Friday, 4 September 2009

Indulgences and the reading of Scripture

“Late have I loved Thee,” wrote St Augustine. How late in the day I have learnt some of my lessons in life; and how late I have left it before starting to put into practice a most beautiful treasure of the Church: the gift of indulgences.

For some reason, there came a point when I decided to try to understand the requirements for plenary indulgences. They had always seemed so complicated, not to say daunting. Fortunately, in recent times the Church has made it somewhat easier.

Confession about 20 days either side of the indulgenced work: even I could manage to organize a visit to Confession once a month; and one Confession is sufficient for all the works carried out in that period.

The 20-day rule also applies to two other requirements: the reception of Holy Communion, and prayer for the Holy Father’s intentions; but, unlike Confession, there must be one Holy Communion and one offering of prayer in respect of each work. It is appropriate, but not essential, that these should be fulfilled on the same day as the work.

EWTN has a useful clarification of the 20-day condition:

Whether for a partial or a plenary indulgence, one must be in a state of grace. But for a plenary indulgence, one must have an attitude of complete detachment from sin – including from venial sin. This has brought about a real change in my daily life. I have become much more conscious of my behaviour. For example, I know I have resisted the temptation to be grumpy at times when I would formerly have had a really good grump. Sadly, I still do or say the wrong thing sometimes; but this indulgences idea has fixed itself so strongly in my head that I seem to be aware of the sin instantly. I certainly have plenty of material for those monthly Confessions. Fortunately, the gift of indulgences is meant for ordinary old sinners like me.

There are various works one can offer up for either a plenary or a partial indulgence, but I can’t find a suitable link at present. I would have added a link here to the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum of 1999, but I can only find the Latin version.

I stick to two works for the plenary indulgence: I usually spend half an hour reading the Bible for each occasion when I receive Holy Communion; and sometimes I vary this by doing the Stations of the Cross.

As a result, I have managed something I never thought I would do: I have succeeded in reading the entire Old Testament; and I am now well on my way through it for a second time. I must admit that I have skipped the lists of sons of the various tribes. But I have managed to read all the measurements – you would scarcely believe how many measurements there are, and all in cubits. I had to look up the length of a cubit: my Concise Oxford says it’s between 18 and 22 inches, which is imprecise enough to be of little help to visualisation. I have been on the brink of nodding off many a time; 30 minutes can pass very slowly. But I’m so very glad to have achieved it; and now, on my second journey through it, I am finding it a good deal easier, and more rewarding, not only for the sake of the indulgence, but for its own sake.

All in all, then, I can highly recommend it, certainly for oneself, but most of all for the Souls in Purgatory.

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