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How Indulgences Work

August 8, 2021 • 5 min

From Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism, page 218
By Rev. Thomas L. Kinkead

237 Q. What must we do to gain an indulgence?

A. To gain an indulgence we must be in a state of grace and perform the works enjoined.

“Works”—to visit certain churches or altars; to give alms; to say certain prayers; etc.

For a plenary indulgence it is required generally to go to confession and Holy Communion, and to pray for the intention of our Holy Father the Pope. When an indulgence may be gained by praying for the intention of our Holy Father, it will be sufficient to say five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys for his intention.

Now, what does praying for the intention of the Pope or bishop or any one else mean? It does not mean that you are to pray for the Pope himself, but for whatever he is praying for or wishes you to pray for. For instance, on one day the Holy Father may be praying for the success of some missions that he is establishing in pagan lands; on another, he may be praying that the enemies of the Church may not succeed in their plans against it; on another, he may be praying for the conversion of some nation, and so on;—whatever he is praying for or wishes you to pray for is called his intention.

To gain an indulgence you should also have the intention of gaining it. There are many prayers that we sometimes say to which indulgences are attached, and we do not know it. How can we gain them? By making a general intention every morning while saying our prayers to gain all the indulgences we can during the day, whether we know of them or not.

For example, there is an indulgence of fifty days granted us every time we make the sign of the cross, being sorry for our sins; and if we make it with holy water we can gain one hundred days’ indulgence. Many may not know of these indulgences; but if they have the general intention mentioned above, they will gain the indulgence every time they perform tlie work. In the same way all those who are in the habit of going to confession and Holy Communion every week can gain all the plenary indulgences for which confession and Holy Communion are required conditions, and even when they do not know that they are gaining indulgences.

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