What is an Indulgence?

On a segment of The Patrick Madrid Show, Patrick took a day off from answering calls to address the backlog of email questions that he has received over the past few weeks.

Melody in Mauston, Wisconsin asked Patrick, “Could you discuss indulgences, please? What are they? Is there a Biblical basis for granting them?”

Patrick began by saying that indulgences are often perceived as “a bad word” in many lexicons, especially non-Catholics, because of the negative connotation the word itself can imply. For starters, Patrick described what an indulgence is not. “It’s not a license to commit a sin. If the Church grants you an indulgence, unlike the way we might use the word in popular parlance where I might say, ‘Well just indulge me this one time, okay?’ That’s not what an indulgence is. It’s not the Church saying, ‘Ok, well under these circumstances, you can commit this sin and we’ll just indulge you this little sin.’”

In the context of the Faith, an indulgence is the Church remitting the amount of penance that you would need to do for your sins. A plenary indulgence is the complete remission of one’s need to do penance for one’s sins, while a partial indulgence remits part of it.

The Catechism of the Catholic Faith says, “What is an indulgence? 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.” (CCC, para. #1471)

Additionally, there used to be indulgences that had timeframes attached to certain indulgences like “Three Years Indulgence” or “Seven Years Indulgence” and people thought that that meant they would get three or seven years off their sentence in Purgatory. However, God, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory are outside of the concept of time. “As the Bible says, ‘A year is as a thousand days to the Lord and a thousand days is as a year.’ So, the Church was never saying with those ‘300 Days Indulgence’ that you would get that much time off of Purgatory,” explained Patrick.

What the Church meant by those timeframes was that by carrying out the requirements to receive that indulgence, you would be granted remission from doing that much penance in this life for your sins.

Patrick goes on to clarify that while Reconciliation and Indulgences are capable of remitting the penance required to redeem oneself from one’s sins, it does not wipe away the necessity for restitution that may result from any given wrongdoing. If you confess the sin of embezzling thousands of dollars from your employer, you are forgiven of that sin, but you are still required to not only return that money but to serve the prison sentence if you are caught.

Listen to Patrick’s full answer and the rest of the question segment below:

What is an Indulgence?

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John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.