DAILY CATHOLIC    MONDAY     October 4, 1999     vol. 10, no. 188

THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS

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    INTRODUCTION

      Today, we bring you the audience from His Holiness Pope John Paul II from last Wednesday September 29 on the Feast of the Archangels during his weekly Wednesday Papal Audience at St. Peter's Square where the Holy Father spoke about indulgences and the true facts on what they really are in his talk "THE GIFT OF INDULGENCES." The full English text was provided by ZENIT news agency, article ZE99092220.

THE GIFT OF INDULGENCES

Papal Audience Address from Wednesday, September 29, 1999

        On this past Wednesday, the Holy Father addressed over 16,000 in St. Peter's Square, his first since returning permanently for the rest of the year from Castel Gondolfo. He pointed out that indulgences are not "easy free passes" but rather "concrete steps" that enable us to climb the stairs of sanctity and shorten our time in Purgatory through the conversion process on earth. That was the gist of his talk: "THE GIFT OF INDULGENCES."

    Dear Brothers and Sisters,

    1. There is a subject which is intimately related to the Sacrament of Penance, and which is especially connected to the celebration of the Jubilee: the topic is the gift of indulgences, which will be offered in particular abundance during the Jubilee Year of 2000, as described in the Papal Bull "Incarnationis Mysterium" and in the related instructions of the Apostolic Penitentiary.

        This is a delicate topic, not lacking in historical misunderstandings which have had a negative impact on Christian communion. The Church recognizes how important it is in the current ecumenical context for this ancient practice to be well understood and accepted as the meaningful expression of the mercy of God which it was intended to be. In fact, experience tells us that indulgences have at times been used with superficial attitudes, which degrades the gift of God, obscuring its truth and values proposed by the teaching of the Church.

    2. The point of departure for understanding indulgences is the abundance of God's mercy, made manifest in the cross of Christ. Jesus crucified is the greatest "indulgence" that the Father has offered humanity, allowing the forgiveness of sins and the possibility of filial life (cf Jn 1:12-13) in the Holy Spirit (cf Gal 4:6; Rm 5:5; 8:15-16).

        However, this gift, in the logic of the covenant that is the heart of the entire economy of salvation, does not reach us without our acceptance and correspondence.

        In light of this principle it is not difficult to understand how reconciliation with God, freely offered and rich in mercy, implies at the same time a laborious process, which involves man's personal responsibility and the Church's sacramental mandate. For the pardon of those sins committed after baptism, this process is centered on the sacrament of Penance, but is also developed after its celebration. In fact, man must be progressively "cleansed" of the negative consequences that sin has produced in him (and which the theological tradition calls "penalties" and "residues" of sin).

    3. At first glance, speaking of penalties after sacramental pardon could seem inconsistent. The Old Testament, however, shows us how it is normal to undergo reparation penalties after the pardon. In fact, after calling himself a "merciful and compassionate God ... who forgives faults, transgressions and sins", God adds: "but not without punishment" (Ez 34: 6-7). In the second book of Samuel, the humble confession of King David following his grave sin obtains for him the God's forgiveness (cf 2 Sam 12:13), but not the suppression of his punishment (cf 2 Sam 12:13). The paternal love of God does not exclude punishment, though it is always included within a merciful justice which works for the good of man by re-establishing the order violated by sin (cf Eb 12:4-11).

        In this context, temporal punishment expresses the condition of suffering of he who is both reconciled to God and still marked by the "residue" of sin, and thereby unable to be fully open himself to grace. Precisely in view of this complete healing, the sinner is called to embark on a road of purification towards the fullness of love.

        On this road the mercy of God meets us with its special assistance. The same temporal punishment is "medicinal" according to the extent that man lets it work towards his deep conversion. This is also the meaning of the "satisfaction" required in the sacrament of Penance.

    4. The meaning of indulgences must be understood within this horizon of the total renewal of man in virtue of the grace of Christ the Redeemer, through the ministry of the Church. Indulgences have their historical origin in the ancient Church's awareness of being able to express the mercy of God by lessening the canonical penance required for the sacramental remission of sins. However, this mitigation was always balanced by personal and communitarian responsibility, which would take on, by way of substitution, the "medicinal" function of the penalty.

        Now we can understand how indulgences were intended as the "remission before God of the temporal punishment for sins, the blame for which already having been removed, that the faithful, duly disposed and according to the determined conditions, acquire through the Church's intervention. The Church acts as the minister of redemption, authoritatively dispensing and applying the treasury of the satisfaction of Christ and the Saints" (Enchiridion Indulgentiarum, Normae de Indulgentiis, Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1999, p. 21; cf Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1471).

        Therefore the Church has a treasury from which it "dispenses" by means of indulgences. Such "distribution" is not meant as a sort of automatic transferal, as if they were "things". It is rather an expression of the Church's full faith in being heard by the Father when -- in view of the merits of Christ and, as his gift, of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints -- it asks Him to mitigate or annul the sorrowful aspect of the penalty, stressing the medicinal aspect of the way of grace. In the unfathomable mystery of divine wisdom, this gift of intercession can benefit even the faithfully departed, who receive its fruits in according to their condition.

    5. It is therefore clear that, far from being a sort of "discount" for the obligations of conversion, indulgences instead are an aid to carry out those obligations more quickly, generously and radically. To receive a plenary indulgence a spiritual disposition is required that excludes "every affection towards all sin, even venial" (Enchiridion Indulgentiarum, p. 25).

        It would be a mistake to think that this gift can be received by simply carrying out some exterior deed. On the contrary, the deeds are required as an expression and support on the road to conversion. In particular they manifest the faith in God's abundant mercy and in the wonderful reality of communion that Christ has realized, indissolubly uniting the Church to Himself as His Body and His Spouse.


October 4, 1999       volume 10, no. 188
THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS

DAILY CATHOLIC

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