The Catholic Defender: The Importance of Indulgences
"When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock 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 whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah." Matthew 16:13-20
Jesus is setting up His Church beginning with St. Peter to be the first Pope. As Pope, he acts to be the Lord's Royal Stewart or Prime Minister that would shepherd the Church. Jesus gives St. Peter and his successors the Keys of His Kingdom; Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This is a legal term governing what is ratified in heaven that the Chair of Peter must exercise as authority on earth. We are talking about Jesus authority through His Royal Stewart.
The power to bind and loose concerns sin and the power to forgive sins in Jesus Name. The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1471 states, "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 conditions through 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".
When you go to Confession and do the prescribed penance from the priest, the Lord takes those sins and throws them into the sea of forgetfulness and remembers them no more. What remains is the hole that the Lord fills with His Sanctifying Grace making us pure and spotless until we sin again. We are a work in progress. So, why then is an Indulgence offered at all? It is for satisfaction that the Church through the power to Dispense God's Grace as ministers of redemption based from God's Judgement can influence souls to free themselves from Purgatory.
When a person dies, they will go to one of three places, Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. In the Old Testament Purgatory was called the "Netherworld" or "Sheol" that was where the saved souls remained until Jesus Rose from the Dead. St. Peter called this state "prison" because the souls were detained there until the Resurrection. Purgatory is a place of the saved, but they do not see the Beatific Vision until they are released from there and enter into Heaven.
Jesus gave His Church the power to forgive sins which also includes praying for the poor souls in Purgatory that they may be released. St. Paul gives an example of such a prayer:
"You know that everyone in Asia deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. 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."
Clearly, St. Paul is interceding a prayer on behalf of Onesiphorus who had previously died. The Power to forgive sins St. Paul called the "Ministry of Reconciliation" and he also prayed that the Lord would have Mercy on that great and glorious day when the Lord returns. St. Paul clearly is not suggesting that Onesiphorus would be in this state until the Lord returns, but no one knows how long God's judgement would hold him there.
There are two classifications of Indulgences, plenary and partial that in order to receive them, you must be in the state of grace. You must be a practicing Catholic, not involved in any schism or excommunication. That includes anyone who has participated in an abortion. You must be in the state of grace. The Plenary Indulgence can be obtained only once a day. and seek to avoid sin.
Involved with the Plenary Indulgence we must confess our sins, receive the Eucharist preferably at Mass, and pray for the Holy Father. These do not have to be done on the same day, safely within 20 days before, after, or in the middle of the act of Indulgence. You can apply the Indulgence for yourself or for the souls of Purgatory, but not for another living person.
The Holy See is granting a special indulgence for the Year of St. Joseph and here is the requirements to obtain it:
Meditate for at least 30 minutes on the Our Father
Participate in a spiritual retreat of at least one day that includes a meditation on Saint Joseph
Perform a corporal or spiritual work of mercy
Recite the Holy Rosary in families and between the husband and wife
Entrust their work daily to the protection of Saint Joseph and to all believers who invoke with their prayers the intercession of the worker of Nazareth
Pray the litany of Saint Joseph or some other prayer to Saint Joseph, typical of the other liturgical traditions, for the persecuted Church and for the relief of all persecuted Christians
Pray any lawfully approved prayer or act of piety in honor of Saint Joseph, for example “To you oh blessed Joseph,” especially on:
March 19th (Solemnity of St. Joseph)
May 1st (Feast of St. Joseph the Worker)
December 26th (Feast of the Holy Family)
The Sunday of Saint Joseph (according to the Byzantine tradition)
The 19th day of every month
Every Wednesday (a day dedicated to the memory of the Saint according to the Latin tradition)
The gift of plenary indulgence extends particularly to —
All those who for legitimate reasons cannot leave their home
— who, with the spirit detached from any sin and with the intention of fulfilling, as soon as possible, the three usual conditions, in your own home or wherever the impediment holds you, pray an act of piety in honor of Saint Joseph, consolation of the sick and patron of good death, confidently offering God the pains and difficulties of his life.