On the Why of Indulgences

A Theologian-Archbishop Focuses on God’s Mercy

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ROME, JAN. 17, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Instead of a «mercenary» attitude toward the indulgences offered during the Year of the Eucharist, this period must be lived with an attitude of openness to God’s mercy, says a theologian.

Archbishop Bruno Forte, a member of the International Theological Commission, explained the meaning of indulgences in the Church, and the reason why John Paul II decided that during the Year of the Eucharist a plenary indulgence may be obtained by participating in acts of worship and veneration of the Blessed Sacrament.

An indulgence — a partial or complete remission of divine temporal punishment that may otherwise still be due for sin committed but forgiven — may also be obtained by praying vespers and compline of the Divine Office before the tabernacle.

To understand the meaning of indulgences, the archbishop of Chieti-Vasto told Vatican Radio, one must first understand that «the fault, the sin,» is «the conscious and free act with which one disobeys the will of God,» while the punishment «is the consequence due to the fault.»

«The fault is pardoned because of God’s mercy, by the gift of forgiveness given through the ministry of the Church,» he said. «Every time we go to confession, our faults are forgiven if we are sincerely repentant.»

However, it is necessary to overcome the punishment, namely, «that consequence that evil has had on our full realization as children of God,» the prelate said.

And here, too, «the Church comes to our aid,» he continued. «First of all, by pointing out penitential ways to us after each confession. But, precisely because none of us can save himself alone, and we are in communion with the Church» the latter, «in addition to being able to give us, through the ministry of reconciliation, forgiveness for our faults, also give us help to overcome the weight of the punishment.» And that involves indulgences, he said.

To obtain a plenary indulgence the usual conditions must be respected — sacramental confession, Communion, and prayer for the intentions of the Pope, with the soul totally detached from affection for any sin.

But it is not «something mechanical,» Archbishop Forte said. «Rather, [it is] an aid given to a conscience repentant of sin and sincerely open to the merciful action of God.»

This is why penance «has a most important value as a way of life and not just as a simple moment,» he said. «It is a conversion of heart.»

This is also why «the Eucharist is of so much help on this path,» the archbishop said. It is «bread of life, bread of pilgrims; it is that which, nourishing the thirst, sustains the commitment to conversion and thus also that way which is, precisely, the way of indulgence, the way of conversion.»

According to Archbishop Forte, the moment of grace and purification offered by the Year of the Eucharist should be lived with «the attitude of one who wants to love God with all his heart, who wishes to grow, both by being purified from lack of love as well as sins of the past, and by opening oneself to an overcoming of all the negative consequences of sin.»

This implies «avoiding altogether the almost mercenary idea that something be done to obtain another in return,» he said. This is because the «do ut des» [I give so that you can give] «does not form part of the relationship between man and God, does not form part of the excess of mercy with which God always transcends our sins if we, repentant, return to him.»

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