Romans 12:6-8

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

If I bust your window in a rage and then repent, I will certainly be forgiven by God and (one hopes) by you.  But I still have to pay for the window and I still have to do something about that awful temper of mine.  Those painful consequences of forgiven sin are what the Church means by "temporal punishment for forgiven sin." If you, in your mercy, foot the bill for the window and even give me some money for anger management classes, you have exercise the spiritual gift of mercy Paul describes in today's verse.  You have also, by the way, granted me a kind of indulgence. Everybody thinks spiritual gifts are cool and everybody thinks indulgences are sinister.  But indulgences are just spiritual gifts.  They are formal apostolic enactments of the gift of mercy.  They aren't things you buy to get your sins forgiven, they are little graces given us for sins already forgiven.  Today seek God's mercy.

Mark Shea


Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

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  • Guest

    This is an excellent explanation of indulgences, which I have always found confusing.  Thank you.

  • Guest


    What a fantastic spiritual gift we can still give to the dead in Christ!


    The term ‘dead in Christ’ applies to the person who dies without the stain of mortal sin on their soul even though they may still need cleansing or purging of the temporal punishment due to their sins.  Through Baptism initially, and Confession during their earthly life, a person attains a ‘Communion’ and friendship with God by the gift of His sanctifying grace.  The essence of this is that after death, the person in that sanctified friendship with God is assured of spending eternity in Heaven.  There may be an intermediate step prior to their eternity bliss in God’s very presence. 


    When sin is forgiven, God wipes away the guilt of the sin and the punishment the sin incurs.  What may remain is the ‘temporal punishment due to sin’. We might equate this something like if a boy breaks his neighbors window with his baseball, even assuming it was not intentional.  The neighbor well may  ‘forgive’ the boy for his carelessness, but in justice there is still the price of repairing the broken window that must be paid by the offender.  In the same way, God will forgive our trespasses and sins and restore our friendship with Him, but being a God of justice, we must still make good the harm we have done.  This is not always as simple as repairing a broken window.  E.g. we might have harmed the person’s reputation, or relationship with another person that just can’t be ‘fixed’.  Or suppose one would injure another person through carelessness and that person could no longer provide for their family, justice must be met even after death.


    This ‘justice punishment’ after death is satisfied in God’s eyes by that period of cleansing and purging in what we know as Purgatory.  Although there is no ‘time’ after death for the departed, as we understand time, the purgation is in relation to the quantity and quality of the injustice.  When the injustice has been satisfied in God’s eyes, the soul of that departed is ushered into the presence of God for all eternity.  A somewhat comforting thought is that on that last day when Jesus comes again, all those souls still in their purgation state will be freed and enter Heaven.


    Catechism 101


    When Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, He gained merits and graces in excess of all the graces that would be needed for the salvation of every person ever conceived.  They are held in what we call ‘The Treasury of Grace’.  In addition to His grace, the graces ‘earned’ by all of the faithful in what might be seen as being in excess of the graces they personally needed for their own salvation and presence with Jesus, are also held in the Treasury.  God in His great love and mercy has allowed His Church to dispense these graces to both the still living faithful and to the departed souls still in purgation.  The Church sets certain conditions and requirements for ‘earning’ and dispensing these graces.  The name for these dispensed graces is Indulgences.


    Catechism 102


    The obvious spiritual choice for each of God’s people should be to remain in the state of sanctifying grace.  The normal way is by virtue of God’s gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation – Confession.  Keep in mind in this Sacrament we are forgiven the eternal punishment due to sin but it does not remit the temporal justice punishment due to sin.


    Although the purgation and cleansing process is not ours to know, we can easily imagine that having seen our glorified Jesus at the time of our judgment immediately after our death and then being fully aware of the Heavenly bliss of eternity with the Trinity, that there would be an enormous sense of loss and anxiety.  This waiting period without the fullness of the heavenly reward that we would know is ours — but not now, is the remittance of the temporal punishment.


    Perhaps we can now see where the ‘fantastic spiritual gift’ comes in.  Since we cannot know with certainty the condition of a departed soul regarding unsatisfied temporal punishment due to their sins, God, in His divine Mercy, provides a spiritual gift to help remit this punishment for a departed soul.  It is designated as either a ‘Plenary Indulgence’, the full remission of satisfying of the temporal punishment, or a ‘Partial Indulgence.


    Catechism 103


    The Church has set forth the explanation, types, conditions and requirements for the gaining of indulgences in The New Enchiridion Indulgentiarum.

     According to Catholic doctrine, therefore, the source of indulgences is constituted by the merits of Christ and the saints. This treasury is left to the keeping, not of the individual Christian, but of the Church. Consequently, to make it available for the faithful, there is required an exercise of authority, which alone can determine in what way, on what terms, and to what extent, indulgences may be granted. Dispositions Necessary To Gain An IndulgenceThe mere fact that the Church proclaims an indulgence does not imply that it can be gained without effort on the part of the faithful. From what has been said above, it is clear that the recipient must be free from the guilt of mortal sin. Furthermore, for plenary indulgences, confession and Communion are usually required, while for partial indulgences, though confession is not obligatory, the formula corde saltem contrito, i.e. "at least with a contrite heart ", is the customary prescription. Regarding the question discussed by theologians whether a person in mortal sin can gain an indulgence for the dead. It. is also necessary to have the intention, at least habitual, of gaining the indulgence. Finally, from the nature of the case, it is obvious that one must perform the good works—prayers, alms deeds, visits to a church, etc.—which are prescribed in the granting of an indulgence.

    Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, for at least a half-hour

    Pious reading of Sacred Scripture for at least a half-hour

    The Stations

    The Rosary said in common.

    One of the "longer" of these seventy declarations has to do with the Rosary. After giving the accurate notion of this devotion as described in the liturgy, that is, that the complete Rosary embraces "all" the Christian Mysteries (the Incarnation, Passion, and Exaltation of Christ), it is clearly stated that for "concessional" purposes a third part of the Rosary suffices. Thus five decades with meditation on the series of the Joyful, the Sorrowful, or the Glorious Mysteries are noted. The Rosary's communally structured nature is accentuated by the concession of the daily plenary indulgence (mentioned just above) for the Rosary said in common ("in church, in the family, in a religious institute, in a pious group").