One August morning, several years ago, I went to 8 a.m. daily Mass with my two young children. In front of us sat some students from our local Catholic university.
On the way back from receiving Communion, my children and I walked past the students. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that one of the girls was smiling at my children as we passed by her. It wasn’t the kind of thing that would normally catch my attention, but there was something special, even holy, in her smile. She was radiant, and I could feel the joy it gave her to see my small children.
Never would I have dreamed, when we crossed paths with her that morning in the place where heaven meets earth, that this lovely young woman, full of life, would take her last breath that day.
That same afternoon, she lost her life in a tragic car accident. She was 19 years old.
It is a compelling sign of her deep faith that this student spent the last morning of her life at Mass. And there is more to her story.
On the day before she died, as I found out later, a priest had told her and some other students about a particular opportunity for gaining a plenary indulgence. They attended Mass and said prayers for the Holy Father that day, so she was able to fulfill two of the conditions for receiving the indulgence. Then the priest said that he would be available the rest of the week for confessions, reminding the students that sacramental confession was another one of the conditions for obtaining the plenary indulgence.
One of those students sought out the priest for confession that very evening.
That student was the young woman who died the next day.
There is a feeling of invincibility that comes with youth and health and friendship and warm summer days. Many 19-year-olds live in the moment, not fully realizing the importance of preparing their souls for eternity.
This young woman did live in the moment, embracing all the joy that life offered her, but she also kept her eyes fixed on heaven.
In the twenty-four hours before her entrance into eternity, she resolved, with wisdom beyond her years, to fulfill the conditions to receive a plenary indulgence. And she did not wait to go to confession. She went immediately, without knowing how extraordinarily soon she would need that grace.
We never know what a day will bring. What we do know is that each day could be our last. One day, we will wake up for the last time.
Like this young woman, we, too, have the chance to act immediately in a way that will affect our souls eternally. By God’s mercy, our Mother, the Church, strews our earthly path with chances to gain plenary indulgences, both for ourselves and for the souls in purgatory.
In the coming weeks before Easter, Catholics in a state of grace have several opportunities to gain a plenary indulgence. Here are three of them:
Make the Way of the Cross
A plenary indulgence is granted to those who piously make the Way of the Cross.
Here are the requirements, according to the Enchiridion of Indulgences:
- The exercise must be done before legitimately erected stations.
- 14 stations are required. Although it is customary for the icons to represent pictures or images, 14 simple crosses will suffice.
- The common practice consists of fourteen pious readings to which some vocal prayers are added. However, nothing more is required than a pious meditation on the Passion and Death of the Lord, which need not be a particular consideration of the individual mysteries of the stations.
- A movement from one station to the next is required. But if the stations are made publicly and it is not possible for everyone taking part to go from station to station, it suffices if at least the one conducting the exercise goes from station to station, the others remaining in their places.
- Those who are “impeded” can gain the same indulgence if they spend at least one half an hour in pious reading and meditation on the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Recite the “Prayer before a Crucifix” after Communion on a Friday
A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who recite this prayer after Communion before an image of Christ crucified, on a Friday in Lent and Passiontide (partial indulgence on other days):
Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus, while before your face I humbly kneel and, with burning soul, pray and beseech you to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments of faith, hope and charity, true contrition for my sins, and a firm purpose of amendment, while I contemplate with great love and tender pity your five wounds, pondering over them within me, calling to mind the words which David, your prophet, said of you, my good Jesus: “They have pierced my hands and my feet; they have numbered all my bones.”
Attend Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday
A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who attend liturgical services for the adoration of the Cross on Good Friday, and devoutly adore and kiss the Cross.
In order to obtain an indulgence, a Catholic in the state of grace must have the intention to obtain it and must fulfill the following conditions: (a) make a sacramental confession (within about 20 days before or after); (b) receive Holy Communion; (c) recite at least one Our Father and one Hail Mary for the Holy Father; and (d) be free from attachment to all sin, including venial. The indulgence becomes partial if the conditions are partially fulfilled.
A note about the last condition: Sometimes people wonder whether it is possible for them to be completely detached from venial sin. But, as I have written about before, I believe the answer to this is found in Mark 10, when Jesus tells his disciples how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God, and they wonder who then can be saved.
“For human beings it is impossible, but not for God,” Jesus tells them. “All things are possible for God.”
Even if it would be impossible for us to be completely detached from sin, it is not impossible for God. So let us ask Him for the grace to achieve it. My dear friend Suzie suggests adding this little prayer to the other prayers for the indulgence:
“Dear Holy Spirit, if I am not detached from all sin, please make me detached now, so that I may gain this plenary indulgence that my Mother, the Church, offers to me, Her child.”
As Matthew 7 reminds us, “Ask, and it will be given you;” for our Father in heaven gives “good things to those who ask him.” If we ask for the grace to be detached from all sin in order to obtain this indulgence, either for ourselves or to offer for another soul (how grateful are the souls in purgatory when we gain indulgences for them!), I believe He will grant it.
May the Holy Spirit lead you ever closer to the mercy of God as you draw near to His Heart this Lent and always.
image: Alarax / Shutterstock.com