "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 punishment due for their sins." The Church does this not just to aid Christians, "but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity" (CCC 1478).
Indulgences are part of the Church's infallible teaching. This means that no Catholic is at liberty to ignore or disbelieve in them. The Council of Trent stated that it "condemns with anathema those who say that indulgences are useless or that the Church does not have the power to grant them."[1] Trent's anathema places indulgences in the realm of infallibly defined teaching.
This was not the first time an ecumenical council had discussed indulgences-the first times was in 1415, when the     
Council of Constance affirmed the practice-but at Trent the doctrine was proclaimed infallibly for the first time.
The pious use of indulgences goes back centuries, far beyond the Council of Constance, into the early days of the Church. The principles underlying indulgences extend back into the Bible itself. Catholics who are uncomfortable with indulgences do not realize how biblical they are. The principles behind indulgences are as clear in Scripture as those behind more familiar doctrines, such as the Trinity.
Before looking at those principles more closely, we should define indulgences. In his apostolic constitution on indulgences, Pope Paul VI said: "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 defined conditions through the Church's help when, as a minister of Redemption, she dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions won by Christ and the saints."[2]
This technical definition can be phrased more simply as, "An indulgence is what we receive when the Church lessens the temporal penalties to which we may be subject even though our sins have been forgiven." To understand this definition, we need to look at the biblical principles behind indulgences.
Principle 1: Sin results in guilt and punishment.
When a person sins, he acquires certain liabilities: the liability of guilt and the liability of punishment.[3] Scripture speaks of the former when it pictures guilt as clinging to our souls, making them discolored and unclean before God: "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool" (Is. 1:18).
This idea of guilt clinging to our souls appears in texts that picture forgiveness as a cleansing or washing and the state of our forgiven souls as clean and white: "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! . . . Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Ps. 51:2, 7).[4]
We incur not just guilt, but liability for punishment when we sin: "I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant and lay low the haughtiness of the ruthless" (Is. 13:11). Judgment pertains even to the smallest sins: "For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Eccl. 12:14).[5]
Principle 2: Punishments are both temporal and eternal.
The Bible indicates some punishments are eternal, lasting forever, but others are temporal, lasting only a time. Eternal punishment is mentioned in Daniel 12:2: "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.[6]
We normally focus on the eternal penalties of sin, because they are the most important, but Scripture indicates temporal penalties are real and go back to the first sin humans committed: "To the woman he said, 'I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.'
"And to Adam he said, 'Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, "You shall not eat of it," cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return'" (Gen. 3:16-19).[7]

Principle 3: Temporal penalties may remain when a sin is forgiven.
When someone repents, God removes his guilt ("though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" [Is. 1:18]) and any eternal punishment ("Since . . . we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God" [Rom. 5:9]), but temporal penalties may remain. One passage demonstrating this is 2 Samuel 12, in which Nathan the prophet confronts David over his adultery:
"Then David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the Lord.' Nathan answered David: 'The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin; you shall not die. But since you have utterly spurned the Lord by this deed, the child born to you must surely die'" (2 Sam. 12:13-14).
God forgave David, to the point of sparing his life, but David still had to suffer the loss of his son as well as other temporal punishments.[8]
In Numbers we read, "But Moses said to the Lord . . . 'Now if thou dost kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard thy fame will say, "Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he swore to give to them, therefore he has slain them in the wilderness"' . . . Then the Lord said, 'I have pardoned, according to your word; but truly, as I live . . . none of the men who . . . have not hearkened to my voice, shall see the land which I swore to give to their fathers" (Num. 14:13-23). God states that, although he pardoned the people, he would impose a temporal penalty by keeping them from the promised land.
Later Moses, who is clearly one of the saved (see Matt. 17: 1-5), is told he will suffer a temporal penalty: "And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 'Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them'" (Num. 20:12; cf. 27:12-14). Protestants often deny that temporal penalties remain after forgiveness of sin, but they acknowledge it in practice-for instance, when they insist on people returning things they have stolen. Thieves may obtain forgiveness, but they also must engage in restitution.
Protestants realize that, while Jesus paid the price for our sins before God, he did not relieve our obligation to repair what we have done. They fully acknowledge that if you steal someone's car, you have to give it back; it isn't enough just to repent. God's forgiveness (and man's!) does not include letting you keep the stolen car.
Protestants also admit the principle in practice when discussing death. Scripture says death entered the world through original sin (Gen. 3:22-24, Rom. 5:12). When we first come to God we are forgiven, and when we sin later we are able to be forgiven, yet that does not free us from the penalty of physical death. Even the forgiven die; a penalty remains after our sins are forgiven. This is a temporal penalty since physical death is temporary and we will be resurrected (Dan. 12:2).
A Protestant might say that God gives temporal penalties to teach a sinner a lesson, making the penalties discipline rather than punishment. There are three responses to this: (1) Nothing in the above texts says they are disciplines; (2) a Catholic could also call them disciplines;[9] and (3) there is nothing wrong with calling them "punishments," since "disciplining" a child is synonymous in daily speech with punishing a child.
As Greg Krehbiel, a Protestant who has written for This Rock, points out in a privately circulated paper, the idea that all temporal penalties vanish when one is forgiven "is the error at the heart of the 'health and wealth gospel, Jesus took my poverty and sickness away, so I should be well and rich.'"
The Catholic has good grounds for claiming temporal penalties may remain after a sin is forgiven. The Church has shown this since its earliest centuries and by prescribed acts of penance as part of the sacrament of reconciliation.
Principle 4: God blesses some people as a reward to others.
Suppose a father prays for his seriously ill son and says, "Dear Lord, if I have pleased you, then please heal my son!" The father is asking that his son be healed as a reward for his (the father's) pleasing God. Intuitively we recognize this is a valid prayer that God sometimes answers positively. But we do not need to stop with our intuitions: Scripture confirms the fact.
After Abraham fought a battle for the Lord, God spoke to him in a vision and said, "'Fear not, Abram [Abraham], I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.' But Abram said, 'O Lord God, what wilt thou give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?' . . . And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, 'This man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.' And he brought him outside and said, 'Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.' Then he said to him, 'So shall your descendants be.' And he believed the Lord, and he reckoned it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:1-6). God promised Abraham a reward-a multitude of descendants who would not otherwise be born. These people received a great gift-the gift of life-because God rewarded the patriarch.
God further told Abraham he would have nations and kings come from him, that God would make a covenant with his descendants, and that they would inherit the promised land (Gen. 17:6-8). All these blessings came to Abraham's descendants as God's reward to him.
This principle is also in the New Testament. Paul tells us that "as regards election [the Jews] are beloved for the sake of their forefathers" (Rom. 11:28); the principle is also found in passages in which one person approaches Jesus for the healing or exorcism of someone else, such as the story the Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:22-28).
Principle 5: God remits temporal penalties suffered by some as a reward to others.
When God blesses one person as a reward to someone else, sometimes the specific blessing he gives is a reduction of the temporal penalties to which the first person is subject. For example, Solomon's heart was led astray from the Lord toward the end of his life, and God promised to rip the kingdom away from him as a result. "[T]he Lord said to Solomon: 'Since this is what you want, and you have not kept my covenant and my statues which I enjoined on you, I will deprive you of the kingdom and give it to your servant. I will not do this during your lifetime, however, for the sake of your father David; it is your son whom I will deprive. Nor will I take away the whole kingdom. I will leave your son one tribe for the sake of my servant David and of Jerusalem, which I have chosen" (1 Kgs. 11:11-13). God lessened the temporal punishment in two ways: by deferring the removal of the kingdom until the days of Solomon's son and by leaving one tribe (Benjamin) under Judah.
God was clear about why he did this: It is not for Solomon's sake, but "for the sake of your father David." If David had not pleased God, and if God had not promised him certain things regarding his kingdom, God would have removed the entire kingdom from Solomon and done so during Solomon's lifetime. This is an example of God lessening a punishment for the sake of one of his saints.
Other examples are easy to think of. God promised Abraham     
that, if he could find a certain number of righteous men in Sodom, he was willing to defer the city's temporal (and eternal) destruction for the sake of the righteous (Gen. 18:16-33).
Paul noted, "As regards the gospel they [the Jews] are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:28-29). Paul indicated that his Jewish contemporaries were treated more gently than they otherwise would have been treated (God's gift and call were not removed from them) because their forefathers were beloved by God, who gave them irrevocable gifts (which are listed in Rom. 9:4-5).
Principle 6: God remits temporal punishments through the Church.
God uses the Church when he removes temporal penalties. This is the essence of the doctrine of indulgences. Earlier we defined indulgences as "what we receive when the Church lessens the temporal penalties to which we may be subject even though our sins have been forgiven." The members of the Church became aware of this principle through the sacrament of penance. From the beginning, acts of penance were assigned as part of the sacrament because the Church recognized that Christians must deal with temporal penalties, such as God's discipline and the need to compensate those our sins have injured.
In the early Church penances were sometimes severe. For serious sins, such as apostasy, murder, and abortion, the penances could stretch over years, but the Church recognized that repentant sinners could shorten their penances by pleasing God through pious or charitable acts that expressed sorrow over and a desire to make up for one's sin.
The Church also recognized the duration of temporal punishments could be lessened through the involvement of other persons who had pleased God (principle 5). Sometimes a confessor[10] or someone soon to be martyred would intervene and ask, as a reward to the confessor or martyr, that the penitent have his time of discipline lessened. This was how the Church recognized its role of administrating temporal penalties (principle 6); the role was simply part of the ministry of forgiveness God had given the Church in general.
Scripture tells us God gave the authority to forgive sins "to men" (Matt. 9:8) and to Christ's ministers in particular. Jesus told them, "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.... Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:21-23).
If Christ gave his ministers the ability to forgive the eternal penalty of sin, how much more would they be able to remit the temporal penalties of sin![11] Christ also promised his Church the power to bind and loose on earth, saying, "Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 18:18). As the context makes clear, binding and loosing cover Church discipline, and Church discipline involves administering and removing temporal penalties (such as barring from and readmitting to the sacraments). Therefore, the power of binding and loosing includes the administration of temporal penalties.
Principle 7: God blesses dead Christians as a reward to living Christians.
From the beginning the Church recognized the validity of praying for the dead so that their transition into heaven (via purgatory) might be swift and smooth. This meant praying for the lessening or removal of temporal penalties holding them back from the full glory of heaven.
If it is reasonable to ask that these penalties be removed in general, then it would be reasonable to ask that they be removed in a particular case as a reward. A widower could pray to God and ask that, if he has pleased God, his wife's transition into glory be hastened. For this reason the Church teaches that "indulgences can always be applied to the dead by way of prayer."[12]
A close parallel to this application is 2 Maccabees. Judah Maccabee finds the bodies of soldiers who died wearing superstitious amulets during one of the Lord's battles. Judah and his men "turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out" (2 Macc. 12:42).
The reference to the sin being "wholly blotted out" refers to its temporal penalties. The author of 2 Maccabees tells us that for these men Judah "was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness" (v. 45); he believed that these men fell asleep in godliness, which would not have been the case if they were in mortal sin. If they were not in mortal sin, then they would not have eternal penalties to suffer, and thus the complete blotting out of their sin must refer to temporal penalties for their superstitious actions. Judah "took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this . . . he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin" (vv. 43, 45).
Judah not only prayed for the dead, but he provided for them the then-appropriate ecclesial action for lessening temporal penalties: a sin offering.[13] Accordingly, we may take the now-appropriate ecclesial action for lessening temporal penalties-indulgences- and apply them to the dead by way of prayer.
There is a difference between the way indulgences are obtained by us in this life and the way in which they are applied to the dead. The official documents of the Church, such as Pope Paul VI's apostolic constitution on indulgences, the Code of Canon Law, and The Catechism of the Catholic Church, all note that indulgences are applied to the dead by way of prayer.
This is because Christians in the hereafter are no longer under the earthly Church's jurisdiction. They no longer can receive sacraments, including penance, and the Church does not have authority to release their temporal penalties. All it can do is look to God and pray that he will lessen them. This is a valid form of prayer, as 2 Maccabees indicates. We may have confidence that God will apply indulgences to the dead in some way, but the precise manner and degree of application are unknown.[14]
These seven principles, which we have seen to be thoroughly biblical, are the underpinnings of indulgences, but there are still questions to be asked:
Who are the parties involved?
There are four parties: The first pleased God and moved him to issue a reward, providing the basis for the indulgence; the second requests the indulgence and obtains it by performing the act prescribed for it; the third issues the indulgence (this is God working through the Church); and the fourth receives the benefit of the indulgence by having his temporal penalties lessened.[15]
How many of one's temporal penalties can be remitted?
Potentially, all of them. The Church recognizes that Christ and the saints are interested in helping penitents deal with the aftermath of their sins, as indicated by the fact they always pray for us (Heb. 7:25, Rev. 5:8). Fulfilling its role in the administration of temporal penalties, the Church draws upon the rich supply of rewards God chose to bestow on the saints, who pleased him, and on his Son, who pleased him most of all.[16]
The rewards on which the Church draws are infinite because Christ is God, so the rewards he accrued are infinite and never can be exhausted. His rewards alone, apart from the saints,' could remove all temporal penalties from everyone, everywhere. The rewards of the saints are added to Christ's-not because anything is lacking in his, but because it is fitting that they be united with his rewards as the saints are united with him. Although immense, their rewards are finite, but his are infinite.
"If the Church has the resources to wipe out everyone's temporal penalties, why doesn't it do so?"
Because God does not wish this to be done. God himself instituted the pattern of temporal penalties being left behind. They fulfill valid functions, one of them disciplinary. If a child were never disciplined he would never learn obedience. God disciplines us as his children -- "the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives" (Heb. 12:6) -- so some temporal penalties must remain.
The Church cannot wipe out, with a stroke of the pen, so to speak, everyone's temporal punishments because their remission depends on the dispositions of the persons who suffer those temporal punishments. Just as repentance and faith are needed for the remission of eternal penalties, so they are needed for the remission of temporal penalties. Pope Paul VI stated, "Indulgences cannot be gained without a sincere conversion of outlook and unity with God."[17] We might say that the degree of remission depends on how well the penitent has learned his lesson.
How does one determine by what amount penalties have been lessened?
Before Vatican II each indulgence was said to remove a      
certain number of "days" from one's discipline-for instance, an act might gain "300 days' indulgence" -- but the use of the term "days" confused people, giving them the mistaken impression that in purgatory time still exists and that we can calculate our "good time" in a mechanical way. The number of days associated with indulgences actually never meant that that much "time" would be taken off one's stay in purgatory. Instead, it meant that an indefinite but partial (not complete) amount of remission would be granted, proportionate to what ancient Christians would have received for performing that many days' pious deeds. So, someone gaining 300 days' indulgence gained roughly what an early Christian would have gained by, say, reciting a particular prayer on arising for 300 days.
To overcome the confusion Paul VI issued a revision of the handbook (Enchiridion is the formal name) of indulgences. Today numbers of days are not associated with indulgences which are either plenary or partial.[18]
Only God knows exactly how efficacious any particular partial indulgence is or whether a plenary indulgence was received at all. The new system of reckoning leaves exact amounts to God and involves the Church in only general principles.
"Don't indulgences duplicate or even negate the work of Christ?"
Despite the biblical underpinnings of indulgences, some are sharply critical of them and insist the doctrine supplants the work of Christ and turns us into our own saviors. This objection results from confusion about the nature of indulgences and about how Christ's work is applied to us.
Indulgences apply only to temporal penalties, not to eternal ones. The Bible indicates that these penalties may remain after a sin has been forgiven and that God lessens these penalties as rewards to those who have pleased him. Since the Bible indicates this, Christ's work cannot be said to have been supplanted by indulgences.
The merits of Christ, since they are infinite, comprise most of those in the treasury of merits. By applying these to believers, the Church acts as Christ's servant in the application of what he has done for us, and we know from Scripture that Christ's work is applied to us over time and not in one big lump (Phil. 2:12, 1 Pet. 1:9).
"But what about the merits of the saints-by the doctrine of indulgences aren't the saints made co-saviors with Christ?"
Not at all. At best they would only be saving us from temporal calamities, which any human may do (and should do!) for another without blaspheming Christ.[19] Besides, the saints have the ability to please God because the love of God has been put in their hearts (Rom. 5:5). It is God's grace that enables them to please to him. His grace produces all their good actions, and his grace is given to them because of what Christ did. The good actions of the saints therefore are produced by Christ working through them, which means Christ is the ultimate cause of even this temporal "salvation."
"Should we be talking along these lines? Isn't it better to put all of the emphasis on what Christ alone?"
No. If we ignore the fact of indulgences, we neglect what Christ does through us, and we fail to recognize the value of what he has done in us. Paul used this very sort of language: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col. 1:24).
Even though Christ's sufferings were superabundant (far more than needed to pay for anything), Paul spoke of completing what was "lacking" in Christ's sufferings. (As put by Augustine, "The God who created you without your cooperation will not save you without your cooperation.") If this mode of speech was permissible for Paul, it is permissible for us, even though the Catholic language about indulgences is far less shocking than was Paul's language about his own role in salvation.
Catholics should not be defensive about indulgences. They are based on principles straight from the Bible, and we can be confident not only that indulgences exist, but that they are useful and worth obtaining.
Pope Paul VI declared, "[T]he Church invites all its children to think over and weigh up in their minds as well as they can how the use of indulgences benefits their lives and all Christian society.... Supported by these truths, holy Mother Church again recommends the practice of indulgences to the faithful. It has been very dear to Christian people for many centuries as well as in our own day. Experience proves this."[20] James Akin is a contributing editor to This Rock.
To gain any indulgence you must be a Catholic in a state of grace. You must be a Catholic in order to be under the Church's jurisdiction, and you must be in a state of grace because apart from God's grace none of your actions are fundamentally pleasing to God (meritorious). You also must have at least the habitual intention of gaining an indulgence by the act performed.
To gain a partial indulgence, you must perform with a contrite heart the act to which the indulgence is attached.
To gain a plenary indulgence you must perform the act with a contrite heart plus you must go to confession (one confession may suffice for several plenary indulgences), receive Holy Communion, and pray for the pope's intentions. (An Our Father and a Hail Mary said for the pope's intentions are sufficient, although you are free to substitute other prayers of your own choosing.) The final condition is that you must be free from all attachment to sin, including venial sin.
Because of the extreme difficulty in meeting the final condition, plenary indulgences are rarely obtained. If you attempt to receive a plenary indulgence, but are unable to meet the last condition, a partial indulgence is received instead.
Below are indulgences listed in the Handbook of Indulgences (New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1991). Note that there is an indulgence for Bible reading. So, rather than discouraging Bible reading, the Catholic Church promotes it by giving indulgences for it! (This was the case long before Vatican II.)
An act of spiritual communion, expressed in any devout formula whatsoever, is endowed with a partial indulgence.
A partial indulgence is granted the Christian faithful who devoutly spend time in mental prayer.
A partial indulgence is granted the Christian faithful who read sacred Scripture with the veneration due God's word and as a form of spiritual reading. The indulgence will be a plenary one when such reading is done for at least one-half hour [provided the other conditions are met].
A partial indulgence is granted to the Christian faithful who devoutly sign themselves with the cross while saying the customary formula: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
Priests who administer the sacraments to the Christian faithful who are in a life-and- death situation should not neglect to impart to them the apostolic blessing, with its attached indulgence. But if a priest cannot be present, Holy Mother Church lovingly grants such persons who are rightly disposed a plenary indulgence to be obtained in articulo mortis, at the approach of death, provided they regularly prayed in some way during their lifetime. The use of a crucifix or a cross is recommended in obtaining this plenary indulgence. In such a situation the three usual conditions required in order to gain a plenary indulgence are substituted for by the condition "provided they regularly prayed in some way." The Christian faithful can obtain the plenary indulgence mentioned here as death approaches (in articulo mortis) even if they had already obtained another plenary indulgence that same day.
1471. The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of penance.
"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" (Indulgentarium Doctrina norm 1). "An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin" (ibid. norm 2, norm 3).
Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead.
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 (Council of Trent [1551]: Denzinger-Schonmetzer 1712-1713; [1563]: 1820).
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" (Eph. 4:22, 24).
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" (Indulgentarium Doctrina 5).
1478. An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and losing 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 (Indulgentarium Doctrina 5).
Myth 1: A person can buy his way out of hell with indulgences.
   This is a common misunderstanding, one that-anti-Catholic commentators take advantage of, relying on the ignorance of both Catholics and non-Catholics. But the charge is without foundation. Since indulgences remit only temporal penalties, they cannot remit the eternal penalty of hell. Once a person is in hell, no amount of indulgences will ever change that fact. The only way to avoid hell is by appealing to God's eternal mercy while still alive. After death, one's eternal fate is set (Heb. 9:27).
Myth 2: A person can buy indulgences for sins not yet committed.
The Church has always taught that indulgences do not apply to sins not yet committed. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes, "[An indulgence] is not a permission to commit sin, nor a pardon of future sin; neither could be granted by any power."
Myth 3: A person can "buy forgiveness" with indulgences.
The definition of indulgences presupposes that forgiveness has already taken place: "An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven" (Indulgentarium Doctrina norm 1). Indulgences in no way forgive sins. They deal only with punishments left after sins have been forgiven.
Myth 4: Indulgences were invented to money for the Church.
Indulgences developed from reflection on the sacrament of reconciliation. They are a way of shortening the penance of sacramental discipline and were in use centuries before money-related problems appeared.
Myth 5: An indulgence will shorten your time in purgatory by a fixed number of days.
The number of days which used to be attached to indulgences were references to the period of penance one might undergo during life on earth. The Catholic Church does not claim to know anything about how long or short purgatory is in general, much less in a specific person's case.
Myth 6: A person can buy indulgences.
The Council of Trent instituted severe reforms in the practice of granting indulgences, and, because of prior abuses, "in 1567 Pope Pius V canceled all grants of indulgences involving any fees or other financial transactions" (Catholic Encyclopedia). This act proved the Church's seriousness about removing abuses from indulgences.
Myth 7: A person used to be able to buy indulgences.
One never could "buy" indulgences. The financial scandal around indulgences, the scandal that gave Martin Luther an excuse for his heterodoxy, involved alms- indulgences in which the giving of alms to some charitable fund or foundation was used as the occasion to grant the indulgence. There was no outright selling of indulgences. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: "[I]t is easy to see how abuses crept in. Among the good works which might be encouraged by being made the condition of an indulgence, almsgiving would naturally hold a conspicuous place. . . It is well to observe that in these purposes there is nothing essentially evil. To give money to God or to the poor is a praiseworthy act, and, when it is done from right motives, it will surely not go unrewarded."
Some criticize indulgences, saying they involve our making "expiation" for our sins, something which only Christ can do. While this sounds like a noble defense of Christ's sufficiency, this criticism is misfounded, and most who make it do not know what the word "expiation" means or how indulgences work.
Protestant Scripture scholar Leon Morris comments on the confusion around the word "expiate": "[M]ost of us . . . don't understand 'expiation' very well ... [E]xpiation is ... the making amends for a wrong.... Expiation is an impersonal word; one expiates a sin or a crime" (The Atonement [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1983], 151). The Wycliff Bible Encyclopedia gives a similar definition: "The basic idea of expiation has to do with reparation for a wrong, the satisfaction of the demands of justice through paying a penalty."
The terms used in these definitions-expiation, satisfaction, amends, reparation-mean basically the same thing. To make expiation or satisfaction for a sin is to make amends or reparation for it. When someone makes reparations, he tries to repair the situation caused by his sin.
Certainly when it comes to the eternal effects of our sins, only Christ can make amends or reparation. Only he was able to pay the infinite price necessary to cover our sins. We are completely unable to do so not only because we are finite creatures incapable of making an infinite satisfaction (or an infinite anything), but because everything we have was given to us by God. For us to try to satisfy God's eternal justice would be like using money we had borrowed from someone to repay what we had stolen from him. No actual satisfaction would be made (cf. Ps. 49:7-9, Job 41:11, Rom. 11:35). This does not mean we can't make amends or reparation for the temporal effects of our sins. If someone steals an item, he can return it. If someone damages another's reputation, he can publicly correct the slander. When someone destroys a piece of property, he can compensate the owner for its loss. All these are ways in which one can make at least partial amends (expiation) for what he has done.
They are ways in which we are expected to make compensation, as even the sharpest critics of indulgences admit. If I have wronged another person, then, quite aside from being put right with God, I must make it up, or at least try to make it up, to the person I have wronged. To make full reparation it is necessary not only to restore what was taken or damaged, but also to compensate the owner for the time the thing was gone or injured. In financial cases this is done by paying interest.
Excellent biblical illustrations of this principle are given in Leviticus 6:1-7 and Numbers 5:5-8, which tell us that in the Old Testament a penitent had to pay an extra twenty percent in addition to the value of the thing he took or damaged. (This applied to a penitent who voluntarily made compensation; a captured thief had to pay back double the value of the item taken [Ex. 22:1-9].)
One of the most significant passages dealing with this issue is Proverbs 16:6, which states: "By loving kindness and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil." Here we are told that a person makes temporal atonement (though never eternal atonement, which only Christ is capable of doing) for his sins through acts of loving kindness and faithfulness.