Today is All Souls Day, a feast in which we pray for the holy souls in Purgatory. In addition to offering Mass and praying for the souls of the faithful departed, the Church also gives us the opportunity to gain a plenary indulgence for the souls in purgatory.
A plenary indulgence is “a remission of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1471)
As the Catechism tells us in paragraphs 1472:
To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory.
A plenary indulgence removes all temporal punishment, so for a person on earth it would be as though they had just been baptized. If they died at that moment they would go straight to heaven. The Church also gives us the opportunity to obtain a plenary indulgence for souls in Purgatory. The Catechism says in paragraph 1479:
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 punishments due for their sins may be remitted.
Here’s how you can obtain a plenary indulgence for souls in Purgatory anytime between November 1-8. From The Enchiridion of Indulgences:
Visit to a Church or Oratory on All Souls Day. PLENARY INDULGENCE. A plenary indulgence, applicable ONLY to the souls in purgatory, may be obtained by those who, on All Souls Day, piously visit a church, public oratory, or for those entitled to use it, a semi-public oratory. It may be acquired either on the day designated as All Souls Day or, with the consent of the bishop, on the preceding or following Sunday or the feast of All Saints. On visiting the church or oratory it is required that one Our Father and the Creed be recited.
Visit to a Cemetery. Only applicable to the souls in Purgatory when one devoutly visits and prays for the departed. A PLENARY INDULGENCE is bestowed for this work each day between November 1 and November 8.
In addition to visiting these places and offering the prescribed prayers, the general requirements of indulgences must be met, which are:
- Pray for the intentions of our Holy Father
- Worthily receive Holy Communion (ideally on the same day, or within several days if that is not possible)
- Go to Confession within about 20 days of the indulgenced work
- Be in a state of grace at the time the indulgenced work is completed
- For a plenary indulgence it is also necessary to have a complete detachment from sin, even venial sin
Take advantage of this opportunity the Church has given us today! For more on indulgences, read Myths About Indulgences from our friends at Catholic Answers.