Join our Lenten Campaign 2024.
During years of special celebration (such as the year of St. Joseph we are celebrating now), or in times of special need (such as the pandemic), the Vatican often expands the ways in which the faithful may obtain an indulgence.
It’s important to recognize that the purpose of indulgences is more than removing the temporal punishment due to sin. It’s also to help us become holier.
And one of the easiest ways to obtain a plenary indulgence in the Year of St. Joseph might also be the most sanctifying.
Everyone who entrusts their daily activity to the protection of St. Joseph can also obtain the plenary indulgence, says the Vatican decree announcing the Year of St. Joseph indulgences.
With this, the Church is inviting us to make a “morning offering” prayer in which we entrust our activities to St. Joseph.
The spiritual practice of beginning our day by offering it to God (sometimes through the intercession of a saint, as in this case), is one of the most efficacious for growth in holiness. Countless saints have advocated this practice, as it is a way of entrusting the whole of our day to God, enabling us to be “praying constantly” as St. Paul urged, even if we cannot have our minds actively in prayer at all times.
Now, the indulgence offers us an extra reason to make a morning offering prayer a habit, this time with the help of St. Joseph.
A morning offering in the company of St. Joseph promises particular spiritual fruitfulness. After all, probably no one (other than Mary) spent as many hours of as many days in the company of Jesus. We can imagine that Jesus and his father were together for long hours working in the shop.
St. Joseph has a unique insight into what it means to carry out daily activity with input and inspiration from God. By entrusting our daily activity to his protection, it is as if we are putting our day’s work there in the shop with Joseph and Jesus. There couldn’t be a better way to do our daily duties!
While the usual conditions apply (see the specifics of the conditions here, in question #2), during the pandemic it might be impossible to receive the Eucharist or get to confession. For the indulgences granted for the pandemic, the Vatican said it’s sufficient to have the “will to fulfill the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer according to the Holy Father’s intentions), as soon as possible.”
Another great, daily chance
The Vatican decree on indulgences for the Year of St. Joseph included another daily opportunity that will help us to place ourselves in the company of Joseph and his Son. It is also an indulgence opportunity that could arise every day:
The indulgence can also be obtained by those who, following St. Joseph’s example, will perform a spiritual or corporal work of mercy. St. Joseph “encourages us to rediscover the value of silence, prudence and loyalty in carrying out our duties,” the decree notes.
Thus we see again that the Church wants us to obtain indulgences not only to remit punishment for sins of the past, but in order to help us grow in holiness from this day forward. We should be living out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, because that is what it means to live a Christian life, to live in holiness. The indulgence offers us an extra motivation to try harder to live this way.
What are the corporal works of mercy?
What are the spiritual works of mercy?
All this might lead some people to ask incredulously, “The Church still believes in indulgences?”
In fact, the Church does very much “still believe,” though she continues to reject the misuse of indulgences that gave them such a bad rap in earlier times.
But a simple summary can be found in three paragraphs of the Catechism (1475-1477), which basically explains that the faithful are linked together, the living and the dead — those in heaven, those in purgatory, and those still on earth. In this great communion, we are able to help each other contend with the consequences of our evil choices — the spiritual damage that we’ve caused with our bad choices, which God has already forgiven, but which still have left their mark.
An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin. The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.
The Catechism says:
In this wonderful exchange [within the communion of saints], the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin. … We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church’s treasury, which is … the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. … This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. … In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints …
An indulgence, then, is obtained through the Church, which “opens for [individual Christians] the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins,” the Catechism continues.
But the next line is key, and returns to the point we made at the start of this article.
The Church “does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.”
So the very act of doing what is needed in order to obtain the indulgence is itself swept up in and added to that infinite treasury of the Church.