The Special Plenary Indulgence

The Special Plenary Indulgence offered by the Apostolic Penitentiary

April 1, 2020

What is the special indulgence recently granted by the Apostolic Penitentiary for those who are sick and their caregivers during the time of the COVID-19 outbreak?

On March 20, 2020 the Apostolic Penitentiary issued a document that noted In the decree on indulgences, the Apostolic Penitentiary noted the fear, uncertainty, physical spiritual suffering people around the world are experiencing because of the pandemic.

The decree said, "This Apostolic Penitentiary, with the authority of the Supreme Pontiff, trusting in the worlds of Christ the Lord and looking with a spirit of faith at the epidemic underway, which should be lived in a tone of personal conversion, grants the gift of indulgences" to a variety of people in a variety of circumstances.

An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven.
Praying for the dying who cannot receive the sacrament of anointing, the decree said the church entrusted them to God's mercy and drew on the merits of the communion of saints to grant a plenary indulgence to Catholics on the verge of death, as long as they "habitually recited prayers during their lifetime."

If that is not possible, the decree said, they should at least recite the Creed and the Lord's Prayer and invoke the help of Mary, "offering this trial in a spirit of faith in God and of charity toward others" and with a determination to go to confession, receive the Eucharist and pray for the intentions of the pope as soon as possible.

"Health care workers, family members and those who, following the example of the good Samaritan, assist those sick with the coronavirus, exposing themselves to the risk of contagion," also receive the plenary indulgence, it said.

The decree also grants the indulgence to any Catholic who visits the Blessed Sacrament, "reads sacred Scripture for at least a half hour," recites the rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet "to implore Almighty God for an end to the epidemic, the relief of those who are afflicted and eternal salvation for those the Lord has called to himself."

The faithful can claim the indulgence for themselves or offer it on behalf of someone who has died.

What is a plenary indulgence?

An indulgence is not a quick ticket to heaven, as St. John Paul II once said; rather, it is an aid for the real conversion that leads to eternal happiness.

Sins are forgiven through the sacrament of penance, but then there is a kind of punishment still due the sinner, the late pope explained during a general audience in 1999.

God's fatherly love "does not exclude chastisement, even though this always should be understood in the context of a merciful justice which reestablishes the order violated," he said.

The pope had said the "temporal" punishment that remains after forgiveness is a grace aimed at wiping away the "residues of sin," offering the reformed sinner the chance of complete healing through "a journey of purification" that can take place in this life or in purgatory.

Why is an indulgence granted by the Church?

In the words of St. John Paull II, the granting of an indulgence by the church is, "the expression of the church's full confidence of being heard by the Father when, in view of Christ'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." 

He went on to say that an indulgence, then, is the result of the abundance of God's mercy, which he offers to humanity through Jesus Christ and through the church.

Special indulgences have often been offered during times of great crisis from disease or other serious difficulties.

What should I do if I want to seek an indulgence?

By God's grace, participation in a prayer or action that has an indulgence attached to it brings about the necessary restoration and reparation without the suffering that would normally accompany it. It frees a person from the punishment their sinfulness warrants as it is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven.

But this gift cannot be received automatically or simply by fulfilling a few exterior requirements nor can it be approached with a superficial attitude, St. John Paul said.

The reception of an indulgence depends on "our turning away from sin and our conversion to God," he said.

That is why there are several conditions for receiving an indulgence:

  •  A spirit detached from sin.
  •  Sacramental confession as soon as possible.
  •  Eucharistic communion as soon as possible.
  •  Prayer for the Holy Father's intentions.