ROME, 15 FEB. 2005 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: Is the special Year-of-the-Eucharist indulgence granted only for
praying one of the offices of the Liturgy of the Hours, or both? The
wording was not clear. The announcement also mentioned that the
indulgence would be granted "each and every time they recite" the
offices. Can one now receive two plenary indulgences on the same day?
B.P.M., New York
A: The new indulgence (its decree was published Jan. 14) may be obtained
in two ways. First, "each time the faithful participate attentively and
piously in a sacred function or a devotional exercise undertaken in
honor of the Blessed Sacrament, solemnly exposed or conserved in the
Second, it is granted "to the clergy, to members of institutes of
consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, and to other faithful
who are by law obliged to recite the Liturgy of the Hours, as well as to
those who customarily recite the Divine Office out of pure devotion,
each and every time they recite
at the end of the day, in company or private
vespers and night prayers before the Lord present in the tabernacle."
This latter norm created some confusion as even the Latin text was not
One of the advantages of living in Rome is that one can pick up a phone
and ask for clarifications. This process resolved several doubts.
One regarded the expressions "at the end of the day." Did this mean that
vespers (Evening Prayer) and Night Prayer had to be prayed together one
after the other? Another was the doubt highlighted by our reader
regarding two plenary indulgences.
The reply was that although both offices must be prayed before the
Blessed Sacrament in order to gain the plenary indulgence, they may be
prayed at different moments of the evening.
With this point clear, the other followed naturally: We are dealing with
a single plenary indulgence that requires two distinct moments of
prayer. Hence, the norm that one may obtain only one plenary indulgence
a day, applicable to oneself or to a soul in purgatory, remains in
No. 1471 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: "An
indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to
sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian
who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through
the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses
and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ
and the saints."
No. 1479 adds: "Since the faithful departed now being purified are also
members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to
obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishment due for
their sins may be remitted."
The decree reminds the faithful that to obtain a plenary indulgence it
is necessary to observe the "usual conditions":
1. Sacramental confession, usually within a week before or after
obtaining the indulgence [but see below]. One sacramental confession is sufficient for
2. Eucharistic Communion. Unlike confession, only one indulgence may be
obtained for each Communion. Although this Communion may be fulfilled
several days before or after obtaining the indulgence, it is preferable
that this condition be fulfilled the same day. Thus, those who practice
regular confession and daily Mass may obtain a plenary indulgence
practically every day.
3. Prayer in keeping with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. Like
Communion, prayer for the Pope's intentions must be recited for the
gaining of each plenary indulgence. Although there are no prescribed
prayers the condition is satisfied by reciting one Our Father and one
4. Having the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of
sin. This is the most difficult condition as even attachment to venial
sin precludes the possibility of obtaining the indulgence. However, note
that the condition is not freedom from all venial sin, but from
attachment to sin; that is, that there is no sin which the soul is
unwilling to renounce.
Apart from the above, here are some of the principal concessions of
plenary indulgences within reach of most Catholics.
1. Remain in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at least half an hour.
2. The participation in the Adoration of the Cross, on Good Friday.
3. Spiritual exercises of at least three days.
4. Those who make their first Communion or who assist at another's first
5. Praying at least five decades of the rosary in a church or chapel, or
else in family, a religious community or a pious association. The
conditions are that the five decades be prayed without interruption;
meditation on the mysteries must be added to the vocal recitation; and
in public recitation the mysteries must be announced according to
approved local custom.
6. Celebrating or assisting at a priest's first solemn Mass, or at his
25th, 50th or 60th anniversary Mass. The priest should also renew before
God his proposal to faithfully fulfill the obligations of his vocation.
7. Visiting a church or altar on the day of its dedication and praying
an Our Father and a Creed.
8. Renewing one's baptismal promises during the Easter Vigil or on the
anniversary of one's baptism.
9. Reading sacred Scripture as spiritual reading with the devotion due
to God's Word for at least a half-hour.
10. Making the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross. This must be done
at legitimately erected stations, which require 14 crosses to which
other images or statues may be added.
The Way of the Cross usually consists of 14 sacred readings, to which
some vocal prayers may be added.
However, to fulfill the pious exercise it is enough to meditate on the
Lord's passion and death, with no need to make a particular
consideration regarding each individual station. Thus, one may also
meditate on episodes of the Passion that differ from the traditional 14
It is also necessary to move from one station to the next, although, if
during a public celebration the whole group cannot easily move, it is
sufficient that the person who guides the stations move from one station
to the next.
If someone is legitimately impeded from doing the stations, he or she
may obtain the same indulgence through pious reading and meditation on
the Lord's passion and death for about 15 minutes or so.
11. Devoutly receiving a papal blessing including those imparted "urbi
et orbi" (to the city of Rome and the world) such as is customary at
Easter and Christmas, and received through live transmission by radio,
television or Internet.
The local bishop may also impart the apostolic blessing three times a
year on dates of their choosing, at the end of a specially solemn Mass.
12. Each Friday of Lent a plenary indulgence is granted to those who
piously recite the prayer "Look down Upon Me, Good and Gentle Jesus"
after Communion, before an image of Christ crucified. This prayer is
among those offered in the missal for thanksgiving after Communion.
13. "To the faithful in danger of death, who cannot be assisted by a
priest to bring them the sacraments and impart the Apostolic Blessing
with its plenary indulgence, Holy Mother Church nevertheless grants a
plenary indulgence to be acquired at the point of death, provided they
are properly disposed and have been in the habit of reciting some
prayers during their lifetime. The use of a crucifix or a cross to gain
this indulgence is praiseworthy.
"The condition, provided they have been in the habit of reciting some
prayers during their lifetime, supplies in such cases for the three
usual conditions required for the gaining of a plenary indulgence.
"The plenary indulgence at the point of death can be acquired by the
faithful, even if they have already obtained another plenary indulgence
on the same day." (Enchiridion of Indulgences)
Apart from the plenary indulgences, Catholics do well to be aware that
most of their habitual prayers, sacrifices and habitual service to
others, from the sign of the cross to the Hail Mary, are endowed with
partial indulgences which increase their weight before God and give them
an opportunity to exercise selfless charity in offering their prayers in
benefit of the souls in purgatory. ZE05021521
* * *
Follow-up: Year-of-the-Eucharist Indulgence [03-01-2005]
Several readers sent in further questions and clarifications regarding
indulgences (see Feb. 15).
Most importantly, a reader notified me of a January 2000 publication of
the Apostolic Penitentiary which clarified that sacramental confession
may be made up to 20 days before or after performing the act to which an
indulgence is attached.*
Thus a person who confesses every month or so would be able to gain a
plenary indulgence every day.
The Apostolic Penitentiary is the Vatican office that oversees
everything related to indulgences.
Another question regarded the need for an intention of receiving an
indulgence before carrying out the practice.
Norm 20.2 of the Enchiridion of indulgences states one must have, at
least, a general intention of gaining an indulgence beforehand.
If, throughout the day, one carries out several practices united to
partial indulgences it suffices to formulate a single general intention.
Some readers requested if the requirement was to pray "For the intention
of the Pope" or "For the Pope's intentions."
The second version is the more accurate translation and thus the
requirement is to pray according to, and in communion with, the
intentions of the Holy Father.
Of course, praying for the Holy Father is also highly recommended.
Finally, a reader expressed misgivings that the condition of not being
attached to any sin, even venial sin, might lead to endless
introspection and seem impossible to some.
While I mentioned that this was the more-difficult condition, it is not
hard to know if one is fulfilling it.
An attachment is an objective disorder, a refusal to amend a situation,
and the person involved is aware of it.
Thus it is not confused with normal human weakness or the fact that
many, perhaps most, of us tend to repeat the same failings many times
before overcoming them.
If this were the case, it would certainly be almost impossible to gain
Human inconstancy is, perhaps, one of the principal reasons why the Holy
Spirit inspired the Church to recommend frequent confession in the first
The Norm of Confession for Gaining a