Indulgences, blessings for a priest’s First Mass – ATTENTION BISHOPS & ORDINANDS! ACTION ITEM!

Here is something useful from Ed “the academic” Peters.


It would be great were you to make this known to people before the opportunity has passed!  Consider putting a note about this things in the worship aids you develop for ordinations and for first Masses!  Consider having a note about it the week before in the diocesan newspaper and in parish bulletins where first Masses will be celebrated.  Include the requirements for gaining the indulgences.

Moreover, Your Excellencies, you can by your office and authority enrich with a partial indulgence the reception of a “first blessing” by a priest or a deacon (yes, deacons can give invocative blessings).  The Enchiridion doesn’t provide for such an indulgence, but you, Your Excellencies, can concede one!  Get a request to Rome soon, if necessary.

Ordinands, you might ask your bishop to grant this spiritual favor.  Proper procedures are to be followed, of course.

These are important spiritual benefits.  We have to re-teach people about them.

Ordinations, first Masses, and clerical blessings

by Dr. Edward Peters

Questions related to ordinations, first Masses, and clerical blessings always surface about this time of year. Shall we review a few points? Let me cite to the more commonly available 1999 “Manual of Indulgences” although the 2004 Enchiridion Indulgentiarum  is the current statement.

1. The practice of receiving a priest’s “first blessing” after his ordination Mass is a praiseworthy custom, but there is no specific indulgence attached to receiving such a blessing or, for that matter, to attending a cleric’s ordination Mass. [I DON’T CARE if there is no special indulgence attached to this. ASK for the blessing and kiss the palms of the priest’s hands.]

2. There is a specific plenary indulgence attached to attending a priest’s first “scheduled” or “public” Mass (regardless of whether it is designated a “Mass of Thanksgiving”, although it likely will be so designated), and to the first such Mass only. Enchiridion 1999, conc. 27. The celebration indulgenced here is not the same as the ordination Mass itself.  [The new priest concelebrates with the ordaining bishop.]

3. All deacons are authorized to give any blessings so listed in the Book of Blessings [BLECH! I suggest that you all ignore the Book of Blessings… a dreadful thing… and use the Rituale Romanum.  But please, let’s not deal with that in the combox.  Rabbit hole is hereby closed.] and several such blessings could be appropriately given by a deacon immediately after his ordination. See 1983 CIC 1169.3 and the Shorter Book of Blessings, especially the Appendix “Solemn Blessing and Prayers over the People”.

4. Diocesan bishops may prohibit certain blessings from being offered (1983 CIC 1169.2 and CLSA Comm at 1403). Clergy should comply with such prohibitions, of course, but are free to discuss the policy with the proper authorities. Arguments against such prohibitions (say, those discouraging deacons from offerings blessings) are certainly at hand.  [A deacon is ordained to do certain things after all.]

5. It would be within the authority of the arch/diocesan bishop to enrich a cleric’s “first blessings” with a partial indulgence, per Enchiridion 1999, norm 7.1, although the requirement for prior Roman review of such grants, per norm 12, probably makes such an idea impractical for this year. As I’ve said in several other contexts, this year’s liturgical questions should addressed now for use next year.  [A note about that.  The proper office to ask about this would be the Sacra Penitenzieria Apostolica.  They are notoriously SWIFT in replying!  Because this is not a matter of the internal form, you could fax to their office.  I’ll wager you would get a quick response.]

Read more about indulgences: Edward Peters, A Modern Guide to Indulgences (Liturgy Training Publications, 2008) 115 pages.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Very good point about Sacra Penitenzieria, Pater. Come to think of it, I have gotten prompt (and good) answers from them over the years, too. Maybe for this early summer, then? Anyway, good idea. Now, about the you-know-what, you know what I-would-observe-if-I-could, but I can’t, so I won’t. Your house, your rules. :) edp.

  2. Mightnotbeachristiantou says:

    I have been wondering why these things are not publicized more often.

  3. acardnal says:

    Regarding Dr. Peter’s point #2, I believe the plenary indulgence applies not only to those attending (assisting) but also to the newly ordained priest himself who is celebrating his first Mass.

  4. Hank Igitur says:

    This is the only time when concelebration (bishop and newly ordained pries) occurs in the Old Rite

  5. Matt R says:

    On a related note, as it is indeed ‘that time of year again’ we should note there is an indulgence available on the occasion of one’s First Holy Communion, and for assisting at the celebration of First Holy Communion.
    I do wonder why there is not an indulgence listed for assisting at the other sacraments usually received before-in the EF- or during Mass (Confirmation and Matrimony).

  6. In re indulgences for first blessings: I take it this means blessings bestowed on all who approach the freshly-minted priest immediately after ordination, and not merely the very first ever person that priest blesses as a priest (which I assume would be one of his parents, if they are living and present).

  7. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    acardnal: right, does my post does say otherwise? :)
    mam,op: yes ,if there were an indulgence attached to that, which there isn’t. :(

  8. moon1234 says:

    You probably don’t seem them published as there is a BAN on publishing these things without the permission of the ordinary.

    – Hanbook of Indlugences
    – Norms for Indulgences
    no 14.
    a.No book, booklet, or pamphlet listing indulgenced grants is to be published without the permission of the local Ordinary or local Hierarch.
    b.The publication, in no matter what language, of an authentic collection of prayers and devotional works to which the Apostolic See has attached indulgences requires the express permission of the same Apostolic See.[10]

    So you see you can not just publish these indulgences in the bulletin nor in a pamphlet without the permission of the local ordinary.

    When Fr. John Blewett offered his first public Mass after his ordination by Bishop Robert Morlino, I prepared the booklet that was handed out at Mass. I e-mailed the Vicor General for the diocese to request permission, along with the relevant links to the Handbook of Indulgences and a copy of the booklet.

    Here is how my original e-mail was sent:
    Hello Mnsgr. Bartylla,

    My name is moon1234. I called asking for permission to announce the availability of a plenary indulgence for attending the first publically scheduled mass for Reverand John Bletwett who will be ordained Priest tomorrow by Bishop Morlino. Here is the text that I would like to include on the program for his first Public Mass on Sunday August 2nd, 2009 at St. Norbert Parish in Roxbury, WI:

    Front Page of Program at the bottom:
    A Plenary Indulgence (Remission of all temporal punishment for sin. i.e time in purgatory) is available to those who attend this Mass. Please see the inside back page of this program for the requirements to obtain this indulgence.
    Inside Back Page of Program

    Prima Missa neosacerdotum
    First Mass of Newly Ordained Priests

    A plenary indulgence is granted a priest celebrating his first Mass with a congregation on a scheduled day. The same indulgence is also granted the faithful who devoutly participate in that Mass.

    Please review the following norms for obtaining this indulgence:
    ……(I left the rest out for length)

    Here is the response:

    Hi Moon1234,

    Thank you for the text below. The text you include for the plenary indulgence availability can be considered approved by Bishop Morlino for inclusion at Rev. John Blewett’s Mass of Thanskgiving at St. Norbert Parish in Roxbury, WI on Sunday, August 2nd, 2009 (i.e., his First public Mass before a congregation as the main celebrant after his concelebration at his Ordination Mass on Friday, July 31st).

    Blessings, Msgr. Jim

    “He must increase, I must decrease.” – John 3:30
    Rev. Msgr. James Bartylla
    Director, Office of Vocations, Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin

    I suggest that you follow the handbooks recommendations and request official permission to republish the information about the indulgence.

    Here is a link to Fr. John’s first Mass with the kissing of the hands at the end:

  9. moon1234 says:

    Here is a link to an online version of the handbook of Indulgences:
    English (third edition, current is 4th edition):

  10. persyn says:

    I have one word (a name, actually): Weller.

  11. persyn says:

    I should have actually explained that previous post: A good way to access the Roman Ritual is the 3 volume set by Weller. Sorry, I know Father Z understood, but for the wider audience…

  12. We seem to live in an age that is opposed, or at least not very friendly, to the whole idea of indulgences. Would it not be fair to say, for example, that a plenary indulgence is harder to gain, and surrounded by a lot more uncertainty now than it used to be? I’m looking at Lesson No. 157 of Bishop Morrow’s pre-conciliar classic My Catholic Faith, and among the usual conditions for gaining a plenary indulgence he does not list freedom from attachment to sin. Is that a mistake, or is that condition really of very recent vintage? And then there is the fact that Catholics have for years not been instructed about indulgences, except for allegations that they used to sell indulgences during the Middle Ages. Or to make fun of the old “100 days” or “5 years” indulgences they used to print in prayer books: for years, I thought that meant that if I said a particular prayer, I would get 100 days knocked off the 5,234,878,760 years I’d otherwise have to spend in Purgatory. I went to Catholic schools for 12 years during the ’70s and ’80s, and I never knew what a plenary indulgence was until I was an adult. What an age this is: we rack up all kinds of spiritual debts, and then throw away what we need to pay them.

    I have often heard from the lips of Catholics the declaration that Martin Luther was right about indulgences. I think many of them don’t realize that he went far, far beyond merely condemning the corruption of indulgences; but then again, I suspect many others — including clergy — actually reject indulgences, as they reject other teachings of the Church.

  13. dcs says:

    You probably don’t seem them published as there is a BAN on publishing these things without the permission of the ordinary.

    Perhaps Dr. Peters or Fr. Zuhlsdorf could weigh in here, but the “ban” appears to be on lists or collections of indulgenced prayers, not a simple notice that a particular act is indulgenced. At least, that is the way it reads in English, perhaps the Latin is completely different.

  14. APX says:

    Another note on special blessings to those deacons being ordained to the priesthood, The Solemn Pontifical Blessing. One can request permission from the Apostolic Penitentiary of the Holy See special permission to impart, one time, the papal blessing. My friend did this last year for his first Mass. He had his formal written permission (in Latin) on display.

    He had a note on the back of his first Mass “worship aid” about this, as well as the plenary/partial indulgence for attending the First Mass.

    With regards to the Solemn Pontifical Blessing, it had this to say:

    The Solemn Pontifical Blessing

    On the occasion of the celebration of his first Holy Mass, a newly ordained priest is granted the privilege from the Apostolic Penitentiary of the Holy See to impart, one time, the papal blessing. This signifies the closeness of the ordinand to the Supreme Pontiff and in imparting his blessing the same force of the invocation of the Pope’s blessing is bestowed upon the blessing imparted at the conclusion of the priest’s first Mass.

    Fr. ____ has requested of his Eminence, Manuel Cardinal de Cordeiro, Prefect of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the necessary permission to impart the papal blessing which has been granted in writing by mandate of the Holy See.

    It’s my understanding that I basically received Pope Benedict’s pontifical blessing. I feel kinda special. Not gonna lie.

  15. gjp says:

    I have a reprint of the Raccolta which I think was originally printed in the 1950s. I think the imprimatur is Cardinal Spellman. I think most of the prayers/indulgences listed in there no longer apply but some of them still do.

  16. Ben Yanke says:

    Just forwarded to some trans deacons I know…

  17. Domus Aurea says:

    I’m not sure what we’re talking about? Primiz masses without blessings? Never been to one of those.

    In my diocese new priests usually get to celebrate several primiz masses just so that everyone can get their blessing …

  18. I was at the Sacra Penitenzieria Apostolica about a month ago and they said they usually respond in 24 hours unless the case is unduly complex, and even then they will send a “we’re working on it” note right away.

    However, I can’t remember if the 24 hours was just confession questions or indulgence questions too. (I’m a lot more likely to need the 24 response on the former during ministry.)

  19. robtbrown says:

    gjp says:

    I have a reprint of the Raccolta which I think was originally printed in the 1950s. I think the imprimatur is Cardinal Spellman. I think most of the prayers/indulgences listed in there no longer apply but some of them still do.

    I think the big change is the elimination of Days of Indulgence (30, etc), in lieu of simplication, plenary vs partial.

  20. Moon:

    I commend your diligence, but, may I say, I think you are being overly restrictive in your reading of the norms. As I see it, what you cited is not meant to prevent anyone from describing indulgences in a general way–i.e., what they are, how they work, how to get them–either orally or in writing; nor is it meant to prevent announcing, in writing, a particular indulgence which is available for the faithful. Rather, I think the point of what you cited is to bar publication of a listing of all indulgences–i.e., something purporting to be comprehensive, and also, “official.”

    And if you wonder why I take it that way: first because what you cited referred specifically to “listing” and “collection.” Second, because of the principle–which I will mangle–I was taught about canon law, that restrictive laws are construed strictly–i.e., narrowly–not expansively; ergo, to be narrow in what they restrict, not a catch-all. Third, because it is simply inconceivable to me that Rome really intended to stop pastors and priests from telling the faithful about indulgences; and how can you do that if you can’t describe them? And if you say something orally, you can’t write down Father’s words? It’s not reasonable, and the law, it seems to me, is always to be construed reasonably. (Of course, the admirable Dr. Peters can set me right.)

  21. But now I will address the question: why don’t pastors say more about this?

    Well, there’s the obvious reason that many pastors may think these things aren’t terribly important. Or, more charitably, they think that, given the limited amount of time they have on Sundays, and the limited space in bulletins, they want to pound the more fundamental points.

    Here’s what I can say, from experience–because I would periodically mention these things. You can’t just tell people “there’s an indulgence” without explaining what you’re talking about. Both what an indulgence is, properly understood; as well as the proper steps actually to obtain one.

    I happen to think it’s very important to clarify what an indulgence actually is and is not: it’s not magic, it’s not a substitute for repentance and confession, and it’s not Pelagianism (salvation by works). Yet this is easily muddied up.

    Second, pastors understand something that many do not: that whenever they speak, some segment of those listening will (a) not hear everything and (b) some will have their hyper-scruples triggered. This subject has perils in these areas. Thus, talking about an indulgence becomes a 2-3 minute thing. If I’m giving a homily, I may not want the indulgence to be the main point of my homily; yet that may be what happens if I’m going to explain it properly. So I would write a paragraph periodically in my bulletin column.

  22. Miss Moore:

    A lot of folks don’t really understand indulgences, clergy included.

    One of the most useful ways to clarify ones understanding of any subject is to be forced to write a paragraph that thoroughly explains the subject, in plain language, at–say–an 8th grade level. That is to say, material for a bulletin or a homily.

    Not to be picky, by the way, but I think your understanding of the “100 days,” while common enough, actually indicates the reason for dropping the language. The idea–as explained to me–was not that you had vast centuries of suffering in Purgatory to look forward to, and you got 100 days’ reprieve; but rather that the “100 days” stood for the “value” of that much penitential prayer and offering in earthly terms–i.e., 100 days of saying Rosaries or suchlike.

    Look, concepts of time and duration in eternity are drattedly hard to explain, and any time we attempt it, we run the risk of chaining something eternal to a too earthly understanding–and thus, with no bad intent, misrepresenting it. You and I may be purged for what amounts to a single second in earthly concepts, yet it may be an unbearably long duration for either of us as we behold the promise, so close, yet–for that interminable moment–out of reach. The image I think of is from my childhood, when I began to dare to swim down to the floor of the deep end of the pool; and I would see how long I could stay down there. The surface of the pool seemed so far away; and as I rose, the peril–probably not actually that great–seemed real as I tried to urge myself to the surface, where I could gulp air again. If I thought I was almost out of breath, those seconds felt interminable, and safety, just feet away, seemed so far.

  23. The Masked Chicken says:

    “The idea–as explained to me–was not that you had vast centuries of suffering in Purgatory to look forward to, and you got 100 days’ reprieve; but rather that the “100 days” stood for the “value” of that much penitential prayer and offering in earthly terms–i.e., 100 days of saying Rosaries or suchlike.”

    If I recall, the number, originally, stood for how many days less of public penances you had to do back when penances were really, really long (years).

    The Chicken

  24. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    tmc, right, basically. it’s all in my book. :) edp.

  25. moon1234 says:

    Hello Fr. Fox,

    It was not my interpretation, I called first to ask if I needed permission. The answer was yes. So I formally requested permission. I was told that if it is put in print then it needs permission.

    My guess is that they do not want booklets and other items being printed that tell the faithful they can get an indulgence without the ordinary actually approving it and making sure that the indulgence and the way it is described is actually correct.

    So to answer your inference, I was told by the diocese that I needed permission to print the information about the indulgence, but if it was simply orally passed on then I did not need permission.

    Maybe this is similar to needing a Nihil Obstat and an Imprimatur before a Catholic can publish something in writing that pertains to the Catholic faith when it attempts to assert what the Church teaches?

  26. Blog Goliard says:

    Indulgences are lovely and I sure need them.

    There is an objection that I don’t have a ready answer to: “Why do we need to worry about plenary indulgences for special occasions, when it’s easy enough to earn one every day as it is?” (The indulgence for lectio divina is the most often mentioned in this context.)

    I also must confess to still being shaky on how one meets the conditions. Freedom from attachment to even venial sin seems nearly impossible to me, recovering crypto-Jansenist that I am…surely I’m misunderstanding that condition.

    And just how many plenary indulgences can a single sacramental confession support–and is the within-20-days rule I’ve heard of the correct one? (If so, that would seem to make monthly confession sufficient…though even that modest frequency can be awkward to establish, if in one’s locality it is received wisdom that two to four times a year is plenty often, and venial sins are hardly to even be mentioned in confession.)

  27. Moon:

    OK, thank you for that clarification. I think highly of the folks in Arlington, but I still consider that an overly strict application of the norm.

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