What is an indulgence?

Today indulgences do not have a prominent place in the spirituality of most Catholics. As Catholics strive to be more united with Protestants, the church's abuse of indulgences at the time of the Reformation is an embarrassment to many Catholics. Unfortunately, the wholesome applying of Christ's merits to ourselves and others was tarnished in the past by selling of indulgences.

In 1967 Pope Paul VI made a statement about indulgences that helped to clarify the part they should play in a Catholic's spirituality. The pope linked the doctrine of indulgences with the doctrine of the Communion of Saints, that the church on earth is united with the church in heaven and in purgatory. The church has access to the infinite and inexhaustible value which the merits of Christ have in the sight of God. An indulgence, he declares, is "the remission in the sight of God of the temporal punishment due to sins which have already been blotted out as far as guilt is concerned."

A Catholic can say prayers, do acts of penance, and care for the needs of others and thereby gain the remission of punishment for personal sins and the sins of others living and dead.

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