Goodbye 2017


I know you’re sitting in front of your computer (tablet, smart phone) breathlessly waiting for your favorite blogger to give you some words of wisdom to take you into the new year.  That’s a lot of responsibility you’re putting on me and, frankly, I’m not sure I’m up to it.

There are a lot of places you can go to get inspired but you’ve chosen to come here so I guess I owe it to you to give it my best shot.  After all, I’ve been watching the Hallmark Channel almost nonstop since Thanksgiving.  I should be very inspired.  Let me say something in passing about the folks at Hallmark TV.  Like the Catholic Church, they don’t consider December 25 to be the end of the Christmas season.  They continue to run Christmas movies.  And even though they’re all the same movie, with the same plot, they’re Christmas movies all the same.

So, let me start my end-of-the-year diatribe with a few words about the Christmas season.  Holy Mother Church divides the year into seasons.  The Church year begins with the first Sunday of Advent.  This year that was December 3.  So right away we’re out of sync with the rest of the world.

Advent is always four weeks long so this year the last Sunday of Advent was December 24, which was also Christmas Eve, the BEGINNING of the Christmas season.  Today, Sunday, December 31 is the Feast of the Holy Family.  It’s also secular New Years Eve.

The following Sunday, January 7 is the Feast of the Epiphany and the next day, Monday the 8th wdead christmas treee celebrate the  Baptism of the Lord.  That’s the end of the Christmas season.  You can finally take down that tree that’s been up since the first of November.

But don’t get too comfortable with Ordinary√ Time this year.  We’ll just barely get the green vestments out and it will be time for the purple of Lent.  Ash Wednesday, 2018, is on February 14, Valentines Day.  Six weeks of Lent (and fish fries) and it will be Easter again.

So that’s your lesson on the Church calendar but it’s hardly the words of wisdom you’ve been waiting for so I’m going to borrow something from Father Z’s blog.  (If you don’t follow Father  Z, you should).  Today Father Z reminds us that a plenary indulgence is available to us both today and tomorrow.

You may ask “what is an indulgence?”  And indulgence is the release from temporal punishment for your sins.  Just because you’ve been forgiven in the sacrament of reconciliation you still have to be cleansed from your sins before you can get into heaven.  That’s what we call purgatory and an indulgence (partial) can reduce your time in purgatory while a plenary indulgence wipes your slate clean.  Here’s how you can obtain a plenary indulgence today.

  1.  Go to confession and received communion within a reasonable time (20 days)
  2. Recite or sing the Te Deum..
  3. Pray for the Pope’s intentions.  (One Our Father and one Hail Mary)
  4. Detest and detach yourself from even venial sins.

We can also receive a plenary indulgence tomorrow (January 1) by the singing or recitation of the Veni Creator Spiritus plus the other three things above.

So I guess giving you a way to cut some time off your stay in purgatory, even if it’s not wise, it’s certainly helpful.

Have a safe and blessed January 1.  Be careful out there and stay warm.

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Purgatory and Indulgences

“Catholics think they can buy their way into heaven.”

This has never been true even though there have been times in our history when unscrupulous people have sold indulgences.  In fact, the selling of indulgences was one of the things that set Martin Luther off back in the fifteenth century.  To explain this, first we have to look at two things:  purgatory and then indulgences.

Purgatory, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1030-1032), is the place where souls go to be purified before they can enter heaven.    The Catholic beliefs about purgatory were formulated at the Councils of Florence (1431) and Trent (1545-63).  Note that this doesn’t mean we started believing in a place of purification at that time, just that that’s when the Church formalized the teaching.  The basis for our belief can be found in the Old Testament (2 Maccabees 12:46).  Throughout Church history, councils have often dealt with heresies by officially spelling out our beliefs.  Obviously they felt that there were too many people spreading false teachings on the subject.  You may recall from an earlier post that Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible left out seven books because they didn’t support his teachings. 2 Maccabees was one of those books.

So, what exactly is purgatory?  It’s a place where we go to be purified so we can enter into the happiness of heaven.

“But if someone’s work is burned up, that person will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.”  (1 Corinthians: 15)

In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials,so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  (1 Peter 6-7)

In simple terms, if you die in a state of grace, that is if your sins have been forgiven, you still have the stain of your sins on your soul.  Depending on the number and severity of your forgiven sins, you will spend a certain amount of time in the cleansing fire of purgatory.  Think of it this way.  Let’s say you throw a rock through my living room window.  I may forgive you, but somebody still has to pay for that window.  Everything in heaven is bright and pure and clean.  God says, “You’re going to have to take off those muddy shoes before you come into my house!”

In second Macabees Judas and his men made atonement for their comrades who had sinned, “Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.”  The idea of praying for the dead is nothing new.  Even our protestant brothers and sisters have funerals and pray for the deceased.

OK, what about these indulgences?

“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 conditionsthrough 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.” 

“An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.  Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead.   (CCC1471)

You can get an indulgence from the Church for all of your sins (plenary) or for just some of your sins (partial).  Right now, as part of the Year of Faith, you can get a plenary indulgence from now through November 23 by doing the following:

A Plenary Indulgence can be gained only once a day. In order to obtain it, the faithful
must, in addition to being in the state of grace:
a) have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin;
b) have sacramentally confessed their sins;
c) receive the Holy Eucharist (it is certainly better to receive it while participating in
Holy Mass, but for the Indulgence only Holy Communion is required);
d) pray for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.

You can obtain this indulgence no more than once a day.  You may ask, “If a plenary indulgence frees me from the temporal punishment for all of my sins, why would I want to get it more than once?  That’s the cool thing.  You can apply your indulgence to anyone who’s died.  You can get a plenary indulgence for yourself, then for mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, or anyone else who has passed away.  It’s kind of a get-out-of-jail-free card that you can share with anyone you like.

Remember that indulgences are only applied to purgatory.  If you don’t die in a state of grace, all the indulgences in the world won’t do you a bit of good.  Remember, too, that the indulgence applies only to your past sins.  Any future sins will need to be taken care of later.

You can see why this practice could lead to some abuses, which is what was going on in Martin Luther’s day.  A rich person could approach an unscrupulous bishop or priest and offer money for a indulgence.  Sadly, this was a common practice and it gave rise to the idea that Catholics could buy their way into heaven.  But, and this is important, an indulgence is worthless to someone who hasn’t had their sins forgiven.  It might get you into heaven sooner, but it won’t get you out of hell.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #27 Indulgences

Indulgences have been around for a long time, but I suspect that a lot of people, even Catholic people, have a hard time understanding how they work.  So I went to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC1471-1479).  The opening paragraph of the section on indulgences is a paragraph-length sentence that’s clear as mud.  Here’s how it was once explained to me.

Pretend your a child.  You’re playing ball and you break your neighbor’s window.  That’s a sin.  As all good parents do, mom and/or dad tells you to go to the neighbor and tell her you broke the window.  That’s confession.  The neighbor says “That’s ok.  I forgive you.”  That’s reconciliation.  But you still have to pay for the broken window.  The neighbor agrees that you can satisfy the debt by cutting her grass.  That’s an indulgence.

It’s a simple-minded explanation but I think it works.  In our world, we commit a sin, we confess it to the priest, and we’re forgiven.  But there’s still that “stain of sin” on your soul.  That’s what purgatory is for.  You enter purgatory free from sin, but your soul isn’t clean.  After a certain amount of time, your soul is clean enough to enter heaven.  The cleansing process is called “temporal punishment”.  The root of the word temporal means time.  Each sin has a certain amount of time attached to it.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on how you look at it) we have no idea how much time is attached to each sin.  Imagine if you died and went to purgatory and the first person you met was Saint Peter.  That would be very depressing.

One way of cleansing the soul is through good works.  Some people are so virtuous that their good works are far more than they need for their own salvation.  The excess is called the “Church’s treasury.”  These “excess graces” (my term) are stored up for you and me.  Imagine the virtues of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Mother, and all the saints.  Through them there is an infinite store of graces that you and I can share in.  On the other hand, it’s possible for us to obtain indulgences and give them to someone who has died, helping them cleanse their souls.

There are two types of indulgences.  Plenary indulgences wipe out all of your temporal punishment.  Partial indulgences, as the name implies, only wipe out some of your temporal punishment.  Because time is a human concept, we have no idea how much time we spend in purgatory or how much time an indulgence is worth.

Quoting the Catechism (#1478)

An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted by Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due to their sin.

So, where do I buy these indulgences?

In the past indulgences have gotten a bad rap because some unscrupulous clergy use to sell them.  The sale of indulgences was one of the things that got Martin Luther so worked up that he nailed his 95 Theses on the Cathedral door.  You can’t buy an indulgence.  You can earn an indulgence in a lot of different ways.  As I mentioned yesterday, praying the Stations of the Cross is one way.  I’m not going to take the space here to list them all.  The Catholic Encyclopedia has an excellent article on the subject.  But it is worth mentioning that you are probably earning indulgences every day and don’t even know it.  For instance, reading the Bible earns a partial indulgence.  So does making the Sign of the Cross.  Reading this blog might even be worth a few seconds.   Catholic Answers has a good article on myths about indulgences along with a partial list of them.

Here’s the thing.  If you get a chance to earn an indulgence, especially a plenary one, jump on it.

Being able to reduce or even eliminate your time in purgatory with indulgences is super cool.