Pope Francis has announced two new opportunities to gain plenary indulgences during the current pandemic. While indulgences are frequently misunderstood, this opportunity is a way to draw on the mercy of Christ through the Church when the sacraments are less available.
What is an indulgence?
So-called because of the disproportion between the requirements and the results, indulgences are related to the sacrament of confession and the power of binding and loosing given to the Church by Christ (see Matthew 18:18). In sin, we turn away from God and toward creatures in a disordered way. While absolution, received through sacramental confession, reconciles us with God, the disorder in our will – the fact that we prefer to turn toward creatures rather than God – needs to be addressed, too. Through this authority the Church attaches a certain degree of forgiveness to pious actions which act as satisfaction for sin. In sacramental confession, the penance assigned by the priest serves as satisfaction, but we can also make satisfaction for sin through the performance of indulgences.
Attached to various prayers and acts of devotion, an indulgence can be plenary or partial, that is, it frees one from either all or part of the temporal punishment due to sin. Temporal punishment is the suffering and penance we do for our sins, either here on earth, or after death, in purgatory. A plenary indulgence, done with the right intention and fulfilling all the conditions, remits all the time a soul would spend in purgatory for past acts. A partial indulgence takes away some of that purgatory time. Plenary and partial indulgences can be applied to the one who does the pious action or to the deceased. While partial indulgences can be gained for most pious actions, such as prayers, good deeds and fasting, many plenary indulgences require a certain prayer or visit to a particular Church on a certain day.
To gain a plenary indulgence, besides the indulgenced act there are required conditions: one must be free from all attachment to sin, pray for the Pope's intentions, and make a sacramental confession and communion within one week of the indulgenced activity. If these conditions are only partially fulfilled, the indulgence is a partial, not plenary indulgence. The Pope's new opportunities for Plenary Indulgences take into account the difficulty of receiving the sacraments at this time and allow the person to receive the indulgence as long as they have the intention of fulfilling the requirements of sacramental Confession and Communion as soon as they are able.
New Opportunities for Indulgences
On Friday, March 27, Pope Francis is giving a special Urbi et Orbi blessing, a blessing to Rome and to the world. From Vatican news sources:
"He will preside over a moment of prayer on the sagrato of St Peter’s Basilica, the platform at the top of the steps immediately in front of the façade of the Church. “I invite everyone to participate spiritually through the means of communication”, he said. The ceremony will consist in readings from the Scriptures, prayers of supplication, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; and will conclude with Pope Francis giving the Urbi et orbi Blessing, with the possibility of gaining a plenary indulgence for all those who listen to it live through the various forms of communication. The blessing “to the City [of Rome] and to the World” is normally only given on Christmas and Easter."
This will occur at 1 pm EDT and can be followed at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJHI8bI0LWg
The second opportunity for a plenary indulgence is for those who are sick with COVID-19, those who care for the sick, or those who pray for those who are sick with COVID-19.
Pope Francis has granted a special Plenary indulgence to those suffering from the current pandemic. Those diagnosed with COVID-19 and are under quarantine and those healthcare workers who care for them if, with a spirit detached from any sin, they unite spiritually through the media to the celebration of Holy Mass, the recitation of the Holy Rosary, to the pious practice of the Way of the Cross or other forms of devotion, or if at least they will recite the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and a pious invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, offering this trial in a spirit of faith in God and charity towards their brothers and sisters, with the will to fulfill the usual conditions (sacramental Confession and sacramental Communion) as soon as possible.
Also to those faithful who offer a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, or Eucharistic adoration, or reading the Holy Scriptures for at least half an hour, or the recitation of the Holy Rosary, or the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross, or the recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, to implore from Almighty God the end of the epidemic, relief for those who are afflicted and eternal salvation for those whom the Lord has called to Himself.
The full text of the decrees about the Indulgence for the sick, their caregivers and those who pray for them