In my column at the beginning of Advent I spoke about the Jubilee Year of Mercy as an opportunity for and call to deeper conversion. During such a Holy Year, the Church offers an indulgence when one makes a pilgrimage to an established Jubilee church. I thought I would use this weekend’s column to offer an explanation of indulgences.
We believe that we receive forgiveness for our sins in the sacrament of Penance. But in addition to the eternal punishment from sin forgiven in this sacrament, there remains a temporal punishment of sin, which is our unhealthy attachment to things of the world rather than God himself. We experience this in ourselves on some level when, even after we go to confession, we often still feel the temptation to sin again. For our entrance into heaven, God wants our souls perfectly purified of all such attachments. After our death, we are freed or purified from any remaining temporal punishment in Purgatory. However, while still in this world, we can and should work to purify our souls, conditioning our hearts for eternal life in heaven, thereby reducing the amount of purification (in Purgatory) that would be necessary.
This purification while still in the world may happen through the practice of indulgences. Indulgences are organized, recognized, and encouraged acts of love for God and others. By the indulgenced act we pray for others, share and receive the love of God, and grow together in holiness in the Church. Indulgences draw from the treasury of merit and charity existing in the Church from Christ and the saints. Since the Church is Christ’s Body in the world, it can tap into these merits for the spiritual good of her members who seek such indulgences.
The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy brings with it an indulgence particular to itself. One of the Jubilee Year’s main features in the Diocese of La Crosse is the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman or to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and entering through the Holy Door, or “Door of Mercy.” Jesus calls himself “the door,” and “if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and find pasture” (John 10:9). To pass through the Door of Mercy is thus a prayer and communion with Jesus, “the face of the Father’s mercy” (Pope Francis, Misericordiae vultus). In addition to passing through the Holy Door at the Cathedral or Shrine, the Jubilee Indulgence is associated with visiting one of the twelve pilgrimage churches throughout the Diocese. Sacred Heart Church in Marshfield is the closest such church to our parishes.
Along with the journey to a Holy Door or other pilgrimage church, there are four other conditions required to obtain the indulgence:
- Receiving the sacrament of Penance (as near as possible to the pilgrimage);
- Participating in the Mass and receiving Holy Communion (as near as possible to the pilgrimage);
- Making a profession of faith (i.e., praying the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed);
- Praying for the Holy Father and for his intentions (i.e., praying an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be)
The sick and the homebound, even if unable to make a pilgrimage, can also receive the indulgence “living with faith and joyful hope in this moment of trial, receiving communion or attending Holy Mass and community prayer, even through various means of communication” (Pope Francis’ letter on the Jubilee Indulgence).
The Holy Father has also attached the Year of Mercy Indulgence to performing the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy (along with the usual four conditions, as mentioned above).