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Indulgences – The Year of St. Joseph (With a Father’s Heart)

So, what is this practice of offering indulgences through prayer and penance and what is needed to receive them? We have all probably heard of indulgences but what exactly are they and how can we, as Catholics, receive them?

First, an indulgence is not a quick ticket to heaven, as St. John Paul II once said, “An indulgence is an aid for the real conversion that leads to eternal happiness.”  Basically, we know that our sins are forgiven through the sacrament of penance.  However, there is still a kind of punishment due to the sinner as explained by St. John Paul II during one of his general audiences in 1999.  The late Pope stated, “The ‘temporal’(time-based) penance that remains after forgiveness is a grace aimed at wiping away the ‘residues of sin,’ offering us the chance of complete healing through ‘a journey of purification’ that can take place in this life or in purgatory.”  By God’s grace, participation in a prayer or action that has an indulgence attached brings about the necessary restoration and reparation without the suffering that would normally accompany it. It frees us from the penance and remission of the temporal punishment due for sins that have been forgiven.

Now, there are two types of indulgences, partial and plenary.  A partial indulgence commutes only a certain portion of our temporal penance.  Gaining a partial indulgence is the easier of the two.  The requirements are: to be in the state of grace (which means to be free from mortal sin), to have the intention to gain the indulgence through prayers such as The Angelus, Anima Christi (Communion Prayer), Credo (Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed), Hail Holy Queen, or The Memorare.  It is important to note that we can receive partial indulgences several times throughout the day.

The plenary indulgence gives the remission of the entire temporal punishment due to sin so that no further penance is required in Purgatory for that sin.  A plenary indulgence is a bit more involved with five requirements; receive the Sacrament of Confession and Holy Communion a few days before or after the plenary indulgence; have the intention of gaining the indulgence; say a prayer for the Pope (any prayer will do but traditionally the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be is said); be free from the attachment to sin, mortal or venial.  Finally, perform the actual act or prayer of the indulgence.  Some prayers for a Plenary indulgence include – Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (for at least 1/2 hour), Reading of Sacred Scripture in a reverent manner for 1/2 hour with partial indulgence for less than 1/2 hour, The Rosary (recitation of 5 decades of the Rosary), The Pious Exercise of the Way of the Cross (Stations of the Cross).   

Why are we talking about indulgences?  Well, on 8 December 2021, Pope Francis issued an apostolic letter, “Patris Corde” – “With a Father’s Heart.”  This apostolic letter states that we, as Christians, can discover in St. Joseph, who often goes unnoticed, “an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble.”  With that, Pope Francis proclaimed a yearlong celebration dedicated to the foster father of Jesus.  And the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican tribunal that deals with matters of conscience, issued a decree also on 8 December 2020 stating that plenary indulgences will be granted to Catholics not only through prayer and penance, but also through acts of justice, charity and piety dedicated to the foster father of Jesus.  The plenary indulgence prayer options for the year of St. Joseph include:

  • Meditating for at least 30 minutes on the Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father) or take part in a Spiritual Retreat of at least one day that includes a meditation on St. Joseph.
  • Following St. Joseph’s example with performing a Spiritual or Corporal Work of Mercy.
  • Prayerful recitation of the Holy Rosary in families and among engaged.
  • Entrusting our daily activity to the protection of St. Joseph and every faithful who invokes the intercession of St. Joseph to those seeking/finding dignifying work.
  • Reciting the Litany to St. Joseph or any other prayer to St. Joseph for the persecuted Church and relief of all Christians suffering forms of persecution.
  • In addition to these options, the Apostolic Penitentiary also grants a Plenary Indulgence to the faithful who will recite any legitimately approved prayer or act of piety in honor of St. Joseph.  For example, “To you, O blessed Joseph…” especially on December 27 (the Solemnity of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph), March 19 (the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary), on May 1 (the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker), on St. Joseph’s Sunday (according to the Byzantine tradition), on the 19th of each month during the Year, and on every Wednesday during the Year, which is a day traditionally dedicated to the memory of St. Joseph in the Latin Church. 
  • Amid the ongoing Covid-19 health crisis, the gift of the Plenary Indulgence is also extended to the sick, the elderly, the dying and all those who for legitimate reasons are unable to leave their homes.  They, too, can obtain the Plenary Indulgences if they are detached from any sin and have the intention of fulfilling, as soon as possible, the three usual conditions and recite an act of piety in honor of St. Joseph, offering to God the pains and hardships of their lives. 

Finally, we can obtain these indulgences for ourselves or for someone who has passed on.

With a “Father’s Heart” we can receive a Plenary indulgence during the year of St. Joseph, who can intercede and guide us in times of trouble. In time of need, sorrow, and joy, go to him!

Blessings – Dcn Jim