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Brock and Gabriella Mackin wrote:

Hi, guys —

Our question regards the concept of indulgences and specifically that one person, in Heaven, or on Earth, can gain indulgences for another person.

I have always understood that the teaching of the Church is that when we sin gravely, we do several things.

  • First, we sever our relationship with God,
  • Second, we sever our relationship with the Church, and
  • Finally, we do damage to our soul.

I have also understood that in the Confessional, we restore our relationship with the Church and with God, however, penitential acts are required to expiate the damage to our soul.

To the best of my knowledge, the reason for the need of penitential acts is to restore our attitude to a more pious condition. The best example I can come up with is the concept of a person who looks at pornography. While he can be forgiven of the sin through Confession, the memories of those images are still in his mind, leading him to lust.

It is my understanding that he should engage in behaviors that will counter the attitudes fostered by the pornographic images as a means of restoring his soul to the condition it was in before he looked at the pornography.

I have trouble seeing that the merits of the saints, or even of other living persons, can bring this about.

I look forward to your response as we am continually trying to improve my understanding of the teachings of Holy Mother, the Church.

Brock and Gabriella

  { How can the merits of the Saints help a penitent restore their soul appropriately? }

John replied:

Dear Brock and Gabriella,

This past Sunday's Gospel may help you to understand the concept of indulgences. It was the story of the paralytic who was lowered through the roof to see Jesus. The text says that Jesus saw their faith (those lowering him into the house) and said your sins are forgiven. Notice that Jesus responded to the faith of others to forgive the sins and to heal the paralytic. St. Paul talks about us being one body, mystically connected by the Holy Spirit. Therefore just as one limb assists another, one member of the Church can assist another in much the same way. This is the foundation upon which the Churches teaching on indulgences. Remember that our righteousness or good deeds are not really ours in the strict sense.

They are actually grace merited by Christ at Calvary and applied to us. We are all in Christ and therefore can participate in this redemptive work by grace. In Colossians St. Paul writes:

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church

Colossians 1:24

We see here that Paul's "meritorious suffering" is being offered for the Christians in Colossae,
a city in Asia Minor.

I hope this helps you to understand indulgences a bit better. Please feel free to write again about this or any other question.

Under His Mercy,

John DiMascio

Terry replied:

Dear Brock and Gabriella,

The queries about indulgences need, I think, to include the following explanations:

Much confusion was caused in the past regarding X number of days indulgence and many people, including some well instructed Catholics, assumed this was a remittance of that number of days
in Purgatory. Not So!

The number of days ascribed to indulgences was that by completing a particular activity.

For example, so many prayers, or a visit to shrine, etc. was equivalent to a sinner completing that number of days of penance. (i.e. in the early Church, sackcloth and ashes)

It was never to be interpreted as a number of days in Purgatory: "with God, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day." (2 Peter 3:8) We cannot know (this side of the grave) how long anyone will spend in Purgatory. The only thing we do know is, God is infinitely just as well as infinitely merciful, and that we have the gift of free will to accept or reject his mercy.

Also remember, Jesus gave Peter the keys to loosen or bind. Whatever he binds on earth is considered bound in Heaven. Therefore indulgences are an act of mercy by Holy Mother Church,
in her solicitude for her children. It is most unfortunate when Catholics neglect and reject this wonderful gift from their Mother, the Church.

Terry Quinn
BA (Divinity) Hons, MA Theology (Marian Studies)

Victor commented on the above answer:

Hi, guys —

The CCC paragraph 1471 teaches that one can gain an indulgence for oneself or for the souls in Purgatory. It does not state that we can gain and indulgence for another living person.

While these answers do not specifically state that we can gain an indulgence for another living person they certainly imply it. Each of us is responsible for our own sins. We are not held accountable for the sins of other living individuals and therefore cannot make satisfaction for them.

In addition, the doctrine of indulgences has its roots in Judaism and goes back thousands of years.


Richard replied:

For those interested,

Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution "Indulgentiarum Doctrina" is available on the EWTN web site.

The 1986 Norms for Indulgences are on-line here.

Interestingly, the 1986 edition says flat-out (norm #3) that one cannot obtain an indulgence for a living person other than oneself.

In the 1999 edition, that particular statement is replaced by the text of canon 994: saying that the faithful may obtain indulgences for themselves or offer them as suffrages for the dead. It doesn't rule out gaining an indulgence for a specific deceased person.

— RC

Mary Ann replied:

Hi, Victor —

Whether or not one is able to offer an indulgence for another (I am sure one could ask God to do it), one may certainly offer the fruit of one's prayers, good works and penances for another, and for all the reasons that were mentioned.

Mary Ann

Terry replied:

Hi, Victor —

I can't find any specific text but my "gut feeling" is that an indulgence would normally be obtained for oneself or a soul in Purgatory — after all, if one were trying to obtain one for someone else,
it would surely be more appropriate to encourage them to obtain the indulgence for themselves.


Mike replied:

Hi, guys —

I would tend to agree with Terry's opinion of what the Church officially teaches:

That an indulgence can only be gained for:

  • oneself or
  • the souls in Purgatory.

In addition, I just talked to a friend who is knowledgeable on Purgatory and he agreed with Richard's opinion of the Church's view. If you are reading this posting and have a strong devotion for the Holy Souls or have family that has passed away, check out my other web site dedicated to praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

We are trying to start Purgatory Prayer Programs across the United States.


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