ASK FATHER: How can I gain a plenary indulgence as fast as I can?

purgatory indulgencesFrom a reader…


My grandfather just passed away after a long and painful sickness. He received last rites and Viaticum last Monday. How can I gain a plenary indulgence for him as fast as I can?

First, my condolences, I am sure that all the readers here will now stop and say a prayer for him:

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. Let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Second, I am pleased that you would think to obtain an indulgence for him. All of us should be aware of indulgences and seek to obtain them as often as we can. Think of how that might change our lives and how much benefit that would have for poor souls.

Third, if your grandfather received last rites, including Viaticum, I suspect he is in pretty good shape.

That said, off the top of my head I can think of five ways to obtain a plenary indulgence at any time of the year.

From the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum (Handbook of Indulgences):

  • Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament (Adoratio Ss.mi Sacramenti – EI 7 §1. 1°)
    A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who visit the Most Blessed Sacrament to adore it;
    plenary indulgence is granted, if the visit lasts for at least one half an hour.
  • Recitation of the Rosary (Rosarii marialis recitatio –  EI 17 §1. 1°)
    A plenary indulgence is granted if the Rosary is recited in a church or public oratory or in a family group, a religious Community or pious Association;
    A partial indulgence is granted in other circumstances.
  • Reading Sacred Scripture (Sacrae Scripturae lectio – EI 30 §1. 1°)
    A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who with the veneration due the divine word make a spiritual reading from Sacred Scripture.
    A plenary indulgence is granted, if this reading is continued for at least one half an hour.
  • Exercise of the Way of the Cross (Viae Crucis exercitium – EI 13 2°)A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful, who make the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross. The gaining of the plenary indulgence is regulated by the following norms:
    The pious exercise must be made before stations of the Way of the Cross legitimately erected. For the erection of the Way of the Cross fourteen crosses are required, to which it is customary to add fourteen pictures or images, which represent the stations of Jerusalem. According to the more common practice, the pious exercise consists of fourteen pious readings, to which some vocal prayers are added. However, nothing more is required than a pious meditation on the Passion and Death of the Lord, which need not be a particular consideration of the individual mysteries of the stations.
    A movement from one station to the next is required. But if the pious exercise is made publicly and if it is not possible for all taking part to go in an orderly way from station to station, it suffices if at least the one conducting the exercise goes from station to station, the others remaining in their place. Those who are “impeded” can gain the same indulgence, if they spend at least one half an hour in pious reading and meditation on the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ. For those belonging to Oriental rites, amongst whom this pious exercise is not practiced, the respective Patriarchs can determine some other pious exercise in memory of the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ for the gaining of this indulgence.
  • Recitation of the Akathistos hymn (EI – 17 § 1, 1° and 23 § 1)
    A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who recites the hymn Akthistos in a church or oratory, in a religious community, in an association of the faithful and in a general way when more of the faithful gather for a honest motive.
    In other circumstances the indulgence is partial.

We can obtain one plenary indulgence each day.

Indulgences can be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased. They cannot be applied to other living persons.

In addition to the described work, to obtain a plenary indulgence we must fulfill the following conditions:

1) GO TO CONFESSION! A single sacramental confession suffices for gaining several plenary indulgences, and Communion must be received.
2) Prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff must be recited for the gaining of each plenary indulgence. This is satisfied by reciting one Our Father and one Hail Mary. However, we are free to recite any other prayer according to our piety and devotion.
3) All attachment to sin, even venial sin, must be absent. If you are not free from attachment to sin, even venial, or if the prescribed conditions are not fulfilled, the indulgence will be partial only.

A confessor or the local ordinary can commute the work or conditions if a person is legitimately impeded.

The three conditions may be fulfilled several days before or after the performance of the prescribed work. However, it is fitting that Communion be received and the prayer for the intention of the Pope be recited on the same day the work is performed.  How many days is “several days”?  Traditionally, it was said 8 days.  However, in 2000 for the Jubilee, the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary said 20 days.  Later, it was asked if that applied only to the Jubilee Year.  The same SAP said that it applied to the general norms.  So, the highest authority in the Church (apart from the Pope) on indulgences says “20 days”, though you are free to stick to getting everything done within 8, as we always did before.

Reverend Fathers, teach about indulgences.  Everyone, strive to obtain them!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Thank you for this primer, Fr. Z. One confession suffices for several indulgences, but it is unclear whether we must receive Communion once for each indulgence or whether one reception of the Holy Eucharist will apply to several indulgences. Could someone clarify? [One Communion suffices to obtain more than one indulgence.]

  2. rhhenry says:

    An additional clarification, please. I was under the impression that we could not choose the dead person to whom the indulgence would be applied; basically we have two choices: 1) for me, or 2) for a deceased person of God’s choosing.

    Is this right? [No. You can choose. How God works it out is up to Him.]

  3. rhhenry says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z.

  4. Giuseppe says:

    My condolences to the reader who posed the question. I am sure God will note your fervent love for your grandfather as He hears many prayers — including the numerous indulgences sought in the next few days inspired by your question and Father Z’s answer.

  5. Kathleen10 says:

    Thank you for this topic Fr. Z. My condolences as well, to the person who asked the question. What a blessing to have a grandchild who cares so deeply about one’s eternal state!
    Quick personal experience. Both my mom and my sister passed away after terrible illnesses in the last three years. I cannot tell what consolation and peace it gives me to know they both received Confession and Viaticum in their last few days. In fact it was the last thing I saw my sister do, except a beautiful smile for me. In addition, I had prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet in their presence, as prescribed, where Jesus promises to intervene for the soul at the hour they pass. To lose loved ones is hard. To know they were spiritually ready makes all the difference in the world, and consoles me. I love gaining plenary indulgences for loved ones. I just prayed to apply one for my dad who passed away 40 years ago. Purgatory and Heaven are outside time so there is no worry about it, only joy.

  6. Paul M. says:

    Michael stated: “it is unclear whether we must receive Communion once for each indulgence or whether one reception of the Holy Eucharist will apply to several indulgences”

    Father Z replied “[One Communion suffices to obtain more than one indulgence.]”

    I do believe that the Norms on Indulgences in the 1999 edition of the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum require a separate reception of Holy Communion and prayer for the intentions of the Pope for each plenary indulgence. In particular, Norm 20, § 2, states this requirement.

    Granted, this only applies to plenary indulgences, but since Michael was referring to the requirement to receive Holy Communion, which partial indulgences do not require, I presume that he meant whether one reception of communion applied to several plenary indulgences.

  7. LA says:

    “All attachment to sin, even venial sin, must be absent. If you are not free from attachment to sin, even venial, or if the prescribed conditions are not fulfilled, the indulgence will be partial only.”

    Often we have attachments we don’t even know about, so we can never be sure we have gained a plenary indulgence.

  8. priests wife says:

    This is one thing I love so much about the Church- to pray for the dead.

    Two days ago, we went to a funeral for a hospital colleague of my husband’s. It was at a Baptist church. There was a song, 4 long eulogies, another song, 4 other long eulogies and a closing song (2 hours….so the eulogies were long!)- no talk of the afterlife really, just how he was a really nice person who asked Jesus to be his savior. They are missing so much….

  9. YoungLatinMassGuy says:

    I pray the Rosary in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament before daily Mass in the morning. Also before daily Mass in the mornings, but after praying the Rosary, I go over the readings for the day, trying to meditate on: “What is the Church trying to teach us faithful today?” I’m also now going to Confession once a week.

    I’ll let The Holy Trinity do the rest.

  10. WmHesch says:

    The case for applying multiple plenary indulgences for one departed soul is often premised on the fact we never truly know if we’re free from attachment to venial sin.

    HOWEVER, folks often forget that all altars are now privileged, and since the indulgence associated therewith doesn’t have the “usual conditions” attached… What’s the point of having more than Mass offered for a deceased soul??

    As I understand it, the soul either receives the “privileged altar” plenary indulgence through one Mass or isn’t in need of it…

  11. WmHesch says:

    Previous comment should read: “What’s the point of having more than ONE Mass offered for a deceased soul??”

    [since all altars are now privileged and the usual conditions don’t apply]

  12. Pingback: Indulgences: Important Penitential Acts Not Only For Ourselves | EX MAGNA SILENTIUM or EX MAGNO SILENTIO

  13. steveesq says:

    Thank you for your excellent explanation, Father Z. I hope you don’t mind, but I reposted over on my blog at because this is so important and so little understood and used.

  14. s i says:

    I recall a story of a saint who had an entire village trying to gain a plenary indulgence. He asked God how many people actually succeeded and God answered “only one-you.” Plenary indulgences are very difficult to obtain because of our attachment to sin and the world. Gregorian Masses are my tool of choice for the deceased. Unless, of course, the person received the Apostolic Pardon just before passing.

  15. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Sorry, but “when more of the faithful gather for a honest motive” as a condition for an indulgence strikes me as funny. Is there some history of people praying the Akathist as they’re preparing to rob a bank or some such?

  16. Imrahil says:

    Dear s i,

    that story doesn’t seem reliable, to me. For one thing, attachment is something different than just the fact that someone happens to sin. Overly simplifying, it is probably rather the attitude to be determined not to quite some sin.

    For one thing, we don’t have to take any story about a vision as the truth, and even less so when there doesn’t seem to be a Church confirmation. For another, if the saint really had had that vision, his habit not to exceedingly praise himself in public (and, as an aside, his unwillingness to discourage pious practices, for that’s what it in practice would amount to) he’d keep his mouth closed about it.

    And as to attachment “to the world” as distinct from sin, i. e. as to imperfections (as distinct from mortal and venial sins), it does not hinder gaining plenary indulgences. Attachment to venial sins does, attachment to imperfections doesn’t.

    (In fact, if I recall that St. Francis de Sales said somewhere that – this has to be taken in a certain sense, though – that an attachment to a venial sin is worse than even a particular mortal sin if it comes without attachment. [Though he probably wasn’t referring to crimes.])

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