Indulgences and Purgatory? FrankenPope Has Mothballed Them
They were constituent elements of all the jubilees. But not of this one. The pope isn’t talking about them anymore, as if they would overshadow the absolute primacy of mercy
by Sandro Magister
ROME, December 19, 2015 – The jubilee is by its nature a time of “indulgences.” But so far Pope Francis has carefully avoided saying this word.
He didn’t say it when he opened the first holy door in Bangui, in the Central African Republic, nor when he opened the holy door at St. Peter’s on December 8, the official opening day of the jubilee, nor when he opened it at St. John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome. He didn’t even say it in the two Wednesday catecheses that he has dedicated so far to explaining the holy year.
In order to find the word “indulgence,” one must go back to the bull of indiction for the jubilee, the apostolic letter “Misericordiae Vultus” of April 11, 2015, and the subsequent explicative letter of September 1.
The second of these two documents states that the indulgence is given to one who steps through a holy door, goes to confession, receives communion, performs a work of mercy, recites the “Credo,” and joins the pope in praying “for the good of the Church and of the whole world.”
It adds that “the jubilee indulgence can also be obtained on behalf of the deceased.”
But even here it does not say precisely what an indulgence is. The word is used as a synonym for “God’s forgiveness of our sins.”
It is only in the bull of indiction for the jubilee that the indulgence is associated with something more specific. Even after sacramental forgiveness – it says – “sin leaves a negative effect on the way we think and act.” And the indulgence is precisely the act with which God, through the Church, “reaches the pardoned sinner and frees him from every residue left by the consequences of sin.”
But here too the concept appears in a very vague form. The only way to find out more is to open the Catechism of the Catholic Church to paragraphs 1471 and following, at the end of the chapter on the sacrament of penance or reconciliation.
There the indulgence is defined as “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.”
And by “temporal punishment” is meant the effect that every sin, even after it has been forgiven, leaves in the one who has committed it: “an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory.”
It is this purifying “temporal” punishment that the indulgence removes. And the Church dispenses such an indulgence by drawing upon the incommensurable treasure of grace accumulated by Jesus, Mary, and the saints.
The jubilees have always been precisely the seasons of the greatest allowance of these indulgences, in the whole Catholic world.
It is enough to look at the centrality that indulgences have had in all the jubilees of history, including the last one, that of 2000 proclaimed and celebrated by John Paul II.
Its bull of indiction, issued on November 29, 1998, not only thoroughly explained the significance of this “constitutive element of the Jubilee,” but it also included a decree of the Apostolic Penitentiary, which determined with precision “the discipline to be observed for gaining the Jubilee indulgence,” for both those going to Rome and those in every other part of the world:
> Bull of Indiction of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000
In the jubilee of mercy proclaimed by Francis, however, all of this is practically set aside and it is as if the Apostolic Penitentiary didn’t even exist. The message that the pope transmits incessantly is that of universal mercy and forgiveness, of the total cancellation of sin, without any further reference to the remission of the resulting punishment. The word “punishment” is another of the words that have disappeared. In the bull of indiction for this jubilee and in the subsequent explicative letter it is found only three times in all, and marginally: in a quote from the prophet Hosea and in a couple of references to earthly justice and the condition of prisoners.
But it is not only the concept of punishment; that of judgment is also pushed into the corner in the jubilee preaching of Pope Francis, as can be noted in this key passage of his homily of December 8:
“How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy! But that is the truth. We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgement will always be in the light of his mercy.”
Francis does not abrogate any part of the traditional doctrine, but in reordering – as he so often loves to do – the hierarchy of truths, he is not afraid of letting silence fall upon the articles of faith that he maintains are marginal today.
The doctrine and discipline of indulgences is one of these. The innovation of the holy year proclaimed by pope Bergoglio is that it is the first jubilee in history to do without this doctrine and discipline, solely for the sake of not casting the slightest shadow on the overriding truth of mercy.
With a few side effects that are hardly trivial, also in the realm of doctrine. Because today the obscurement of indulgences and of purifying “temporal” punishment tends to put purgatory out of view as well.
On which, to rediscover its meaning and mystery, all that remains to be done is to go back before this pontificate, to a catechesis of Benedict XVI of January 12, 2011, and to an even more memorable passage of his encyclical letter “Spe Salvi” of November 30, 2007: