ASK FATHER: How to gain a plenary indulgence if I can’t receive Communion? PRIESTS! BISHOPS! PAY ATTENTION!

From a reader…


Can you please clarify the conditions to gain an indulgence? My
diocese thankfully has not yet closed churches but my archbishop has forbidden communion on the tongue. In obedience, my TLM pastor is continuing to say Mass but is not distributing communion. If I make a spiritual communion at Mass, does that qualify as one of the usual conditions for me to gain an indulgence?

Oh, boy.  This virus thing keeps pulling the rock up and exposing problems.

One gains indulgences “under the usual conditions”, which includes, within some 20 days of the work performed, reception of Holy Communion, that is Eucharistic Communion, preceded by sacramental confession.

Enter the devout Catholic who, as a matter of conscience, will not receive Communion on the hand.

Enter the devout Catholic who cannot travel to a place where Mass is held.

Enter the priest who refuses to give Communion on the tongue.

What to do to gain indulgences, which are needed even more in these times than in others?

The “usual conditions” for a plenary indulgence means reception of Eucharistic Communion (No. 20 §1), rather than a “spiritual Communion”.

The indulgence would be partial without the three conditions (along with exclusion of attachment even to venial sin), that is,

1) sacramental confession,
2) Eucharistic Communion, and
3) prayer for the Sovereign Pontiff’s intentions.


No. 24 in the Handbook of Indulgences says:

Confessors can commute either the prescribed work or the conditions in favor of those for whom these are impossible because of a legitimate impediment.

So, priests who have the faculty to hear confessions can, for a good reason, commute the conditions.  That means that a confessor say, “Make a good Spiritual Communion, in the state of grace, of course, rather than a Eucharistic Communion.”

No. 25 in the Handbook of Indulgences says:

Hierarchs or local ordinaries can grant permission to the faithful over whom they exercise legitimate authority and who live in places where it is impossible or at least very difficult to go to confession or Communion to gain a plenary indulgence without confession and Communion, provided they have contrition for their sins and have the intention of receiving these Sacraments as soon as possible.

If individual confessors can handle individual cases, the diocesan bishop or the vicar general (also a “local ordinary”) could issue a decree for all the subjects in that diocese regarding how to receive a plenary indulgence.

That would take some of the pressure off of this issue for a lot of people who want to gain plenary indulgences.   Otherwise, what to do?   Find a priest who will give you Communion on the tongue either during or, perhaps, after Mass?  That’s an option.

I think using the laws laid down as they are is a pretty good solution.  Hopefully, dioceses will remember also indulgences and issue some decrees.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Thank you Father! there are a few priests in town that i’m confident in approaching with this question, including the young first-year pastor who stocked plentiful holy water in the the dispenser in the vestibule of his parish.

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