Plenary indulgence: meaning, origins and how to get it

Plenary indulgence: meaning, origins and how to get it

What is a plenary indulgence? Here’s why Pope Francis granted it to those participating in the Year of St. Joseph.

To understand what an indulgence is, we need to keep in mind two aspects of sin: guilt and punishment. Guilt is remitted by Confession; punishment is the effect of sin that remains even after forgiveness. Indulgence also takes away the temporal penalty, thanks to the mediation of the Church and certain devout practices that the faithful are called upon to perform. It can be partial or plenary.

The origin of plenary indulgence

The origin of indulgence is in the practices of penance that characterized early Christian communities. Long before the sacraments were structured as we know them today, the faithful had to serve the punishment caused by their sin through very specific, often public, actions and procedures. Over the centuries, particularly around 1000-1100 A.D., the custom became widespread that the punishment to which the faithful was subjected could be alleviated or annulled through the intervention of the Church. With certain works, prayers, pilgrimages, the repentant believer could obtain precisely an indulgence.

The Bull of Forgiveness: the first plenary indulgence in history

The bull of Indulgence

A very relevant episode, speaking of plenary indulgence, is that of the Bull of Forgiveness of Pope Celestine V. In 1294 he became pontiff and granted a plenary indulgence to all the faithful who visited the basilica of Collemaggio from vespers on August 28 to sunset on the 29th. It was the first example of a plenary indulgence, granted by the pontiff to all the faithful from all walks of life.

Plenary indulgence for the deceased

Plenary indulgence can be received both for oneself and for the deceased. By requesting an indulgence for deceased loved ones, the faithful can reduce or cancel the sentence they must serve before reaching Heaven.

The Handbook of Indulgences

To clarify and gather all the guidance on how to obtain plenary indulgences, there is the Manual of Indulgences. The Manual encloses several documents, including the “Norms on Indulgences” and a list of concessions, that is, works to be performed and prayers to be recited in order to obtain the indulgence. Confession and sacramental Communion, and prayer for the Pope’s intentions are always required.

St. Francis of Assisi and the forgiveness of pilgrims

Very famous is the so-called Pardon of Assisi or Indulgence of the Portiuncula. St. Francis himself asked Pope Honorius III if he could grant an indulgence to pilgrims who went to the Portiuncula church. This religious rite is valid always and for everyone. In addition, every year, from 12 noon on August 1 to midnight on August 2, the Portiuncula Indulgence is extended to all parish churches and all Franciscan churches around the world.

St Francis

Read more:

The Canticle of the Creatures of St. Francis
St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most loved and venerated saints by the Catholic Church.