In a verse well-known by many Catholics, we see the basis for indulgences. Jesus said to Peter:
“I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” -Matthew 16:19, NAB
Indulgences, it seems, have become something that few Catholics talk about and even fewer understand, but with the Lenten season upon us, it seems like an appropriate time to talk about them. Lent is a season of repentance, and a time for us to bring ourselves closer to God. Indulgences are just one way of doing that.
Through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (or Confession as it is more commonly known), we turn ourselves toward God, admit our sins openly, and seek a pardon for those sins. This beautiful Sacrament frees us from our sin, but it does not free us from our temporal punishment – a.k.a our time in purgatory.
Still confused? Imagine you receive a speeding ticket and go to court. At court, the judge tells you that he will remove the ticket from your record because you have admitted your mistake (forgiveness we receive in Confession), but you must still pay the $250 fine (temporal punishment – purgatory). He offers us another solution: go to traffic school or do some other activity, and he will waive the fine as well (similar to an indulgence).
Indulgences supplement the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through Reconciliation, we are forgiven of our sins, and indulgences can clear all or part of our temporal punishment – depending on the indulgence. So, instead of spending an unknown amount of time in purgatory, why not lessen that time a bit? The real question is, why wouldn’t you?
Where does the Church get its authority to grant indulgences? Simply put, from today’s verse. When Christ gave Peter “the keys to the kingdom of heaven,” He also gave Peter the power to bind and loose on earth. This authority is where the Pope (Peter’s successor) gets the ability to grant indulgences, as well as the ability to partially delegate it to the bishops (the successors of the Apostles).
There’s another great aspect about indulgences as well: they can be done for others, but only those who have already passed. As Catholics, we continually pray for the souls in purgatory, and I am positive that it can make a difference. However, what if we could lessen their time in purgatory? We can by doing an indulgence on their behalf. It’s amazing that more Catholics are not doing this for their loved ones who have passed!
I could go on and on about indulgences, and I have even thought about writing a basic guide to them. This lesson today is just a quick look at one of the more overlooked and underutilized aspects of our faith. There are some rules about indulgences that I did not go over here, but I encourage you to find out more.