Jubilee Indulgences: What does it mean and what to do

December 8, 2015

HOUSTON — The Year of Mercy begins on Dec. 8 and ends on Nov. 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King. To signify the path to a new and eternal life, which was opened to humanity by Jesus, Holy Doors will be opened throughout the Archdiocese.

Repeatedly pointing to Pope Francis’ “Misericordiae Vultus” (“The Face of Mercy”), which instituted the jubilee, the pope identifies the Church’s primary task as introducing the faithful to contemplate the greater mystery of God’s mercy by reflecting on the life of Jesus and the jubilee can help people to be merciful in their lives, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Conn., said.

“The idea is to have local events so all of the people can participate and adopt God’s merciful attitude,” he explained.

According to the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, this is important because every sin has a double consequence. One consequence is that sin either weakens (in the case of venial sin) or destroys (in the case of mortal sin) the relationship one has with God. 

The other consequence is that sin causes us to have an incorrect and unhealthy attachment to material things and it weakens and dulls our conscience. The former is healed by the forgiveness granted by God, normally encountered by means of the sacraments. Even after one is forgiven, however, the latter consequence remains. One must undergo a process of purification in order that one’s attachments become correctly oriented. Those who die in communion with God but for whom this process is not yet complete must continue to undergo this purification after death before coming into the presence of God in heaven. This purification process is a process of being purged of the unhealthy attachments to things which are not God and therefore the state of being in this process is called Purgatory. 

An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven. The understanding of the communion of saints teaches that between the living and the dead there is both a perennial link of charity and an exchange of spiritual goods. The prayers of the living can assist the dead and the prayers of the saints in heaven can assist those on Earth. 

In light of this, the understanding is that it is possible that the great spiritual treasures of the prayers and good works of all the saints and the infinite merits of Jesus Christ might assist the purgative process of an individual and lead them to the purified state of being free from all unhealthy attachment. The Church, entrusted by Christ with authority in this area, can grant application of these treasures and achieve just such an end. This is what is known as an indulgence. 

An indulgence is not the forgiveness of a sin, but the removal of the unhealthy attachments and weakening effects of a sin that has already been forgiven.

The Church regulates the granting of indulgences in that typically there are certain conditions which must be met and certain works which must be performed. The conditions necessary for an indulgence include:
1. Being in a state of grace and disposed to receive the indulgence;
2. Having confessed one’s sins sacramentally;
3. Receiving Holy Communion, and
4. Offering prayers for the Holy Father and his intentions. 

It is appropriate, but not necessary, that the sacramental Confession and especially Holy Communion and the prayer for the Pope’s intentions take place on the same day that the indulgenced work is performed; but it is sufficient that these sacred rites and prayers be carried out within several days (about 20) before or after the indulgenced act. Indulgences can be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased, but they cannot be applied to other persons living on Earth.

During the Year of Mercy, pilgrims who pass through this “Door of Mercy” at any of the churches designated by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo (see Holy Doors schedule) receive the Jubilee Indulgence. This Jubilee indulgence can be gained once a day for oneself or for someone who has died. 
In order to receive Jubilee indulgences, Pope Francis has specified that the works that must be performed are:
1. Making a profession of faith,
2. Reflecting on the mercy of God, and
3. Passing through a Holy Door at one of the specified churches.

For those for whom it is impossible to enter the Holy Door, particularly the sick and people who are elderly and alone, for this last work they may substitute living with faith and joyful hope this moment of trial, receiving Communion or attending Holy Mass and community prayer, even through the various means of communication.

For those who are incarcerated, Pope Francis also turns his special attention and sees in the Jubilee Indulgence as a great opportunity. Therefore, in lieu of entering a Holy Door, they may obtain the indulgence in the chapels of the prisons. 

He writes, “May the gesture of directing their thought and prayer to the Father each time they cross the threshold of their cell signify for them their passage through the Holy Door, because the mercy of God is able to transform hearts, and is also able to transform bars into an experience of freedom.”

More resources and information about upcoming events and programs for the celebration of the Year of Mercy are available online at www.archgh.org/yearofmercy.