QUAERITUR: Can we obtain indulgences and pray for Holy Father’s intentions if there is no Holy Father?

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Many people have sent email asking about obtaining indulgences during the time when the See of Peter is empty, as will happen from 8 p.m. Rome time on 28 February until a new Bishop of Rome is elected.

To obtain some indulgences we are to pray for the Holy Father’s intentions (that is, the intentions that the Holy Father designates that we pray for).

QUAERITUR: If there is no Pope, how do we pray for the Pope’s intentions?

This question came up in 2005, after the death of John Paul II.

First, YES!  The faithful are able to obtain plenary indulgences during the “Sede Vacante” time, where there is no Pope.

As a matter of fact, the Church holds matters of internal forum and of indulgences to be so important for the faithful that the office of the Major Penitentiary (who oversees these matters for the Apostolic Penitentiary) is one of the few that does not cease when the Pope dies or resigns.  I digress.

So, yes, you can obtain indulgences during the “Sede Vacante” period.

Moreover, back in 2005 the Apostolic Penitentiary responded to a question about these matters, saying:

Even though the Apostolic See is vacant, the conditions of praying for the intention of the Supreme Pontiff are fulfilled (by reciting once the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary” once; nevertheless, the opportunity is also given to the individual faithful to recite another prayer which pleases them according to the piety and devotion of each one), even if he has fulfilled the duty of his life, since the ends of the Pope’s intention, the ends for which one must pray–undoubtedly the spiritual good of the whole Church — persist.

So, continue to pray for the intentions designated by Benedict XVI for March 2013, which were issued at the beginning of the year, namely,

GENERAL – Respect for Nature. That respect for nature may grow with the awareness that all creation is God’s work entrusted to human responsibility.
MISSIONARY – Clergy. That bishops, priests, and deacons may be tireless messengers of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

If, quod Deus avertat, there is still no election by the end of March, then pray for the intentions Benedict XVI designated for April, etc.

Furthermore, while it is possible, it is unlikely that the next Pope will scratch Benedict’s designated intentions for the rest of the year.  More than likely they will persist until the end of the year when he will draw up and issue his own.


To emphasize the postive point, above, Vatican Information Service published on 28 February, as usual, the Holy Father’s intentions for March 2013.  HERE.

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  1. Lepidus says:

    Interesting. I guess I never realized that the Pope had published intentions. I thought that we were praying for whatever his personal intentions happened to be at the moment, such as some Church issue that popped up, general world needs, or specific things in his life that we would not even know about (like last month, probably guidance in his decision on whether to abdicate).

  2. Here in Ireland the Jesuits have a very well established monthly magazine ‘the Sacred Heart Messenger’ that always gives the papal intentions for the month with a suggested prayer. Nicely edited little magazine too.

  3. I will also dare say that the composition of the monthly intentions may not be something the Pope actually does himself anyway. I’m sure that they at least cross his desk at some point for approval, but this looks like the sort of task that could be delegated to a cardinal or monsignor in the recesses of the Vatican. Thus, the idea of praying for those intentions while the See is vacant is not as strange as it sounds, especially when one realizes that they are published well ahead of time.

  4. amsjj1002 says:

    I was like Lepidus, praying for whatever intentions the Holy Father had in mind at that time. I figured if the Holy Father’s praying for it, it’s good; he knows what serious needs are out there even if I don’t. So I’ve just been praying for the Holy Father’s intentions. So now I’m worried, should I be remembering them specifically to gain the indulgence?

  5. Matt R says:

    amsjj1002, No I don’t think you specifically need to remember these intentions, for God knows what they are, as well as the Pope’s private intentions.

  6. John Fannon says:

    It’s going to be the saddest thing, replacing Benedict XVI’s coat of arms with the ‘Sede vacante’ symbol on our Parish website.

  7. Father S. says:

    On a similar note, when can priests begin offering the Missa pro Eligiendo Papae? Also, once that time has begun, in the order of solemnity, where does it fall? [Given that we know that there has to be a conclave, I suppose we could use the text now. However, it would be most appropriate to start on the day the conclave begins.]

  8. oakdiocesegirl says:

    To Lapidus, et al: If you join the “Apostleship of Prayer” [can be done online], they will send you a tiny leaflet every month with the Pope’s intentions for that designated month inside. Very convenient memory jogger. Many churches have these leaflets available in the vestibule.

  9. Geoffrey says:

    Apparently the prayer intentions for 2014 have already been prepared and announced:


  10. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Reminder, folks, there’s not exactly a shortage of ways to win indulgences sede vacante. Just so we’re clear. :) Also, Fr. S. decorum (a fancy word for ‘my personal feelings’) suggests waiting till the see IS vacant before using that Mass.

  11. tsearles102 says:

    A lot of the universal intentions look like the Obama administration could have written them… (in that they look like code speak that liberals use). Of course, I’m not saying the Holy Father would ever approve of such a thing, because taken at face value all these intentions are fine and admirable. Just saying – do they ever publish intentions such as “that our separated brethren will return to Christian unity beneath the Holy Father and Holy Mother Church”?

  12. dspecht says:

    I always thought the “intentions of the Pope” are some fixed, invariable intentions (5 or so points: the exaltation of the Church, the triumph above the enemies of the Church, the spreading of the Gosple etc.)

    (I did never and will and would never pray for this monthly changing “Obama-administartion” [tsearles 102]- gaudium-et-spes-styled modern intentions!)

  13. Pingback: How to obtain a plenary indulgence when the Sede is vacante | A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics

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