Confession and plenary indulgence

Plenary indul–what?

Plenary indulgence, ladies and gents.

I was reminded of this beautiful reality when the Holy Father was about to give his Urbi et Orbi message and blessing last Easter Sunday. The commentator said that a plenary indulgence could be gained, given that the usual conditions are met.

Pope Francis gives his Urbi et Orbi message on Easter Sunday. Photo from

Pope Francis gives his Urbi et Orbi (To the City and the World) message on Easter Sunday. Photo from

But what is a plenary indulgence?

Simply put, it’s the removal or “remission of all temporal punishment due to sin.” Sounds scary, I know. But focus your attention on “removal” or “remission”.

You see, when we sin, it’s like we’ve hammered a nail into a piece of wood that’s perfect for a sculpture. So what do we do? We pull out the nail; this is like Confession. But then, of course, the nail has already left an ugly hole. It has to be filled in. That filling in the hole is like plenary indulgence.

Ugly nails and holes... Photo by havent the slightest on Flickr

Ugly nails and holes… Photo by havent the slightest on Flickr

Remember that sin, though forgiven in Confession, leaves in us scars or imperfections which are, of course, unacceptable in Heaven, where all is holy and pure. That’s why, by God’s mercy, there is Purgatory. This is where we are purified by suffering — terrible, but full of joy and hope, since anyone who is in Purgatory is already assured of Heaven (it’s only a matter of how much the soul has to be purified). Theologians would say that the ‘sensorial’ sufferings of Purgatory are the same as those in hell; the only difference is that in Purgatory there is salvation in the end; hell is everlasting.

That period spent in Purgatory, my friends, is basically the temporal punishment due to sin.

Thus we can skip this stopover in Purgatory through a plenary, or full, indulgence (which, by the way, can be applied to oneself or to souls in Purgatory). We can also skip it through the mortifications or sacrifices we do or receive here on earth. No wonder the saints find so much consolation in suffering!

So what are the conditions so that one can gain plenary indulgence?

  1. Detachment from (or hatred for) sin, including venial sins
  2. Confession within several days before or after the indulgenced act
  3. Holy Communion within several days before or after the indulgenced act
  4. Prayer for the Pope and his intentions

Easy peasy! But then, of course, whether we have adequately fulfilled these conditions (especially #1) is known to God alone, so we can never be proud of ourselves and tell people that we have “fulfilled” all the conditions for the plenary indulgence. (Pride is a sin, right?)

If you want to know more about indulgences (the other type is called “partial indulgence”), visit this Catholic Encyclopedia article or this EWTN page. Indulge!


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