Plenary indulgences for Faithful Departed extended throughout November due to pandemic

With the feast the of Faithful Departed approaching, the faithful know it’s a special time of prayer for those who have gone before us. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Apostolic Penitentiary has issued a decree extending the traditional times for the two plenary indulgences applicable to the souls in purgatory during the month of November.

Plenary indulgence for Nov. 1 – 8

The plenary indulgence granted for visiting a cemetery and praying for the deceased from Nov. 1 – 8 can be completed throughout the whole month of November. The faithful may choose what days to visit the cemetery. The days don’t have to be consecutive.

Plenary indulgence for All Souls Day (Nov. 2)

Furthermore, the plenary indulgence for All Souls Day on Nov. 2, whereby a member of the faithful devoutly visits a church or oratory and recites the Our Father and Creed, may be transferred to any day during the month of November.

Adaptations for those affected by COVID-19

Considering the obstacles that may arise due the pandemic, the Apostolic Penitentiary has adapted the requirements to obtain these indulgences for those who are unable to leave their house.

For those who are sick, the elderly or those who are unable to visit a cemetery, church or oratory for any other serious reason – such as coronavirus restrictions – it is possible to obtain any of these plenary indulgences by doing the following:

  • Spiritually uniting themselves with the faithful
  • And doing one of the following before an image of Jesus or the Blessed Virgin Mary:
    • Praying devout pious prayers for the deceased (e.g. Rosary, Office of the Dead, Divine Mercy Chaplet, etc.)
    • Reading and reflecting on the Gospel passages prescribed for Masses of the Dead
    • Performing a work of mercy by offering to God the sorrow and hardships of their own lives

Usual conditions for obtaining a plenary indulgence

The three usual conditions for obtaining a plenary indulgence still stand and are to be completed within 20 days before or after the prescribed work. However, those who are unable to fulfill this timeframe may complete them as soon as possible.

The three usual conditions are:

  • Reception of Holy Communion for each plenary indulgence
  • Sacramental Confession (one confession can suffice for multiple plenary indulgences)
  • Prayer for the intention of the Holy Father for each plenary indulgence

FAQ’s regarding plenary indulgences

What is an indulgence?

The remission of temporal punishment that remains as a consequence of sin after it has been forgiven. It is a grace granted by the Church, in the exercise of the power of the keys given to it by the Lord, and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Mary and the saints.

Does a plenary indulgence forgive sins?

No. An indulgence only applies to sins that have already been forgiven.

Why is there a temporal punishment if the sin has been forgiven?

This example can help us understand: A child is disobedient toward his dad, who had previously told him not to play with the ball inside the house, and breaks a window. With regret, the child apologizes to his father. His father forgives him, but a consequence remains: he must make up for the broken window. So, his mother and siblings decide to help him pay the debt with his father’s permission.

Likewise, the confessed sin is forgiven, but there is still a punishment that must be atoned for. This is the debt that the Church helps us pay through indulgences.

Who can I offer an indulgence for?

Depending on the indulgence, it can be offered for oneself or the deceased. In the case of the plenary indulgences for the Faithful Departed, the indulgence is obtained for the souls in purgatory and not for the person who does them.

An indulgence can also be offered up to Mary, so that she may apply it to the soul she wishes to help. Indulgences offered for others only apply to the souls in Purgatory – those in Heaven don’t need them, and those in Hell can’t use them. Since we don’t know if the souls of the faithful departed are in Heaven, it is best to continue to offer indulgences for them.

Can an indulgence be offered for another living person?

No.

What effect does a plenary indulgence produce in my soul?

If it is offered for oneself, it frees us from the temporal punishments of sins that have already been confessed and forgiven, from the moment of our baptism to the date in which we obtain the plenary indulgence.

If offered for the deceased, it’s a great work of mercy, since it frees them from the punishment of their forgiven sins, which can help them leave Purgatory and enter Heaven. St. Catherine of Siena used to say that the souls we help in this way will be eternally grateful to us – they will always pray for us and when we reach Heaven, they will be there to receive us.

If a person who has confessed their sins and obtained a plenary indulgence were to die, would they go to Heaven?

Yes, insofar as they have nothing else to purify, in the sense of attachments and unconfessed venial sins.

How many indulgences can I obtain?

One per day.

How can I obtain a plenary indulgence?

You must be in a state of grace, have complete detachment from all sin after going to confession, attend Holy Mass, receive communion, pray for the intentions of the Pope (for example: an Our Father, a Hail Mary and the Creed), and complete what the Church requires to obtain the indulgence. 

The FAQ is based on an article originally published in Spanish by ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by the Denver Catholic.

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.