Lent is always a time to experience God’s mercy, and in this jubilee year, even more so.
In conversation with ZENIT, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Major Penitentiary of the Holy Roman Church, pointed out the thread that unites fasting, the indulgences and the works of mercy. And he reminded that, also in this age marked by religious and social challenges, penance changes people’s hearts.
Part 1 of the interview, on the re-conquest of interior silence and the discipline of fasting, was published Monday.
ZENIT: Can you explain the role of Indulgences during the Holy Year?
Cardinal Piacenza: There is much talk of mercy but little talk of the Indulgence, yet the Indulgence is a splendid expression of divine mercy, and those who are more or less conscious of it, are thirsty for it.
To be able to live this Year of Mercy fruitfully, the Holy Father invites us all to put ourselves in attentive listening to the Word of God, to meditate on Jesus’ message of love and to receive His mercy to pour it in turn on our neighbor, especially on those who suffer: “Let us open our hearts to see the miseries of the world, the wounds of so many brothers and sisters deprived of dignity, and let us feel ourselves provoked to hear their cry for help” (Misericordiae Vultus, 15).
In this light we realize that in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, precisely because of this, the Indulgence assumes a particularly eminent importance.
However, let us seek to understand well what an Indulgence is so as not to fall into ambiguities that, in history, have brought grave damage to the Church.
Canon 992 of the Code of Canon Law gives a precise definition of the Indulgence, which is “the remission before God of temporal punishment for sins whose guilt is already forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful gains under certain and defined conditions by the assistance of the Church which as minister of redemption dispenses and applies authoritatively the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”
A banal but perhaps eloquent example can be given to understand it. Let us think of a patient who undergoes a surgical intervention from which he comes out perfectly cured but with a large scar requiring plastic surgery to have it disappear. So, the Indulgence would be the plastic surgery by which not even the wound is seen. The Indulgence cancels absolutely every trace; it cancels everything. It is, therefore, a magnificent expression of the super-abundance of divine mercy. Behind everything is the fascinating doctrine of the Mystical Body, clearly expressed in the Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina of Blessed Paul VI, of January 1, 1967. It is not about juridical book-keeping but about the ample breadth of a charity that knows no limits and flows beneficially on us pilgrims in this world and on our brothers that live the state of purification.
If well explained with great ecclesiological vision, the doctrine on the Indulgence, far from constituting a hindrance, should constitute a help to any serious ecumenical reflection.
ZENIT: Put in the first place during the Jubilee are works of corporal and spiritual mercy. Can these works also have penitential worth, or purification from sin?
Cardinal Piacenza: It is about charitable actions with which we help our neighbor in his spiritual and corporal needs. Let us recall the corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to give lodging to pilgrims, to visit the sick, to visit the imprisoned, to bury the dead.
In filigree, behind each of the works of mercy we perceive Jesus’ words when He teaches us that every time we carry out a gesture of mercy to one of the least of His brothers, we do it to Him (Cf. Matthew 25:40). They are the most subversive and innovative words of history. One can say that every revolution was beneficial in the measure in which it was inspired; and every revolution that was averted only substituted an old egoism with a new one, and to a known arrogance an unheard of arrogance, often also worse.
Identifying Himself with each man, and especially with the most suffering and ill-equipped, the Lord alerts us that in Christianity it is no longer possible to love God without loving one’s brother; and it is no longer possible to love one’s brother without loving God. Without an active and concrete charity, there is no authentic religious life but only illusory devoutness; and a solicitude for the other that is not born of a passion for God and for His truth, always runs the danger of being an arid and unfounded philanthropy.
One understands well then how the works of mercy have a penitential worth and constitute a sort of purification of the person that carries them out. Obviously, sacramental Confession remains <irreplaceable>, one can never say “or – or” but one must always say “and – and.” On the other hand Confession drives one to carry out works of mercy and works of mercy drive one to Confession.
ZENIT: The Apostolic Penitentiary is holding a course on the “Internal Forum.” Can you explain its aim?
Cardinal Piacenza: The Course has come this year to its 27th edition, taking place from February 29 to March 4, with the title deduced from N. 17 of the Bull Misericordiae Vultus, with which the Holy Father Francis proclaimed the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, and it is the following: Let us put at the center with conviction the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Obviously, it is a whole program addressed to priests, to seminarians close to Ordination, to all those who are confessors or are preparing to become so, so that they can be ever better prepared for such a fundamental, great and delicate task. In the gesture of absolution, the confessor becomes the means aware of a wonderful event of grace. He becomes the minister of God’s consolation for the spiritual rebirth of the penitents. How many persons in difficulty seek the comfort and consolation of Christ! How many penitents find in Confession the peace and joy that they sought for a long time! How can we not recognize that also in our time, marked by so many religious and social challenges, the Sacrament of Reconciliation can be rediscovered and proposed again!
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Part 1 of interview: https://zenit.org/articles/cardinal-piacenza-on-living-a-jubilee-lent-part-1/