Catholic Doctrine: What Are Indulgences and Why Are They Important This Month?
The month of November invites Catholics to pray for the souls in Purgatory in order to hasten their delivery. For this reason, the Church has made many “indulgences” available for the souls of the faithful departed. But what are these indulgences, so despised by Luther and whose importance in the doctrine of the Church was recalled by the Council of Trent?
Definition of Indulgences
An indulgence is the remission granted by the ecclesiastical authority, outside of the sacrament of Penance, of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven. This remission is effective before God because it is taken from the treasury of the Church that includes the infinite merits of Jesus Christ and those of all the saints.
An indulgence can be plenary or partial; some are only for the living and others can be applied to the souls in Purgatory.
The remission of the sins committed after Baptism – unlike that worked by this first sacrament of the Christian life – is slow, laborious, and often imperfect, and can only be obtained through satisfaction and prayer. Given the infinite perfection of the One offended by sin, it would be impossible to make a truly strict compensation before God (cf. Tertullian, De paenit., 10, 5-6).
Hence the participation of the entire Church in the expiation of penitent sinners, in order to help them in their supplication and intercede for them.