ASK FATHER: Are there still “partial indulgences”? Notes on indulgences in general.

From a reader…


My 1956 Saint Andrew Daily Missal, pages 1111 et seq., allows for partial indulgences, measured in days and years, upon various prayers; yet, current my Baronius Press missal does not.

Two Questions:

1. Have partial indulgences been suppressed?

2. If not, should/must/or just-a-good idea words such as “the following prayer or act is in hope of earning a partial indulgence” or similar be said prior to praying or acting?

You raise a good point.

Firstly, let’s review.

An indulgence is the remission of temporal punishment due to sins the guilt of which has been forgiven.  We gain indulgences through certain works and conditions prescribed by the Church which has Christ’s authority to dispense and to apply the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and of the saints.

Indulgences can always be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased, but they cannot be applied to other persons living on earth.  

An indulgence can be full (plenary) or partial.

The reason for the discrepancy in your books results from the fact that in 1967 Pope Paul VI revised the way that indulgences can be gained.   The book called the Raccolta (a collection of indulgenced works) was replaced by the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum (Handbook of Indulgences).

Whereas before 1967 the Church thought in terms of the remission of the equivalent number of days, months, forty-day periods (quarantines), and years of assigned canonical penance, after 1967 the Church’s emphasis shifted to stirring in individuals sincere conversion (not that the Church didn’t do that before, of course!).

Your 1956 book reflects the Church’s practice before 1967.

Your Baronius Missal – lovely book!  – published I think in 2014 reflects the situation after 1967.

Partial indulgences have NOT been suppressed.   The extent of remission of temporal punishment now seems to depends on the fervor with which a person performs the prescribed work.

The general condition to obtain a plenary indulgence are four:

  1. Make a valid sacramental confession
  2. Reception of Communion in the state of grace
  3. Pray for the intentions designated by the Roman Pontiffs (such as an Our Father and a Hail Mary, ad libitum)

On that point of praying for the Pope’s intentions: that means praying for what he designates, not praying for him, though it is a good thing to pray for Popes.  I have written about what one could do in the case that the intentions designated by a Pope are, well, wacky.  HERE

You have about 20 days to make a good confession and good Communion though it is best if everything is completed on the same day.  One confession will suffice for a number of indulgenced works.  The idea is that one must be in the state of grace by the time the indulgenced work is completed. One can see why it is a real boon to have a priest available for confession during Holy Mass.

While single sacramental confession suffices for gaining several plenary indulgences, Holy Communion must be received and prayer for the intentions of the Roman Pontiff must be recited for the gaining of each plenary indulgence (Enchiridion Indulgentiarum 20.2).

Confessors can commute the work prescribed and the conditions (except for the following in the case of plenary indulgences).

When it comes to those works which can bring a plenary indulgence, a key to obtaining that full remission includes not just performance of the work, but also…

4. complete detachment from all sins, mortal of course, but also venial.

That is not the easiest state of intention to attain, but it is not by any means impossible.  The Church doesn’t require the impossible.  This is important to remember.

These days there seems to be a tendency to relax discipline and teaching from a false sense of compassion and a strange notion that people can’t be expected to live according to “ideals”.   For example, some people think that people who are divorced and remarried couldn’t possible live according to the “ideal” of perfect continence and – therefore – they should be admitted to Communion, even though they are in a manifestly adulterous relationship.   It is false compassion to suggest to people that ideals are impossible, and so they shouldn’t even try.

If the full disposition (complete detachment from sin) is lacking, or if the work and the three prescribed conditions (1-3 above) are not fulfilled (except in the case of those who are legitimately impeded) the indulgence will only be partial.  And, again, priest confessors can commute works and conditions except for that issue of detachment for a plenary indulgence.

So, some of the indulgences which the Church grants are partial.  Some of the grants are plenary.  But… some that are plenary are only obtained in a partial way if the full conditions are not met.

Finally, it is right and proper that you have a clear intention of gaining an indulgence so that you do what you do with focus and full sincerity.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Just Too Cool, Our Catholic Identity, Save The Liturgy - Save The World and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. The condition that one be free from attachment to sin to gain a plenary indulgence sounds good in theory, but in practice poses the same difficulty as a vague penance in confession: it is confusing. It is hard to know exactly what it means; it is hard to know exactly how to arrive at such a state; and it is hard to know that one has in fact achieved it. There is any number of explanations of these things, but the very multiplicity of explanations is a sign of how problematic it is.

  2. I warmly recommend that you look at what I have posted on this matter of detachment from even venial sin.


    I also have there a link to my good friend Fr. Tim Finigan’s terrific explanation.

  3. redneckpride4ever says:

    I have to admit that the former numbering system for partial indulgences was confusing. Calling it partial without further explanation did indeed simplify things.

  4. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    It seems to me that publishing, as now happens, the Holy Father’s intentions is not very helpful in this regard. It may be so for people who wish to unite themselves to them in some specific charitable way in their prayers, but we have all heard, as you concede, people complain about their ‘wackiness’.

    For centuries people have united themselves for the purpose of indulgences to these intentions, without any idea what they are. We may presume, indeed be sure, they are good. I myself have never once looked at them, and would strongly discourage it. The point is that in themselves they are irrelevant. They are merely a means, on any given day, for the whole Church penitent to unite in a single act of prayer with the successor of Peter. You don’t need to know what it it, indeed not knowing highlights the supernatural nature. That surely is a powerful witness and means of grace.

  5. B says:

    Is a plenary indulgence still attached to reading Holy Scripture for at least half an hour?

  6. Kent Wendler says:

    What about the Apostolic Pardon?

  7. Sevens Dad says:

    “complete detachment from all sins, mortal of course, but also venial.”

    What does this mean? Really. I would love to know, as this is one of the most confusing things about our Faith. Could you please explain this, Fr. Z?

  8. Imrahil says:

    Dear Sevens Dad,

    detachment means lack of attachment. An attachment to a sin means: “I know it’s sinful, I may accept it’s sinful, but I refuse to give it up.” If one has an attachment to a grave sin, that is a major problem; I’m not saying the “I accept it’s a sin, I fear God’s justice, and yeah I do know I’ve got to have a purpose of amendment and so I sort of have” would necessarily be insufficent for a valid Confession (it really is not a big deal to fulfil the conditions of valid Confession), no opinion from me on that, but in any case you’re in for a major problem.

    An attachment to a venial sin is just the same, only for a venial sin. Say, a man has the habit of regularly drinking to the point of actual intoxication (I distinguish that here from tipsiness, even really feelable tipsiness, which is no sin, but also from the thing the handbooks and traditional authors call “drunkenness”, viz. the full drunken stupor where you can no longer bring up the power to will or nill an action, which is a mortal sin). This is a venial sin. Now if that is brought up in Confession or spiritual direction, his attitude is: “Well, that is only venial, right? So I’m gonna keep on doing that.” That is an attachment. It is something you can receive Holy Communion with, if it’s to a venial sin, but no plenary indulgence.

    Now I guess “refuse to” is here to be taken literally, though (at any rate I meant it that way). I do not, or so I like to think, have the attachment to miss the first minutes of the Sunday Mass; what is an objective thing is that at the moment I, alas, have the vice of that.

    Note also that sins are distinct from imperfections. It is mortally sinful to actually choose some creature over God. It is venially sinful to, not directly choose some creature over God, but still somehow wanting it rather than God by in a minor manner acting outside of God’s order about it. It is imperfect to want some creature merely besides God, totally respecting God’s law about it; “yes, I’ll obey grudingly if He forbids me that or doesn’t provide me with it, but it is my right to do so with a sour face”. (The perfect thing would be to only want God, and if he does give it to us, say thanks, if not, so be it.) When the spiritual authors say that we must be detached from the world, etc., they also mean that attachment to imperfections have to go. And they’re quite right there, at least in the sense of this being a job to be done:

    But as far as I see, you do not need that for a plenary indulgence. Which is a big deal.

  9. Imrahil says:

    Dear B,


    Nevertheless, dear sacristans, please leave the Church open for 15 minutes after Mass. We may have the time to pray a Rosary and be trained enough to be quick about it. We may not have the time to arrive 45 minutes before Mass when the official Rosary is said, drawn out for 30 minutes, if there is one. We may not have a family at home willing to pray a communal Rosary with us. And we may certainly not have the guts to tell the sacristan “I’m still praying a Rosary, and while I could go on outside, I’d then miss the chance of the indulgence being plenary.”

    It’s not a habit of mine to pray the Rosary after Mass (though doing so some other time of the day, possibly while doing other stuff, is), but part of the reason on weekdays, if I do make it to weekday Mass, is that I’ll be interrupted anyway. (On Sunday Mass, it’s because I don’t want to miss the chitchat-and-hugs; I also think it a laudable if comfortable religious exercise to take part in the parish chitchat.) There was a time the Church indulgenced En ego, o bone dulcissime on any day and not just Lenten Fridays with a plenary one, so you could say that and be off, but the Church is not so generous now concerning the indulgence work. (She is more generous than previously with the time since or towards confession, though.)

  10. Josephus Muris Saliensis says: It seems to me that publishing, as now happens, the Holy Father’s intentions is not very helpful in this regard….For centuries people have united themselves for the purpose of indulgences to these intentions, without any idea what they are.

    There are six traditional intentions of the Holy Father:

    Exaltation of the Church
    Propagation of the faith
    Extirpation of heresy
    The conversion of sinners
    Concord amongst Christian princes
    The welfare of the Christian people

    These are the intentions of the Pope, even if not the personal intentions of the flawed man occupying the Chair of Peter. These we may — and should — safely pray for.

  11. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I found an old article in the Ecclesiastical Review, from back wayyyy before Vatican II, which noted that a particular plenary indulgence, associated with a particular charity organization, was granted without any requirement for a “contrite heart,” much less detachment from sin.

    And the guy at the Review said that it was probably done on purpose, possibly to encourage people who were worried about unworthiness, and definitely to get them to help out with an important charity for poor people.

    So… yeah, sometimes the Church is just that generous. And maybe we overthink it, when the generosity and the encouragement parts are the point.

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Mind you, it might not have been prudent _then_ and it might not be prudent _now_ to grant things like that. Or maybe they were just drowsy at the office that afternoon when they wrote up the grant, and the American Ecclesiastical Review guy was overly optimistic. But that was a thing.

    Sorry for not specifying “The American Ecclesiastical Review.” It’s from the November 1900 issue, and it’s on page 531 of Volume 22 or 23. (Both appear.)

  13. ProfessorCover says:

    I once asked a wise and knowledgeable old priest (he died well into his 80’s over a decade ago), the following question: Is it possible to view the indulgences granted to various spiritual practices as the Church’s evaluation of the spiritual benefits from said practices?
    He thought about it .for a few moments and replied “yes”. This priest (who at the time was in schism but who reconciled shortly before he died—one of the blessings of Summorum Pontificum) always encouraged seeking indulgences, but especially encouraged what I believe he called the act of heroic virtue where one asks that once for all any indulgences one earns be applied to the souls in purgatory rather than oneself.
    In a sense this would mean that the Church encouraged the faithful to seek indulgences because the faithful doing so would be practicing valuable spiritual practices, such as going to confession, praying for the dead and the Pope, and worthily receiving the Blessed Sacrament.
    Anyway, I wonder what you think of this.

  14. Sevens Dad says:


    1. Great handle.
    2. Thank you very much for that explanation. Copied, pasted, and printed for my use.

  15. Imrahil says:

    Dear Sevens Dad,

    thank you, that is a great honor.

Comments are closed.