Fr. Martin Fuchs´s sermon on 12th November 2017, Prague, Czech republic
Protestants reproach the Catholic Church that she teaches subjects that are not found in Holy Scripture such as the veneration of saints, the veneration of relics, the seven Sacraments, the purgatory or the indulgence.
Let us talk today about the indulgence! This subject is not explicitly mentioned in the Holy Scripture but only implicitly.
If some people want to start a company, they talk together and write down the most important things, not all of them, but the most important things.
If they elect a manager, in his contract there are only the most important duties present. It is not necessary to write down all duties. It is not necessary to write down that he can buy new houses that he can employ or fire employees that he can make contracts for the company.
It is very similar with the Holy Scripture. We can read that Our Lord gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins. Nothing else! But with this power he gave them also the power to remove all what is connected with the sins: not only the trespasses but also the punishment.
“Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.“ (Matthew 18:18)
What is the indulgence?
The indulgence is the remission of temporal punishment due to sin granted outside of the Sacrament of Penance by him who has the power to dispose of the “satisfactory treasure“ of the Church.
The indulgence is the remission of the “temporal punishment“.
It does not therefore concern the forgiveness of the sin itself but it concerns only one of its consequences. Actually, there are three things in sin: the action by which we offend God, the stain on the soul caused by this offence, the punishment deserved for this offence and for this degradation.
In the Sacrament of Penance, God forgives the offence and erases the stain but there can remain some part of the chastisement. Eternal punishment (that is to say Hell) caused by mortal sin is erased by this sacrament but in the place of this eternal punishment, it is only right for sinner to suffer a temporal punishment. This punishment is called temporal because the sinner has to suffer it in time, either in this world or in the next, but not for all the eternity. There is also a temporal punishment for venial sin.
We read about temporal punishment after Adam and Eve sinned: “God spoke to Eve: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband's power, and he shall have dominion over thee. And to Adam he said: with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken.“ (Genesis 3:16-18) – God has taken away the sin but not the whole punishment.
We read also about the temporal punishment after David’s adultery: “And Nathan said to David: The Lord also hath taken away thy sin: thou shalt not die. Nevertheless, because thou hast given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, for this thing, the child that is born to thee, shall surely die.“ (2 Samuel 12:13 ff.)
This remission is made outside of the Sacrament of Penance. The Sacrament of Penance could undoubtedly remit all temporal pain caused by sin if the penitent is extremely sorry for his sins. Unfortunately, a few Christians are capable of experiencing in their souls pain and hate for sin that would be sufficient to obtain such a result. This is why a priest gives a few acts of penance (such as prayers or mortifications) to be done after the Confession. The accomplishment of this penance is called “giving satisfaction“ because it “satisfies“ the demands of divine justice which requires of us to do our part in the reparation of our sins. However, most of the time not even this is enough to pay off our debts to God. The indulgences granted outside of the Sacrament of Penance solve this problem: through them we can pay the rest of what we owe.
What is meant by “satisfactory treasure of the Church“?
This “treasure“ is the whole of the sufferings endured by Our Lord and the Saints which has not yet been used towards the reparation of sins. Our Lord and Our Lady did not have to do reparation for their own sins, since they had none, and many Saints have made more penance that what was necessary for the reparation of their own sins. There is therefore a surplus of sufferings that can be used to appease divine anger. So as not to lose the “satisfactory“ value of all these sacrifices, it is gathered up in the treasure of the Church, so that it can be used by other souls.
Let me answer other short questions:
But what gives the Church the right to gather up in such a way in her treasure all the overabundant satisfactions of Jesus Christ and the Saints?
The Church is the “Mystical Body“ of Christ with Jesus as its head and all the faithful as the members. All the members of the same body share in the same life; the good of one member is profitable for all the others. In the Creed that we recite at the beginning of the Rosary this intimate union between all the faithful is called the “communion of saints.“
Who, within the Church, has the right to distribute this satisfactory treasure?
Only the Pope and the Bishops can establish indulgences.
If we can gain indulgences, do we have to continue to do the penance?
Yes, for it is rare that we completely gain full indulgences. It is therefore prudent to continue practicing mortifications. If we were to neglect this virtue, we would not be the disciples of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, it does not only help to repair the bad committed but it is also necessary to preserve us from sinning in the future.
If it is still obligatory to do the penance, what then is the use of indulgences?
Indulgences remain very useful. To start with, they help us by replacing certain penances that would be quite severe and that would therefore frighten our weak nature. They give us means by which we can practice charity towards the souls in the purgatory, since many indulgences can be applied to them to bring relief to their sufferings and in some cases to free them completely.
What is the meaning of indulgences of “a hundred days“, of “ten years“ etc.?
This refers to the remission of penances that used to be imposed on sinners by the laws of the Church. In the early days of the Christian society each sin had in a manner of speaking its “dues“ in satisfactory works. To make up for such and such a sin, there was an allotted amount of days of penance; for another, a certain amount of years was needed. However, these punishments were very severe. The dues of one single sin was at times of seven years, ten years, twenty years, or even a lifetime! Therefore, when it is noted that an indulgence gives a remission of three years, for example, it means that the faithful receives the same remission for his sins as thought he had done three years of penance according to the old rules of the Church.
The days and the years of penance forgiven to the sinners by the Church do not therefore represent the days and years in the purgatory?
No, these indulgences do not refer to the sufferings of the next world, but to those of the present life. However, there is a certain proportion between the pains imposed by the Church here on earth and the expiatory pains of the purgatory. For example, if someone dies right after having received an indulgence of seven years, his pains in the purgatory will be reduced as much as if he had suffered here on earth during seven years according to the past practices of the Church.
Can the indulgences of the Church be applied to the souls in the purgatory?
Yes, on condition that this is authorized by the person that established the said indulgence (the Pope or a Bishop). As for the indulgences of the Rosary, the Church allowed for this application. For example, the indulgence from 1st to 8th November that requires a visit of the graveyard. It can only be applied to the souls in the purgatory.
Indulgences can only be applied to the person who gains the indulgence or to the souls in the purgatory, not to other living persons, because we do not know, if they are in the state of grace.
What are the terms and conditions to gain a full indulgence?
The Church wants us to do good works with every indulgence! The Holy Scripture mentions especially three kinds of good works: to do alms, to pray, to fast (Matthew 6:3, 5, 16). And of course, the Church wants us to work on our salvation: to go to the Holy confession, to the Holy Communion, to pray with the intentions of the Church and to avoid sin.
So we have to go to the Confession (8 days before or after the day we want to gain an indulgence); we have to go to the Holy communion each day we want to gain an indulgence; we have to pray with the intention of the Holy See. This intention is fixed by the Church. (We pray for the exaltation of the Church, for the extermination of the heresies, for the spread of the Catholic Faith, for the conversion of sinners, for peace among the Christian kings and for all other goods of the Christian people) – it is not the intention that there shall be peace among all religions; and we must be free from any binding to sin, even venial sins.
What are the special conditions to gain a full indulgence?
To gain a full indulgence, we must do a special work, fixed by the Church:
To say 5 decades of the Holy Rosary, to read the Holy Scripture for half an hour, to say a special prayer after the Holy communion, to go to the graveyard praying for the souls in the purgatory and so on.
Let us appreciate more the indulgences! Let us gain a lot of indulgences, especially for the souls in the purgatory! Amen.