Indulgences have been a very confusing subject for so many people. Recently, I've been asked about the selling of indulgences and the sin of simony.
Obviously, to abuse the Lord's gifts of indulgences would be wrong. As a Catholic, I have never paid one penny for receiving an indulgence. Did you know that you can obtain an indulgence for reading the bible at least 30 minutes a day? Praying devotions, this is the intent of indulgences.
There are no simularities of simony and indulgences, but there are those who want to distort and cause confusion, which happens to be the work of Satan. In the following, I want to give a good understanding and foundation of what the Catholic Church teaches concerning indulgences.
There has been a lot of confusion coming from those who reject Purgatory, praying for the dead, and the power to "bind and loose".
God's revelation shows us that he loves us and makes provision for us to re-establish our relationship with God through a series of Covenants.
Beginning in the Old Testament, God gives us the choice to follow and serve him or to reject him and turn away.
However, there is a consequence for our decision:
"Moses told the people, Take these words of mine into your heart and soul. Bind them at your wrist as a sign,and let them be a pendant on your forehead. I set before you here, this day, a blessing and a curse: a blessing for obeying the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I enjoin on you today; a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, but turn aside from the way I ordain for you today, to follow other gods, whom you have not known. Be careful to observe all the statutes and decrees that I set before you today" (Deuteronomy 11:18,26-28, 32).
God is giving us either a blessing for our obedience to God's teaching and commandments or a curse for our disobedience. We are given free will to choose. With this choice, there is a consequence, an accounting that we will all be held accountable.
The Jews were given a glimpse, a foreshadow of the revelation that Jesus Christ would reveal through his new and everlasting Covenant. Jesus is the door, the rock of salvation. He holds the keys between heaven and hell. Jesus states, "Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld" (Revelation 1:18).
Jesus conquered death, "For Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now" (1 Peter 3:18-21).
Jesus released the souls of purgatory through to the time of his coming. Matthew 27:51-52 states, "And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many".
Notice St. Matthew says that "many" saints were raised, not all. The implication would mean that this state (prison) was not totally emptied out.
To underscore this point, St. Paul writes, "May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus because he often gave me new heart and was not ashamed of my chains. But when he came to Rome, he promptly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day. And you know very well the services he rendered in Ephesus" (2 Timothy 1:16).
St. Paul knew full well that this "prison" was still in existence and he prayed that the Lord would have mercy upon Onesiphorus on that day when the Lord returns.
Jesus refers to this "prison" saying, "Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate, make an effort to settle the matter on the way; otherwise your opponent will turn you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the constable, and the constable throw you into "prison". I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny" (Luke 12:57-59).
This is a clear indication of Purgatory and the importance of Indulgences. Kind of like the old TV commercials, "You can pay me now, or you can pay me later". The truth here is that you would rather pay up front now because it will cost you a whole lot more later on down the road. Spiritually speaking, Jesus gives this as a warning to show charity in this life, to judge fairly and to live God's commandments now.
Jesus said, "And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matthew 12:32).
Jesus is implying that sins will be forgiven in the next age, except if they blaspheme the Holy Spirit. There have been some thought what exactly this is, I remember some said it had to do with suicide.
That may be possible, but still, if someone asked forgiveness at the last moment, might they still be forgiven thus saved by Jesus? It might be more correct to say that the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit would be to never allow the Lord into your life, to reject him to your death.
This should not be a cause of distress if you ask the Lord for forgiveness through Confession. Jesus gives this power exclusively to His Catholic Church.
Remember, Jesus holds the keys shown in Revelation 1:18, however, as the master builder, Jesus states, "And so I say to you, you are Peter (Kepha), and upon this rock (Kapha) I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the KEYS to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what ever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:18-19).
John writes, "John 20:23, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained".
St. Paul would refer to this as "The Ministry Of Reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18).
The Israelites would place scrolls (Mezuzah - Hebrew for door post) which held a container of verses from the Torah, a reminder of God's presence (Deut 6:4-9).
Moses instructs the people to "bind their wrist with a sign", and a pendant on their forehead the "Tefillin" that contained parchments of the Torah. This was a remembrance that God gave them a choice of a blessing or a curse.
Today, Christians have crucifixes and statues in their homes that reminds us of God's presence and we also wear chains that have religious medals and crosses. We can see our Catholic Faith foundations through the lens of our Jewish roots. These things should reflect the blessing of God in our lives. We should avoid the curse of disobedience at all times.
Going back to the Apostles power to forgive sins, St. John makes a very important message saying, "I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of Man. And we have this confidence in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked him for is ours. If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly (Mortal), he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly (Mortal)" (1 John 5:13-16A).
This is important, if the sin is not deadly, you pray for them, the person can make restitution through repentance and good works. By turning away from the sin. However, if the sin is deadly, that will require more from the sinner.
St. John writes, "There is a such a thing as deadly (Mortal) sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is a sin that is not deadly" I John 5:16B-17).
For the sinner with deadly (Mortal) sin, they must go to the Priest and go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. James 5:19-20 states, "My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins".
Indulgences are the "remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sin whose guilt has already been forgiven A properly disposed member of the Christian faithful can obtain an indulgence under prescribed conditions through the help 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 the partial if it removes part of the temporal punishment due to sin, or plenary if it removes all punishment" Catholic Catechism (1471).
The selling of Indulgences in the 16th century was never a doctrine, but a wrongful practice that some abused. During the time when the Muslims took Jerusalem and the Holy Land, this made pilgrimages very difficult.
The Stations of the Cross were placed in and near every Catholic Church so the faithful could devote time and prayer locally. It was asked of the Church if giving Alms to the poor could be used for penance.
It began innocent enough, however, this practice became an opportunity that clearly was abused. From the first century, the Church forbade anyone to channel forgiveness for money. This was called the "sin of Simony" named after Simon the magician, who offered to buy the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18-24).
At the Council of Nicaea, the controversy arose about penitents who wanted to return back to the Catholic Faith once the Roman Persecution had ended with Constantine s "Edict of Milan".
Some of the Bishops were opposed of them returning, however, the Church ruled that they could return. They were given some tough penances, but forgiveness was given by Christ from the Cross.
The Church does not bar anyone who needs to confess their sin except in cases where the Confession is compromised, the penitent is faking it, or there is some kind of sacrilege. Jesus gave the Apostles the authority to "hold them bound" for such situations.
I know of one reported case when Padre Pio instructed someone to return to the Confessional once they were ready to confess their sin. Jesus gave him and all priests the special gift to heal people dead in sin. Let us pray that people who have abandoned the Faith (the Prodigal Son's and Daughters), will return with thankful hearts!