The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church
are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance.
What is an indulgence?
“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal pun-
ishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the
faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed
conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of
redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the
satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”
“An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes
either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.”
can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.
The punishments of sin
To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is
necessary to understand that sin has
a double consequence.
deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of
eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of
sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attach-
ment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after
death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what
is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must
not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God fromwithout,
but as following from the very nature of sin. Aconversion which proceeds
from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in
such a way that no punishment would remain.
The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God
entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal pun-
ishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all
kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must
strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive
by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various
practices of penance, to put off completely the “old man” and to put on
the “new man.”
81 Paul VI, apostolic constitution,
Norm 2; cf. Norm 3.
83 CIC, can. 994.
84 Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1712-1713; (1563): 1820.