QUAERITUR: Attachment to Sin, Indulgences, and You.

purgatoryAs 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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mary Jane says:

    Great post Fr. Z. Will be re-posting on my blog later today.

  2. albizzi says:

    A plenary indulgence very easy to get:
    Staying in adoration before the tabernacle for half an hour at least.

  3. Thanks for this post, Father! I was at Mass yesterday for the Feast of the Kingship of Christ, and Father had photocopied for us a prayer of which I cannot really remember the name, but which he told us gained a plenary indulgence with the usual requirements.
    I feel like it was a bit providential, because just the night before I had suddenly been struck with the desire to go to confession. If I’m not extremely careful with myself I get very lax and start to put it off, first a month, then six weeks, etc..
    I hadn’t known about this particular indulgence until Father mentioned it in his homily, so I feel like my pull to confession, and my opportunity to confess before Mass started, was more supernatural than not.

    (Doing my research as I write this comment, it looks like this indulgenced prayer was the Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart of Christ.)

  4. Supertradmum says:

    For a plenary indulgence in the United States, one a regular basis, not on November 2nd, one must go to Confession within three weeks, go to Holy Communion on the same day as completing the rest. say two to three Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Bes for the Intentions of the Holy Father, and do either one of the three following: read the Scriptures for one-half hour; go to adoration for one-half hour, or say a rosary with other people, in a church, or a religious house. These conditions also must be connected with a detachment from venial sin. One can do this every day. See Prayers for Departed Souls in St. Benedict’s, Oregon for this information with ecclesiastical approbation.

    This is one reason I am frustrated as to not finding Confessions here, as I cannot keep up with my plenary indulgences for the departed.

  5. jesusthroughmary says:

    The family Rosary is also a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions. I don’t know why people get so bent out of shape about obtaining plenary indulgences on certain days or about having to travel great distances to seek them out. As supertradmum points out, you can obtain one every day by going to daily Mass and confession twice a month and by putting aside a half hour for one of those three pillars of our faith – the Blessed Sacrament, the Scriptures, or the Rosary.

  6. jesusthroughmary says:

    Also, making the Stations of the Cross carries a plenary indulgence.

  7. AnAmericanMother says:

    I have been pleasantly surprised by the willingness of our priests to hear confessions at almost any time.
    I belatedly realized that I had committed a fairly serious sin and refrained from going forward to receive. After Mass I let the crowd thin out and then asked Father if he had time to hear my confession. He smiled and said, “Of course! That’s what we’re here for,” we found a quiet corner, and all was well. (He uses the iPhone Confession app, too!)

  8. jesusthroughmary says:

    Supertradmum –

    You’re in Malta, right? I thought there was a Catholic church at every corner in Malta, something like a church for every thousand people. The few Maltese I have met have been very devout. I am saddened to hear that you can’t get to confession over there.

  9. Allan S. says:

    I am going to an EF Mass tomorrow in Toronto at St. Lawrence the Martyr parish in Toronto at 11 am, including confession, and will attempt to obtain one plenary and several partial indulgences to be applied to the souls in purgatory.

  10. idatom says:

    Fr. Z.;
    This is a typical email I send out at this time, every year.

    Tom Lanter

    Free a Soul With a Plenary Indulgence Each Day Nov 1st to 8th

    Teresa and I will be visiting many cemeteries this week as we always do at this time of the year. There are a number of Jewish cemeteries here on the west side and of course we go where our relatives are buried and any others we can think of.

    You might consider doing the same, remember the indulgence is not for you. It’s applies only to departed souls. Nov. 1st to the 8th.

    Keep the Faith

    …….13. Visit to a Cemetery
    (Coemeterii visitatio)
    An indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, is granted to the faithful, who
    devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, even if only mentally, for the departed. The indulgence is
    plenary each day from the 1st to the 8th of November; on other days of the year it is partial. …. >>>


  11. TKS says:

    The link goes to a 1968 document. Isn’t there a 1999 update that overrides the older one?

  12. jesusthroughmary says:

    It’s not available online in English. If I were a more cynical person, I would think that the USCCB values its publishing and copyright rights over the salvation of souls.

  13. Robert of Rome says:

    Very well said, Fr. Z and fellow posters.

  14. Supertradmum says:

    He uses the iPhone Confession app, too!

    Is this allowed now? I remember in 1982, I was told by a priest that he could not hear Confession or give absolution over the phone. He said it was against Canon Law. I am interested. I may have to approach a priest, and find one who is fluent in English, which is not as common as one would like here

  15. AnAmericanMother says:

    That’s not what the iPhone app is – although the usual suspects in the media reported it that way when it came out!
    It’s a guide to confession only, with an examination of conscience, prayers, and a series of prompts that walk you through confession live, to a priest. It’s useful if you have a tendency to go blank or lose your train of thought.
    There was an extensive discussion of this here awhile back. The app developers actually took Fr. Z’s comments and suggestions to heart, including a disclaimer on the title page that it’s a guide to confession only, and not a substitute.
    I find it very useful, although I think if you rely too heavily on it it can become distracting. It’s best for me to just use it as a reminder/checklist.

  16. NoraLee9 says:

    There are many great things about the iPhone app I Confess . One which is not commonly mentioned is that in the dark confessionals it has been difficult to see the list one made from a thorough examination of conscience. The iPhone is back lit. No matter how dark the confessional, one can still see one’s list.
    I heard a priest give a homily once on NOT making a paper list. He told how he cringed when he heard the rattling of the paper on the other side of the screen. He talked about how we are supposed to make a “general” confession of our sins. This was quite some time ago. As he has gotten older, I am sure even this priest needs to use a little list, or, his iPhone app!

  17. albizzi says:

    The prayer of St Gertrude the Great is yet more powerful than indulgences since it is purportedly said to free 1000 souls from the Purgatory each time it is recited:
    “Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood Of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the Universal Church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.”

  18. AnAmericanMother says:

    I never DARED write anything down on paper. I would lose it (not that my rather dull and pedestrian (though serious and sometimes mortal) sins would be of the slightest interest to anybody, but still . . . ). It’s like the joke about the old lady who got into the confessional and started reading, “Loaf of bread, green beans . . . oh, no! I left my sins in the A&P!!”
    One of the great attractions of the iPhone app is that it is passworded, and very carefully so (if you time out or go to another app you have to enter the password again). And of course if you’re paranoid you can delete all the check marks and the custom list as well.

  19. Supertradmum says:


    Thanks again for the clarification. I do make lists, but no one would be able to understand something, like ftt or ftp or caj. If people here can figure those out, I shall make a secret code.

  20. karlw says:

    It’s not unreasonable to try to receive a plenary indulgence by reading scripture or finding people to pray the Rosary in a church (finding Eucharistic adoration is more complicated unfortunately). In any case, if you’re not willing to receive a plenary indulgence by reading scripture for half an hour or praying the Rosary with a group in church then you probably won’t receive one anyway.

  21. Stephen D says:

    I recall reading about some priest saint who was granted the knowledge that only he and an old lady in his large congregation had obtained the full plenary indulgence that was available to them all. He didn’t say that attachment to venial sin was the problem but it seems likely to me. It hasn’t stopped even me ‘going for it’. If I fall short then I will still be able to offer the Holy Souls some relief.

  22. Stephen D says:

    @ albizzi, the release of so many souls seems to have been promised when Saint Gertrude herself said the prayer (though I still say it!)

  23. Mundabor says:

    Stephen D, that would be St. Philip Neri.

    I think what Father wants to say is that it is possible and that we must strive towards it, not that it is easy.

    I personally think the achievement of a plenary indulgence is akin to the achievement of the heroic virtue: all of us can in theory, and all of us have the duty in practice to try to reach such a level of virtue. How many of us actually do it, is a different matter altogether (don’t bet your pint on me, say….).

    Still, even long journeys are made one step at a time and I prefer to shoot high and not reach the target, than not to shoot because I won’t hit it.


  24. Supertradmum says:

    Yea, went to Confession today. I just got up the courage to ask one of the Capuchins, who learn English, after Mass. I feel much relieved and could then pray the Indulgence. All the cemeteries are out of the city, by a British Mandate a long time ago, therefore I cannot visit one for that indulgence. Too far to walk…

  25. dmhb says:


    Can children (before having made first communion or confession) gain indulgences?

  26. I was very glad to find a prayer book that has a summary of the Handbook of Indulgences, a section of various prayers and the indulgences they gain and a third section of prayers that, while they are no longer listed in the Handbook, are quite useful and may even obtain an indulgence under a provision in the current Handbook of Indulgences. I need all the help I can get!

  27. Stephen D says:

    @ Mundabor, I agree. I thought that was what I said. Sorry for my lack of clarity.

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