ON HOLY INDULGENCES, AND THE CONDITIONS REQUISITE FOR GAINING THEM
TO THE DEVOUT READER.
Two bitter fruits are produced in the soul by sin; first, Guilt, which deprives us of grace and the friendship of God; and second, Its Penalty, which forbids us the enjoyment of God in Paradise. The penalty of sin is twofold, being partly eternal, partly temporal. Guilt, together with the eternal penalty of sin, is entirely remitted to us by means of the infinite merits of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of Penance, provided only that we approach that Sacrament with fitting dispositions. On the other hand, as regards the temporal penalty of sin, inasmuch as it is not commonly wholly remitted to us by this Sacrament, very much remains to be discharged, either in this life by means of good works or penance, or else in the next life by means of the fire of Purgatory. But what man is he that can penetrate into the deepest and most hidden judgments of God? Who can tell how much in this present life the Divine Justice may exact in payment of the debt he owes to God, or whether his penances have gained for him the entire, or only the partial remittance from God of that temporal penalty which he has to undergo; and who will not think it a fearful mode of payment, to satisfy in the fire of Purgatory in the life to come? Blessed for ever, then, and praised be the most merciful and tender heart of our Divine Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who imparted to his Holy Catholic Church, from its very origin, the power to apportion, and to us the capability to participate in this treasure of Holy Indulgences, by means of which we are enabled with lightest burden to ourselves to pay to the justice of God all we owe Him for our sins after their eternal penalty and guilt have been remitted.
For, indeed, these Indulgences form a treasury which abides continually before the face of God, – a treasury, that is, of the merits and satisfaction of Jesus Christ, of the most Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saints – a treasury which might technically be called the valuation price of the superabundant and infinite satisfactions of our Divine Redeemer, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Martyrs amid other Saints, being all that portion of their works of penance not necessary for the expiation of their own sins. For this reason it is that Holy Indulgences are called by the Holy Council of Trent heavenly treasures. This is the doctrine inculcated by the Sovereign Pontiff Clement VI. of blessed memory, in the following words: “Jesus Christ did by his superabundant holy Passion bequeath to His Church militant here on earth an infinite treasure, not laid up in a napkin, nor hidden in a field, but committed by if Him to be dispensed for the welfare of the faithful by the hands of blessed Peter, who has the keys of heaven, and by his successors here on earth, the vicars of Jesus Christ. To the mass of this treasure are added also all the merits of the Blessed Mother of God, and of all the elect, from the first just man even to the last.” These riches, being infinite, have never diminished, and never will diminish; but, like a mighty ocean, suffer no loss, draw from it what you will.
True it is, however, that Christians are not at liberty to take and to use this treasure as they please; but only as determined by the Holy Church and this Sovereign Pontiff, when, and how, and in what measure. Hence Indulgences are distinguished into two classes. Some are called Partial; and these are given for days, or periods of forty days, called “Quarantines,” or for a year or years. Others are called Plenary, or in forma Jubilaei.
By Partial Indulgences, of days that is, or quarantines, or years, so much temporal penalty is remitted to the recipient of them as he would have had imposed upon him of old by the penitential canons of the Church, which penances were given in days, quarantines, or years. Plenary Indulgences, or Indulgences in forma Jubilaei, are in their effect one and the same thing; the only difference being, that where the Indulgences are granted in forma Jubilaei, confessors have powers of jurisdiction conferred on them to absolve from reserved cases, to dispense from or commute all simple vows, &c. By all such Indulgences, all the temporal penalty is remitted to us which we owe to God for all those sins in regard of which, though pardoned, we were still debtors, so that theologians teach us, that were we to die immediately after gaining worthily a Plenary Indulgence, we should go straight to heaven. The same may be said of the holy souls in purgatory, whenever in suffrage for them we gain a Plenary Indulgence applicable to them, provided the Divine justice deign to accept it in their behalf.
From all this we may easily gather, devout readers, how highly we ought to prize these Indulgences, how great their value is, and how mighty their efficacy; and lastly, how great a benefit they are spiritually to all faithful Christians. Hence the Holy Council says, “that the usage of Indulgences is most wholesome to Christian people, Indulgentiarum usum Christiano populo maxime salutarem esse;” wherefore it ought to be a holy duty in every Christian to endeavour to gain them, as far as he is able, as well for his own spiritual good, as by way of suffrage in behalf of the faithful departed.
To gain an Indulgence, several conditions are requisite.
i. First, it is requisite that we should be in a state of grace, that is, living in favour with God; for whosoever before God is in his guilt of unremitted sin, and liable to its eternal penalty, is not, and cannot be, whilst continuing in that state, in a capacity to receive the remission of the temporal penalty. The best advice, then, that can be given is, to make an act of perfect contrition, when confession is impossible, before doing the works enjoined for gaining an Indulgence, accompanying this with a firm resolution to go to Confession, in order that by so doing we may gain the grace of God, should it happen to have been lost.
ii. Secondly, since the Church, in opening the Treasury of Holy Indulgences, has ever obliged faithful Christians to do some good work under specified circumstances of time, place, &c., so it is to be remembered that she requires their personal and devotional fulfilment of all the works enjoined, both as to time, manner, and object, according to the precise letter of the grant by which the Indulgence has been conceded: as, for instance, when in the grant it is said that the work ought to be done kneeling, or standing, or at the sound of the bell, or at such an hour, such a day, or contrite, or having Confessed and Communicated, &c: so that, should any of the works enjoined be omitted, either wholly or in some notable portion of them, be it through ignorance, or negligence, or inability; or should any one of the conditions of time, place, &c. prescribed, fail to have been observed for any reason whatsoever, – then the Indulgence in question is not gained.
Here it will not be amiss to call attention to certain general decrees of the Holy Congregation of Indulgences relative to Confession, Communion, and Prayers, as these are works always enjoined in the grants of Indulgences.
First, then, as to Confession:- for all persons who have the praiseworthy custom of going to Confession at least once a week when not lawfully hindered, it is admitted that such a weekly Confession is sufficient for gaining all the Indulgences which occur day after day, provided they do the other works which are enjoined them; nor is it necessary to make another fresh Confession on purpose. This, however, would of course be absolutely indispensable, were a person to be conscious that he had fallen into a mortal sin since his last Confession. Indulgences, however, of the Jubilee, whether ordinary or extraordinary – granted, that is, in the form of a Jubilee, – are excepted from this general rule, inasmuch as in order to gain such Indulgences, besides the works enjoined, the Confession ought to be made within the time appointed in the grant of such Indulgences: this is evident from the decree of time Holy Congregation of Indulgences dated December 9, 176 h, approved by Pope Clement XIII.
Secondly, as regards the Communion which has to be received, especially for gaining Plenary Indulgences, although the days for making it are specified, yet on high festivals, when the Indulgence time begins with First Vespers of the Feast, the Communions may be anticipated on the Vigil or day preceding the festival, according to the declaration of the said Holy Congregation in their decree of June 12, 1892, confirmed by Pope Pius VII.; and Pope Gregory XVI. of holy memory, by another decree of the same Holy Congregation of March 19, 1841, declared, that by a Confession and Communion made on Holy Saturday, a Plenary indulgence might be gained by assisting devoutly at the Papal Benediction*, and that at the same time the Paschal precept might be fulfilled.
* On Easter Day
And thirdly, as regards the Prayers which are directed to be said for gaining Indulgences:- these may be recited by two or more persons alternately in prayers such as time Rosary, Litanies, the Angelus, the De profundis, and other such-like prayers. This is expressly declared by the above-named holy Pontiff, Pius VII., in a decree of the S. Congregation under date Feb. 29, 1820. Note here, that poor deaf and dumb people who cannot say the prayers prescribed for gaining the holy Indulgences annexed to such prayers, ought to visit the church (should such a condition be prescribed in the grant), raising up their souls and thee affections of their hearts to God. Should it happens that the prayers are to be said publicly, then they can gain such Indulgences by lifting up their souls and hearts to God, provided they are there present in body with the rest of the faithful; should, however, the prayers be prescribed to be said privately, then they may obtain from their own Confessors a commutation of such prayers into some other external good work. This is clear from time Resolution of the S. Congr. of Indulgences, Feb. 16, 1852, confirmed by Pope Pius IX., in an audience of March 15, the same year.
iii. As a third and last condition of gaining a Plenary Indulgence and remission of all sins, venial included, it is required that we detest these said venial sins, and moreover lay aside every affection to all such sins in general, as well as to each in particular. God grant us of His holy grace that such dispositions be found in all those Christians who are desirous of gaining these Indulgences; and grant us likewise to remember, that whilst we do our utmost to gain them, we ought always, notwithstanding, to endeavour at the same time to bring forth worthy fruits of penance, and by means of other wholesome penal works, as well as works of mercy and devotion, to pay to the Divine justice some satisfaction for the misdeeds we have done.
This, devout reader, I have thought it right to say to you by way of preface, in presenting to you this collection of prayers and pious exercises, to which Sovereign Pontiffs have granted holy Indulgences, Plenary and Partial. It is a treasure neglected by many of the faithful, partly because its existence, and partly because its value, is not known, and so men take not that account of it which they ought. I have given it the name of “A Collection of Prayers,” &c., because I should indeed have taken on myself too arduous a task had I endeavoured to gather unite one volume all the prayers and pious works to which Indulgences are annexed. Accordingly I have restricted myself to those alone which can be practised for the most part by all faithful Christians; and I have specified the Indulgence annexed to each such prayer or work, by quoting distinctly the constitutions, briefs, or rescripts of the Sovereign Pontiffs by whom they were conceded, after having verified them with the greatest exactness. Marvel not, dear reader, that in this last edition you find not, as you have heretofore found in other editions of this collection, the historical account of the origin of certain devotions to which afterwards Indulgences were annexed, since, as I have to add for your benefit the last grants made by time and care of our present holy Pontiff Pius IX., I was afraid lest, by making the Raccolta too bulky, I should prevent some from using it so frequently as they otherwise would, as very often occurs with books intended for daily use. This is the reason also why you will find that in mentioning the grant, brief, or rescript, I have left out the words “for ever,” since, in order to obviate the necessity of this constant repetition, it is enough for you to be told once for all, that all Indulgences in the present Raccolta were granted by the goodness of Sovereign Pontiffs for ever and I have therefore contented myself with inserting these words only where such grants were once made for a certain term. Moreover, without repeating the words, “these Indulgences are applicable to the Holy Souls in Purgatory,” or “these prayers may be said in any language, provided the version be correct, and approved by the S. C. of Indulgences,” I think it enough to say, once for all, that our holy Father Pius IX. made these two concessions in favour of all Indulgences in this book, by a decree of the said S. C. of Indulgences, dated Sept. 30, 1852.
And now I will beg you, dear reader, to select out of this Raccolta for your own use those prayers and pious works which God moves you to adopt, or which your own devotion points out to you as most adapted to your own state; and I entreat you also to use them with perseverance for your own spiritual welfare, and in suffrage for holy souls in purgatory, renewing every morning the intention of gaining those Indulgences to which you may be entitled by time prayers or good works which you do that day, according to the advice of Blessed Leonard in his Sacred Manual, § xxii. Thus cleansing more and more your soul from sin, you may hope with confidence after death that you will soon arrive at the enjoyment and love of God for ever in Paradise. May that blessing be to thee, reader, and to me also!