Did You Know: If You’re Catholic, You Can Get an Indulgence During Pope’s Visit

It's true: If you attend any of Pope Francis' appearances in Philadelphia, you can get a plenary indulgence. But it's not quite as simple as just showing up.


Photo | Jeff Fusco

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This weekend is your chance to obtain a get-out-of-purgatory free card.

Okay, it’s not that simple. But the Roman Catholic Church has decreed attendees at the World Meeting of Families can get a plenary indulgence (full decree below) by attending any of the events this week. This includes people going to any of the pope’s appearances this weekend in Philadelphia.

If you’ve heard of indulgences, you probably know them as a Middle Ages-era practice. One of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses was against the sale of indulgences, where rich Catholics could get their souls wiped clean by making a donation to the church. But though that practice has ended, indulgences are still a very real thing.

“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,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains. There are two types of indulgences: Partial and plenary.

Fr. Patrick Brady, who teaches at St. Charles Borromeo seminary, explains that Catholicism has a concept of a temporal punishment for one’s sins. Even if a person is contrite, has confessed his or her sins to a priest and had the sin wiped clean, there is still a time of punishment that must be served. Getting a plenary indulgence wipes that time out.

“The punishment done for the temporal impact of your sin is remitted or forgiven by doing pious works,” Brady says. “So, for instance, attending any of the World Meeting of Families events you will be granted a plenary indulgence — if you follow all of the regulations of a plenary indulgence. It’s not just showing up at a mass.”

Basically, the plenary indulgence is a way to avoid spending time repenting for your sins in the afterlife. In order to get it, though, one must also complete the sacraments of confession and holy communion, and pray for the pope. There’s no “official” certificate or anything to show you got the indulgence — but, it seems, God knows.

“The reason to do this is you’re repenting for your sins,” Brady says. “You’re doing it out of love.”

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