Posted April 16, 2015 4:00 AM by

Holy Year of Mercy indulgences —not medieval superstition…


(CUSA) – Simply put, indulgences offer another encouragement to get closer to God through prayer or pilgrimage. 


The Bishop of Springfield lays out the history, reasoning and the value of this ancient practice. —Ed.





My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:


On Friday, March 13, the second anniversary of his election as the Bishop of Rome and Successor of St. Peter, Pope Francis announced an Extraordinary Holy Year dedicated as a “Jubilee of Mercy.”


In making this announcement, the Holy Father said,


Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. For this reason, I have decided to call an extraordinary Jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy.


We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord’s words: ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’ (cf. Lk 6:36). This Holy Year will begin on this coming Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception [Dec. 8, 2015] and will end on Nov. 20, 2016, the Sunday dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe — and living face of the Father’s mercy.


Pope Francis expressed his conviction that “the whole Church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time. From this moment, we entrust this Holy Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she might turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey.”


The opening of this extraordinary Jubilee will take place on the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1965.


In the ancient Hebrew tradition, the Jubilee Year, which was celebrated every 50 years, was meant to restore equality among all of the children of Israel, offering new possibilities to families which had lost their property and even their personal freedom.


The Catholic tradition of the Holy Year began with Pope Boniface VIII in 1300. Boniface VIII had envisioned a Jubilee every century. From 1475 onwards — in order to allow each generation to experience at least one Holy Year — the ordinary Jubilee was to be celebrated every 25 years. However, an extraordinary Jubilee may be announced on the occasion of an event of particular importance. Until present, there have been 26 ordinary Holy Year celebrations, the last of which was the Jubilee of 2000.


The Catholic Church has given to the Hebrew Jubilee a more spiritual significance. It consists in a general pardon, an indulgence open to all, and the possibility to renew one’s relationship with God and neighbor. Thus, the Holy Year is always an opportunity to deepen one’s faith and to live with a renewed commitment to Christian witness.


Notice that one of the primary features of a Holy Year is a special grant of indulgence. The theological concept of indulgences can be summarized, according to the fourth edition of the Manual of Indulgences, issued in 1999, as “a remission before God of the temporal punishment for sins, whose guilt is forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful obtains under certain and clearly defined conditions through the intervention of the Church.”


The theological concept of indulgences is a longstanding Catholic doctrine which itself is largely unknown and widely misunderstood even by many Catholics. Some people think that indulgences were abolished by the Second Vatican Council. That is not true. The church’s teaching on indulgences was simplified and clarified by Blessed Pope Paul VI shortly after Vatican II.


Far from eliminating this doctrine, the Holy Father sought to reinvigorate it with renewed understanding “to make it clear that the Church’s object was not merely to help the faithful to make due satisfaction for their sins, but chiefly to induce them to greater fervor of charity.”


In the words of St. John Paul II, indulgences are “the expression of the Church’s full confidence of being heard by the Father when — in view of the Church’s merits and, by His gift, those of Our Lady and the saints — she asks Him to mitigate or cancel the painful aspect of punishment by fostering its medicinal aspect through other channels of grace.”


An indulgence is partial or plenary in as far as it frees from the temporal punishment due to sin either partly or totally. The faithful can gain partial or plenary indulgences for themselves or apply them for the dead by way of intercessory prayer. In my next column I will discuss the conditions needed to obtain an indulgence.


Pope Francis is giving the church a great gift with this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, which through the indulgence attached to its observance will make God’s abundant mercy more readily accessible to the Christian faithful.


May God give us this grace. Amen.


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