QUAERITUR: Indulgences for the dead and visiting a cemetery

From a reader:

Your recent answer to a question about prayers and Masses for non-Catholic departed brings to mind a question some friends and I were deliberating over. With regard to the indulgences we can gain for the departed during the month of November by praying at a cemetery:
are the intended recipients the Catholic departed, or could we go to a non-Catholic, or, say, even Jewish cemetery to pray and gain the indulgence?

Here is the text of the concession of the indulgence from the Enchridion Indulgentiarum as it is on the Vatican’s website.

29
Pro fidelibus defunctis

§ 1. Plenaria indulgentia, animabus in Purgatorio detentis tantummodo applicabilis, conceditur christifideli qui

1°55 singulis diebus, a primo usque ad octavum novembris, coemeterium devote visitaverit et, vel mente tantum, pro defunctis exoraverit;

2°56 die Commemorationis omnium fidelium defunctorum (vel, de consensu Ordinarii, die Dominico antecedenti aut subsequenti aut die sollemnitatis Omnium Sanctorum) ecclesiam aut oratorium pie visitaverit ibique recitaverit Pater et Credo.

§ 2. Partialis indulgentia, animabus in Purgatorio detentis tantummodo applicabilis, conceditur christifideli qui,

1°57 coemeterium devote visitaverit et, vel mente tantum, pro defunctis exoraverit;

2°58 Laudes vel Vesperas Officii defunctorum, vel invocationem Requiem aeternam devote recitaverit.

Competentes Coetus episcopales curabunt addere in editionibus Enchiridii pro sermonum varietate preces pro defunctis magis in suis territoriis usitatas et christifidelibus caras.

Requiem aeternamdona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace. Amen.
(Ordo exequiarum)

From this we see only the word “coemeterium” without further distinction. I think we can say that it is better to go to a Catholic cemetery. But that is not what the grant of the indulgence says.

Also, the grant states seems to make some distinctions. We see “pro defunctis” without further specification: “for the dead”.

There are “animabus in Purgatorio detentis … souls detained in Purgatory”. They wouldn’t be in Purgatory if they weren’t going to be in heaven with the blessed one day.

It doesn’t say “Catholic souls detained in Purgatory”.

So, while I think it is better to go to a Catholic cemetery, which is consecrated ground and is, well, ours, it seems you could go to any cemetery.

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21 Responses to QUAERITUR: Indulgences for the dead and visiting a cemetery

  1. benedictgal says:

    For financial reasons, we buried my mom at the City Cemetery, as opposed to the Catholic cemetery (the cost was three times more expensive at Calvary). However, the priest did bless the ground. God willing, I hope to go to the cemetery on November 2nd (after Mass) to pray for my mother, my paternal grandma and my maternal grandparents.

    The diocese has deacons and priests available on All Souls Day to bless the graves at its cemetery. However, in the past, I’ve been able to “kidnap” one and have him come over and bless my mom’s.

  2. torch621 says:

    Makes perfect sense, because you never know who is Purgatory in need of our prayers.

  3. Titus says:

    Fr. Z’s reading of the Enchiridion by itself is clearly correct, as his analysis, infra about praying for dead non-Catholics. But does anyone have cross-references to other uses of the term coemeterium in Church law? I could envision the term being elsewhere defined as a blessed area dedicated to the burial of the dead, thus excluding secular cemeteries. I do not have any evidence actually suggesting that this is the case, but it is certainly a possibility that should be investigated for the sake of thoroughness.

  4. Supertradmum says:

    In Great Britain, there are few Catholic cemeteries, but areas in the secular cemeteries, or Anglican ones, which are blessed ground, where Catholics are buried. I do not see a problem in going to the Catholic part and stepping out of the consecrated ground to pray for someone else. I always pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary to take my lowly prayers and give them to someone else, if the persons do not need them, for whatever reason.

  5. Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,

    While I am loathe to give even the slightest impression of discouraging prayer for the dead, especially for those who have died without baptism and who therefore misericordiae suae maxime indigent, I cannot help but note that the header of the indulgence is Pro fidelibus defunctis.

    Does this not narrow the range of applicability?

    Best,
    C.

  6. thereseb says:

    I live hundreds of miles from where my near and dear are buried. I usually go to my local cemetery (mixed) to pray. Is there any way I can include my deceased family, from a distance in the Plenary Indulgence? (I have already had Masses said for all I know about).

  7. skellmeyer says:

    The plenary indulgence for visiting the cemetery and praying for the dead only applies during the first eight days of November – the octave of the Nov 1 feast of All Saints Day. Any prayer for the “faithful” dead made during the cemetery visit would be sufficient to satisfy the conditions.

    There is a SEPARATE plenary indulgence on Nov 2, All Souls Day, for visiting a church or oratory and specifically praying an Our Father and a Creed (any form). On Nov. 2, you DO NOT have to visit a cemetery for the plenary.

    The other indulgences available during November are:
    Nov 9 (dedication of the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour),
    Nov 18 (dedication of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle – both dedications require an Our Father and a Credo (any form) ), and
    Nov 20 (Act of Dedication to Christ the King PUBLICLY recited on the Solemnity of Christ the King).

    Nov. 28 is also the traditional beginning of the novena prior to the feast of the Immaculate Conception – that novena has a partial indulgence associated with it.

    If you want a calendar that tracks all of the days and conditions for you, the Calendar of Indulgences at Bridegroom Press (http://www.bridegroompress.com) does exactly that. It’s a 12-month wall calendar that helps Catholics keep track of the special days and conditions available throughout the year.

  8. robtbrown says:

    Chris Altieri,

    Good question about pro fidelibus defunctis.

    It seems to me that when we speak of the faithful, we must include not only those with explicit faith (e.g., Catholics) but also those whose faith, even though not explicit, is implicit.

  9. skellmeyer says:

    Therese,

    The indulgence conditions only say you have to visit a cemetery and pray for the dead. It doesn’t say you have to visit the SAME cemetery where the dead for whom you are praying are buried.

    Essentially, every cemetery in the world becomes a pilgrimage site during the octave for purposes of the indulgence. Thus, a visit to ANY cemetery accompanied by prayers for the dead are sufficient to apply to your loved ones.

  10. Fides lata semper fides est, robtbrown: a good point.

    I think We’re making it more complicated than it really is, though.

    The law seems to require two things for the All Saints’ indulgence (viz. 1.55 as quoted above):

    1. Visiting a cemetary

    and

    2. Praying for the faithful departed

    So, visiting the municipal cemetary, or a Potter’s field, or some such, would seem to satisfy (1), while a prayer for “all those who have died in friendship with God” satisfy (2).

    All the bases are covered on this reading, I think.

    Best,
    C.

  11. Sid says:

    In reply to 26 October 2010 at 10:24 am: 26 October 2010 at 10:37 am has it right. Just Who knows just who the faithful departed are? I submit that other than Mother Church’s beatification and canonization, only that Who knows. It follows that prayers are in order for all the dead.

  12. Supertradmum says:

    thereseb,

    A Plenary Indulgence may be granted to a person through the following indulgence done by you. First, one must go to Confession within a three week period of praying for the Plenary Indulgence. Second, you must go to Communion, at a Mass, for the intention of that person on the same day that you say three prayers, an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, for the Intention of the Holy Father. In addition, on the same day, you must either say a rosary in a group out loud, adore the Blessed Sacrament for one-half hour, or read the Scriptures for one-half hour. One must also be detached from all sin, even venial sin. I usually make an act of detachment and try to avoid imperfections, especially while praying for the departed. These conditions may be found on cards, which I pass out to seminarians, from Prayers for Departed Could, PO Box 561, St. Benedict, Oregon 97373. One may be gained each day, if you can get to Mass and Communion and do all the rest daily. The only condition which “lasts” for three weeks if going to Confession. The late John Paul II set up these directives and they can be found published in other places besides the cards I have suggested.

  13. Supertradmum says:

    sorry Souls, not Could–interrupted by a kid here…

  14. Eric says:

    I posted the other day that our priest said masses should not be said for non-Catholics out of respect for their wishes. I just got clarification from him. I (as I ussually am) was mistaken. Masses can be said for them and their conversion, but it would be listed in the bulletin as “private intention” out of respect.
    He said he would be insulted if in the Methodist bulliten it was listed that they were praying for his conversion.

    I should listen more carefully to the homily.

  15. thereseb says:

    Thanks to Supertradmum and Skellmeyer for clarifications.
    STM – I was called away after posting to attend to a 15 year old who set the microwave on fire so understand the odd typo…..

  16. Tim Ferguson says:

    Not to get too pedantic, nor to attempt a cross-pollination from yesterday’s discussion, but would it not be fair to say that everyone in Purgatory is Catholic, regardless of their denominational confession prior to death? Surely those in Purgatory, members of the Church Suffering, have accepted the fullness of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church.

  17. Rich says:

    Thanks, Father – very helpful.

    Now, since there is not official translation yet of the Fourth Edition of the Enchridion Indulgentiarum (and hasn’t been for many years), perhaps we can a sort of unofficial translation going here. This section you posted would be a good start. What d’ya think? ;-)

  18. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    Rich:

    Your wish is my command. Corrections are most welcome.

    29
    Pro fidelibus defunctis

    § 1. Plenaria indulgentia, animabus in Purgatorio detentis tantummodo applicabilis, conceditur christifideli qui

    1°55 singulis diebus, a primo usque ad octavum novembris, coemeterium devote visitaverit et, vel mente tantum, pro defunctis exoraverit;

    2°56 die Commemorationis omnium fidelium defunctorum (vel, de consensu Ordinarii, die Dominico antecedenti aut subsequenti aut die sollemnitatis Omnium Sanctorum) ecclesiam aut oratorium pie visitaverit ibique recitaverit Pater et Credo.

    § 2. Partialis indulgentia, animabus in Purgatorio detentis tantummodo applicabilis, conceditur christifideli qui,

    1°57 coemeterium devote visitaverit et, vel mente tantum, pro defunctis exoraverit;

    2°58 Laudes vel Vesperas Officii defunctorum, vel invocationem Requiem aeternam devote recitaverit.

    Competentes Coetus episcopales curabunt addere in editionibus Enchiridii pro sermonum varietate preces pro defunctis magis in suis territoriis usitatas et christifidelibus caras.

    Requiem aeternamdona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace. Amen.
    (Ordo exequiarum)

    29
    For the faithful departed

    § 1. A plenary indulgence applicable only to the souls kept in Purgatory is granted to a faithful Christian who

    1°55 on each of the days from the first to the eighth of November, devoutly visits a cemetery and prays for the dead, even only in his thoughts;

    2°56 on the day of the commemoration of all the faithful departed (or, with the consent of the Ordinary, on the Sunday preceding or following or on the day of the solemnity of All Saints) piously visits a church or oratory and there recites the Our Father and the Creed.

    § 2. A plenary indulgence applicable only to the souls kept in Purgatory is granted to a faithful Christian who

    1°57 devoutly visits a cemetery and prays for the dead, even only in his thoughts;

    2°58 devoutly recites Lauds or Vespers of the Office of the Dead, or the invocation Requiem Aeternam.

    Competent episcopal conferences will take care to add in their edition of the Enchiridion for variety prayers for the dead more used in their territory and beloved by their faithful.

    Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace. Amen.
    (The Order of Funerals)

  19. Tim Ferguson: You are right. The need be no hesitation about earthly ecclesial membership when talking about souls in Purgatory. They are definitively heaven bound. For them it is simply a matter of when the time will be right.

  20. PghCath says:

    Robert: Many thanks for your translation. I’m sure you meant to note that the indulgences under § 2 are partial, not plenary.

  21. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    PghCath: Thanks for the correction.