As I write it is All Hallows Eve, the Vigil of the Feast of All Saints. As November begins will are called upon by Holy Church to pray in a special way all month long for the Poor Souls, whom we may help by obtaining indulgences.
I have written elsewhere about some of the indulgences, plenary and partial, we can obtain.
A reminder in brief: An indulgence is the remission of some or all of the temporal punishment due, in God’s justice, to sin that has been forgiven. The remission is granted by the Church, through her use of “the power of the keys” given by Christ to bind and to loose, through the application of the super-abundant merits of Christ and of the saints. Indulgences are not pardons for sins, past or future. It is no sort of “grant of immunity”, as it were, which is so stupid a notion as to be dismissed out of hand as beneath our consideration. Indulgences concern the penance we owe in justice for sins which have been forgiven. Indulgences are applied to the poor souls who are, in justice, being purified in purgatory and in that state dealing with the penance due for the forgiven sins they committed in life. We can help them in their time of penance and purification by performing works which the Church has prescribed. Indulgences are full (plenary) remission of all temporal punishment or partial.
Several people have written with a measure of dismay to ask how it is possible for us to obtain plenary indulgences. They assert that it is pretty much impossible because one of the conditions is that we must have no attachment to any sin, even venial sins. How, they wonder, can be be without any attachment to sins?
First, consider that Holy Church, in laying down this condition, nevertheless believes that you can, in fact, gain the indulgences! Holy Church, the greatest expert on humanity there has ever been, is confident that you can perform these works and also make an act of will against all sins, even venial sins. Holy Church would not offer something that it impossible to obtain.
We are members of a fallen race, susceptible to the problems that arise from the world, the flesh and the devil. We are always in a state of striving while in this world. We often fail, but we must always keep striving.
We can, in fact, habituate ourselves to making an act of will against all sins. We can do this!
Just as you habituate yourself to be grateful to God for all His gifts by praying before meals and after, just we we habituate ourselves with acts of the will to love God above all creaturely things by making acts of faith, hope and love during the day, just as we habituate ourselves to check our actions and words carefully by making a daily examination of conscience, we can also habituate ourselves truly to hate sins and desire not to commit them. We can have the intention, the desire, not to sin even when realistically we know that we are still poor sinners in need of graces and mercy.
Before performing an indulgenced work make an act of will against all sins and ask God to take away all attachment for any sins you might habitually or even infrequently commit, moral or venial.
People habituate themselves and organize their time around all sorts of worldly pursuits. They will move heaven and earth to be able to park themselves in front of a television for a sports event on a certain date. They will make plans to go to the opening of a new movie. If we do these things, which are passing and ephemeral, can we not be even more dedicated to watching for opportunities for gaining indulgences? Think of the benefit. We have pleasure from watching a ballgame and we prepare around the event. But by plenary and partial indulgences we help souls in purgatory who, in turn, will be grateful for our help and will pray for us before God’s throne when they enter into the happiness of heaven, perhaps in part because of YOUR prayer!
As Catholics, it should be part of our identity and regular practice to avail ourselves of the great treasure Holy Church offers from the merits of the Sacrfice of the Lord and of the saints. We should, as a normal part of our lives, develop the habit of seeking indulgences. Therefore, we should keep close track of the liturgical calendar. Priests should announce opportunities for indulgences during announcements at Mass and in the bulletin. We should help each other gain them, for example by going together with people to a church on its patronal feast or to a cemetery during November, etc.
This is what Catholics do.
It is all about developing habits. This can take some time, but the rewards are far more than the effort we spend on them.
You can indeed make an act of will to detest sins and desire not to commit them. You can do this. It takes some practice, so that it becomes easier, but … you should be doing that anyway, indulgences in view or not.