Indulgences - Definition and Meaning: God's Mercy Dispensed Through the Catholic Church

clock December 18, 2012 21:40 by author John |

This article is the fifth in a series on Purgatory:

Part 1: Introduction to the Catholic Understanding of Purgatory
Part 2: What is Purgatory Like? The Catholic Understanding of the Pains of Purification
Part 3: How to Avoid Purgatory: 8 Specific Ways to Reduce or Eliminate your Time in Purgatory
Part 4: How to Help the Poor Souls in Purgatory
Part 5: Indulgences - Definition and Meaning: God's Mercy Dispensed Through the Catholic Church

What are Indulgences?

The word indulgence comes from the Latin "indulgentia", meaning kind or tender. This word later came to mean the remission of tax, debt, or punishment. This is the meaning of the word in the Catholic Church as well. An indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin. Even though sins are forgiven, they must be atoned for, since they do damage to our relationship with God, and they harm others. Though the relationship with God is restored and the guilt removed for sins through the Sacrament of Confession, we must still make amends for the harm that our sins have caused. We believe that this debt will be repaid either on Earth or in Purgatory after our judgment. Indulgences are a way for us to repay some (or all) of the debt we have accumulated for our sins. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1471) defines indulgences in this way:

"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."

"An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin." Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead.

As I mentioned in a previous article on Purgatory, it may be helpful to call to mind an example to illustrate the difference between forgiveness of sins and atonement for sins. If Bob spreads rumors about Sally and then asks Sally for forgiveness, and she forgives him, then the relationship is restored. However, there is still a problem in that Sally's reputation has been harmed and people who heard the rumors may have an unfavorable opinion of Sally. Bob must do everything he can to repair Sally's reputation. Until her reputation is restored, justice has not been satisfied. Purgatory is the place where unfulfilled justice is dispensed by the All-Just God.

An indulgence is not the same thing as the Sacrament of Confession, nor does it have the same effect. Gaining an indulgence does not fix our relationship with God the same way a Sacramental confession does. Our sins cannot be forgiven by gaining an indulgence. An indulgence simply lessens or removes the punishment we would have in Purgatory. In fact, an indulgence can only be gained for yourself when you are in the state of grace - which is a result of Sacramental Confession. An indulgence is not a guarantee of avoiding Hell or Purgatory.

How can the Church Grant Indulgences?

In Matthew 16:19, our Lord says to Peter,

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

This is the power of binding and loosing. It is an incredible responsibility that our Lord confers on the first Pope. The Church has utilized this power to lessen or remove temporal punishment in Purgatory.

The "Treasury" of the Church

Christ, in His suffering and death purchased for us superabundant merits which are "stored up" by the Church. To this "treasury" of merits is added those merits gained by the Blessed Mother in her trials and heartbreak, as well as those merits gained by the saints. This treasury cannot be depleted and the Church confers these merits upon us as an agent of Christ in carrying out His command to "bind and loose". These merits release the penitent from the debt he owes the Church and from the temporal punishment he owes God as a satisfaction of God's perfect justice. An indulgence is not a means of ignoring or subverting Divine Justice, but rather is a way of paying the penalty we owe. The Church does not "own" the treasury of merit, but is simply the administrator of it.

Universal, Local, Perpetual and Temporary Indulgences

A Universal indulgence can be gained anywhere in the world. Other indulgences are available only in certain jurisdictions such as a diocese, city or country. There are many indulgences that can be gained in Rome or Jerusalem.

Perpetual indulgences are valid at any time. Temporary indulgences are available only on certain days or within certain time periods. An example of this is an indulgence that is granted during Jubilee Years.

Partial vs. Plenary Indulgences

A partial indulgence is one that removes part of the temporal punishment owed by the penitent. A plenary indulgence removes all temporal punishment owed by the penitent. If a person receives a plenary indulgence and then immediately dies, they will go straight to Heaven without any Purgatorial suffering.

In times past, the Church would place a particular value on a partial indulgence, such as "100 days". This meant that by completing the requirements for the indulgence, the penitent had removed "100 days" of their suffering. This was not meant to be construed as a literal value relative to days on Earth. Instead, what this meant was that the suffering removed was equivalent with "100 days" of the ancient canonical penance, which consisted of prayer, good deeds, fasting and alms-giving. This was always a relative value in terms of earthly penance, not purgatorial time. The specific values are no longer given to partial indulgences. They are simply called "partial", and left to God to determine the actual remission.

Conditions for a Plenary Indulgence

In addition to performing the prescribed act of penance to which the plenary indulgence is attached, the penitent must have completed the following 4 requirements:

1. Sacramental confession,
2. Eucharistic Communion
3. Prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff.
4. Complete detachment from all sin, including venial sin.

The first 3 conditions must be satisfied within a reasonable amount of time (20 days before or after the act of penance). This requirement used to be 8 days, but in the Jubilee Year, this requirement was relaxed to 20 days by the Apostolic Penitentiary. If any of these requirements is not fulfilled, then the plenary indulgence becomes a partial indulgence.

Some Common Indulgences

Here are some common indulgences that can be obtained at any time. To gain the plenary indulgence associated with each task, the above-mentioned conditions must be fulfilled. There are many more indulgences that can be gained in specific places or at specific times.

Reading of Sacred Scripture

A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who with the veneration due the divine word make a spiritual reading from Sacred Scripture. A plenary indulgence is granted, if this reading is continued for at least one half an hour.

Recitation of the Marian Rosary (Rosarii marialis recitatio)

A plenary indulgence is granted, if the Rosary is recited in a church or public oratory or in a family group, a religious Community or pious Association; a partial indulgence is granted in other circumstances.

"Now the Rosary is a certain formula of prayer, which is made up of fifteen decades of "Hail Marys" with an "Our Father" before each decade, and in which the recitation of each decade is accompanied by pious meditation on a particular mystery of our Redemption." (Roman Breviary)

There have been 5 more mysteries added to the rosary, which are the Luminous Mysteries since the publication of the Roman Breviary, bringing the total number of mysteries to 20. The name "Rosary," however, is commonly used in reference to only a set of 5 mysteries or decades focused on a certain theme: Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous.

The gaining of the plenary indulgence is regulated by the following norms:

1. The recitation of one set of 5 decades only of the Rosary suffices; but the five decades must be recited continuously.
2. The vocal recitation must be accompanied by pious meditation on the mysteries.
3. In public recitation the mysteries must be announced in the manner customary in the place; for private recitation, however, it suffices if the vocal recitation is accompanied by meditation on the mysteries.
4. For those belonging to the Oriental rites, amongst whom this devotion is not practiced, the Patriarchs can determine some other prayers in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary (for those of the Byzantine rite, for example, the Hymn "Akathistos" or the Office "Paraclisis"); to the prayers thus determined are accorded the same indulgences as for the Rosary

Exercise of the Way of the Cross

A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful, who make the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross (Stations of the Cross). The gaining of the plenary indulgence is regulated by the following norms:

1. The pious exercise must be made before stations of the Way of the Cross legitimately erected. This is generally done by the local bishop at various parishes, cemeteries, or chapels around the diocese.
2. For the erection of the Way of the Cross fourteen crosses are required, to which it is customary to add fourteen pictures or images, which represent the stations of Jerusalem.
3. According to the more common practice, the pious exercise consists of fourteen pious readings, to which some vocal prayers are added. However, nothing more is required than a pious meditation on the Passion and Death of the Lord, which need not be a particular consideration of the individual mysteries of the stations.
4. A movement from one station to the next is required. But if the pious exercise is made publicly and if it is not possible for all taking part to go in an orderly way from station to station, it suffices if at least the one conducting the exercise goes from station to station, the others remaining in their place.

Those who are "impeded" can gain the same indulgence, if they spend at least one half an hour in pious reading and meditation on the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For those belonging to Oriental rites, amongst whom this pious exercise is not practiced, the respective Patriarchs can determine some other pious exercise in memory of the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ for the gaining of this indulgence.

Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament

A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who visit the Most Blessed Sacrament to adore it; a plenary indulgence is granted, if the visit lasts for at least one half an hour.

How to Help the Poor Souls in Purgatory

clock December 14, 2012 20:53 by author John |
Holy Mass for Souls in Purgatory
The Holy Mass is a powerful way to aid the Poor Souls in Purgatory.

This is the fourth article in a series on the Catholic understanding of Purgatory

Part 1: Introduction to the Catholic Understanding of Purgatory
Part 2: What is Purgatory Like? The Catholic Understanding of the Pains of Purification
Part 3: How to Avoid Purgatory: 8 Specific Ways to Reduce or Eliminate your Time in Purgatory
Part 4: How to Help the Poor Souls in Purgatory
Part 5: Indulgences - Definition and Meaning: The God's Mercy Dispensed Through the Catholic Church

Who are the Souls in Purgatory?

The souls in Purgatory are known as the Church Suffering. They are called “Poor” souls because they are separated from the Beatific Vision due to unsatisfied debt due to the sins they committed while they were on Earth. While their sins may have been forgiven in the Sacrament of Confession, they may not have made proper penance for them, and so any temporal punishment due for those sins must be endured in Purgatory. 

The souls in Purgatory are also known as the “Holy Souls” for two main reasons. First, they are no longer able to sin. Secondly, they are assured of their salvation, though they must be purified before they can stand in the presence of God for eternity.

The Church Calls Us to Help the Souls in Purgatory

The teaching of the Church is clear throughout the ages about our duty to help the souls in Purgatory. They are our departed brothers and sisters in Christ. They lived virtuous lives and ultimately chose to love God. They deserve our support in reaching the reward of Heaven. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear our responsibility for the poor souls and the efficacy of our prayers for them:

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin."607 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.608 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.609

How Can We Pray for the Souls in Purgatory?

The most efficacious way to help the souls in Purgatory is to have masses said for them. In Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI expressed the value of prayer, especially the Holy Mass in helping the souls in Purgatory:

The Eucharistic celebration, in which we proclaim that Christ has died and risen, and will come again, is a pledge of the future glory in which our bodies too will be glorified. Celebrating the memorial of our salvation strengthens our hope in the resurrection of the body and in the possibility of meeting once again, face to face, those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. In this context I wish, together with the synod fathers, to remind all the faithful of the importance of prayers for the dead, especially the offering of Mass for them, so that, once purified, they can come to the beatific vision of God. A rediscovery of the eschatological dimension inherent in the Eucharist, celebrated and adored, will help sustain us on our journey and comfort us in the hope of glory (cf Rom 5:2; Ti 2:13) (Sacramentum Caritatis 32).

In addition to masses , the Rosary, and Stations of the Cross are very powerful ways to assist the Church Suffering. These prayers all have indulgences attached to them, and as we will see, indulgences are a tool we can utilize to help the poor souls.

Fasting, Almsgiving, and Offering of Our Sacrifices for the Souls in Purgatory

Aside from prayer, there are a variety of ways in which we can assist the souls in Purgatory. Fasting, almsgiving, and the offering of our sacrifices to God in atonement for their sins are excellent ways to help them. Many of us suffer physical or emotional pains, which can be offered for the poor souls. This suffering is united with the Passion of Christ and when applied to the poor souls can cause their release and entrance into Heaven. 

Indulgences Can be Gained on Behalf of the Souls in Purgatory

A specific indulgence is given in the "Enchiridion of Indulgences", which is specifically for the souls in Purgatory. Here is the quote: 

13. Visit to a Cemetery (Coemeterii visitatio)

An indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, is granted to the faithful, who devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, even if only mentally, for the departed.

The indulgence is plenary each day from the 1st to the 8th of November; on other days of the year it is partial. 

In order for the indulgence to be plenary, you must meet the following conditions in addition to praying at the cemetery for the souls...

1. Sacramental confession within “about twenty days” of the actual day of the Plenary Indulgence.

2. Eucharistic Communion on the day of the Plenary Indulgence.

3. Prayer for the intentions of the Pope on the day of the Plenary Indulgence.

4. It is further required that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent.

In addition to this specific indulgence, any indulgence can be offered for the good of the souls in Purgatory if we specifically make the request that the graces be applied to them.

Penance for Souls that are Not in Purgatory

Graces are never wasted. God's infinite justice assures this. If a soul is in Heaven and we pray, fast or do any other penance for them, those specific graces that would have helped the soul out of Purgatory are bestowed on other souls in need of them. The soul may also benefit from those graces in Heaven, growing yet closer to God. St. Thomas Aquinas called this "accidental glory". The souls in Heaven can grow and change (they are mutable), though they cannot depart from the Beatific Vision. 

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P., the noted theologian, Thomistic scholar, and teacher of the future Pope John Paul II, commented on this concept in his book, "The One God":

All creatures, as regards their accidental being, are mutable by an intrinsic power. Even in the angels there is mutability as regards their choice of either good or evil. All were created good and in grace, and some freely merited their eternal happiness, whereas others sinned. In fact, the blessed are capable of receiving new accidental illuminations and of acquiring accidental glory. Finally, there is mutability in the angels by way of virtual contact, inasmuch as they can act in this place or that, and do not always act in the same place.

The State of Grace

You should be in the state of grace before helping the souls in Purgatory. The Enchiridion of Indulgences states that you must be in the state of grace in order to earn an indulgence for yourself. Theologians have expressed mixed opinions on whether you must be in the state of grace in order to earn indulgences for the souls in Purgatory.  

Whether or not our prayers are efficacious for the souls in Purgatory when we are not in the state of grace should be a secondary concern for us. Our first concern should be with gaining and maintaining the state of grace for our own good. When you are in the state of grace, you can focus your energy on others, including the souls in Purgatory.

Eternal Gratitude

The souls released from Purgatory are eternally grateful to us for assisting them in attaining eternal joy in Heaven. They are part of the Church Triumphant, those blessed souls who are nearest to God, and have a special intimate connection with Him. Their prayers are very powerful, and they will pray for us in gratitude for our care for them. The Universal Church is indeed one in Christ, praying for one another and thus helping each other when we are in most need.

How to Avoid Purgatory: 8 Specific Ways to Reduce or Eliminate Your Time in Purgatory

clock December 10, 2012 09:42 by author John |

PurgatoryThis is the third article in a series on the Catholic understanding of Purgatory.

Part 1: Introduction to the Catholic Understanding of Purgatory
Part 2: What is Purgatory Like? The Catholic Understanding of the Pains of Purification
Part 3: How to Avoid Purgatory
Part 4: How to Help the Poor Souls in Purgatory
Part 5:
Indulgences - Definition and Meaning: The God's Mercy Dispensed Through the Catholic Church

Purgatory is the state in which we make reparation for all of our sins which have not been satisfactorily atoned for during our earthly life. The punishment of purgatory is avoidable to varying extents based on how we atone for our sins in this life. Indeed, it is even possible to remove all temporal punishment for our sins before we die and immediately join our Lord in Heaven upon our death. Not only is this possible, but it should be our goal.

How is it possible to reduce or eliminate the pains of purgatory? There are several ways, which when combined, practically assure us of removing most if not all of the debt we have incurred for our sins. If we strive to achieve all of these goals, we will certainly enjoy eternal reward at the moment of our death. I have listed 8 specific ways to avoid Purgatory.

1. Avoid Sin

The first and best way to avoid Purgatory is to avoid the thing that causes us to find ourselves there in the first place: Sin. This is an incredibly difficult proposition, and is not entirely possible, since we are imperfect creatures. We can reduce the number and severity of the sins we commit through concerted effort to live by the commandments and by asking for the assistance of Divine grace.

It is not possible to completely avoid venial sins. On the other hand, it is possible to totally eliminate mortal sin in our lives. If we die in a state of mortal sin, we will suffer eternal damnation in Hell. If we die with confessed mortal sin that we have not done sufficient penance for, we suffer the most severe punishment in purgatory. We must strive to eliminate all mortal sin in our lives.

The next most dreadful cause of Purgatorial suffering is venial sin that is committed deliberately. The only thing separating deliberate venial sins from mortal sins is the severity of the sin. Deliberate venial sins show callousness toward God’s law and the people harmed by those sins. Similarly, we must strive to eliminate lesser venial sins, because punishment will be given for them as well. While we cannot completely eliminate venial sins, we can drastically reduce their frequency in our lives by avoiding near occasions of sin and making better decisions when tempted. The graces given to us by the reception of the sacraments are very helpful in reforming our lives.

2. Do Penance

The second way to lessen our punishment in purgatory is to do penance. Penance most commonly involves fasting, prayer and almsgiving. The more healthy penance we are able to do in this life, the less punishment we will suffer in purgatory. We can make any unpleasant experience into a penance by offering our pain, discomfort, or stress to God.

Penance helps us in 2 ways. First, it repays the debt incurred by our sinfulness. It is believed that the penance we do while still alive will be easier than the penance required of us after death.  Secondly, it helps us to comprehend the severity of our sins and thereby focuses us on avoiding sin the next time we are tempted. Why not be proactive and make penance a part of our daily routine?

3. Embrace Suffering

The third means to avoid purgatorial punishment is to embrace our suffering. This does not necessarily mean we should seek it out, but we should accept the suffering that we cannot avoid and bear it without complaint. Everyone has to face many and varied sorrows and pains in life. These result from both physical pains as wells as emotional distress.

We all have our crosses to bear. These pains are God's greatest graces, which so many of us neglect to embrace and in doing so, lose many of the graces offered to us. They are an opportunity for us to share in Christ’s Passion in our own way, however small and dissimilar to the agony He endured for our salvation.

4. Receive the Eucharist Worthily and Confess Your Sins

The fourth method of reducing or eliminating our time in purgatory is by making frequent reception of the sacraments of Confession and Holy Eucharist. We should confess our sins on a regular basis, not just when we have a mortal sin on our soul. Frequently confessing our sins provides us with grace to avoid those sins in the future.

We should strive to receive the Eucharist every day at mass in order to receive the graces that it bestows upon us. These graces cleanse us of our venial sins and also dispose us to avoid evil. Attending daily mass is easier for some than others due to working schedules and the availability of the sacrament, but the more we receive the Eucharist, the more graces we receive from God to live in more perfect conformity with His Will for us.

5. Ask God Specifically to Save You from Purgatory

The fifth way to avoid purgatory is to specifically pray to God for that purpose. Asking God for the grace necessary to avoid purgatory and be happy with Him in Heaven is an especially powerful method. When asking for this grace, if we do so with faith and perseverance, we will receive it. We should therefore pray daily that God will free us from purgatory. We ask God for so many other things, why not ask Him for something as important as avoiding the fires of Purgatory?

6. Resign Yourself to Your Own Death

The sixth way to avoid purgatory is by resignation to death. Pope St. Pius X granted a plenary indulgence to those who after receiving the Holy Eucharist at the hour of death, say the following prayer: “Eternal Father, from this day forward, I accept with a joyful and resigned heart the death it will please You to send me, with all its pains and sufferings.” The usual conditions of course apply to this plenary indulgence: Confession, prayer for the intentions of the Pope, and detachment from all sin. What better way to exit this life than with a “Get out of Jail Free Card” for the punishments in Purgatory.

Beyond the obvious impact of the plenary indulgence, resignation to death is something we should be living with anyway, since we will more carefully consider our actions if the reality of our own death is always present in our consciousness.

7. Receive the Anointing of the Sick (Last Rights/Extreme Unction)

The seventh means of reducing our suffering in purgatory is to receive the anointing of the sick (also known as Last Rights or Extreme Unction). This sacrament prepares us to bypass the pains of purgatory and immediately enter Heaven. We must properly prepare for the sacrament so that we can receive it while we have full use of all of our faculties. We must understand exactly what we are receiving to obtain its full graces. This is why it is important that others know of our desire to have the Anointing of the Sick when the end of our life is in sight.

8. Gain Indulgences

The final means of avoiding Purgatory is to make use of the generous indulgences that the Catholic Church has made available to us. Indulgences are specific ways to directly reduce or remove our suffering in Purgatory. There are two types of indulgence: partial and plenary. Partial indulgences remove part of the suffering due for our sins in purgatory, while plenary indulgences remove all of our due suffering. We should strive to make use of these opportunities for grace before we face the punishment of purgatory. Indulgences will be covered in the 5th article in this series.


Other articles you may like:

How Often Should Catholics Go to Confession?

Matthew 10 and a Kick in the Pants for the Soldiers of the New Evangelization

Top 10 Emotional Reasons People Don't Go to Confession and Why You Should Consider it Anyway

What is Purgatory Like? The Catholic Understanding of the Pains of Purification

clock December 8, 2012 21:59 by author John |
The Trinity with the Holy Souls in Purgatory By Corrado Giaquinto

This article is the second in a series on the Catholic understanding of Purgatory.

Part 1: Introduction to the Catholic Understanding of Purgatory
Part 2: What is Purgatory Like? The Catholic Understanding of the Pains of Purification
Part 3: How to Avoid Purgatory: 8 Specific Ways to Reduce or Eliminate Your Time in Purgatory
Part 4: How to Help the Poor Souls in Purgatory
Part 5:
Indulgences - Definition and Meaning: The God's Mercy Dispensed Through the Catholic Church

Purgatory is a place of atonement for the sins we have committed throughout our lives, for which we have not yet been satisfactorily purified. It is also the means by which any lingering attachment to sin is broken after we have completed our earthly journey. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Purgatory as “A state of final purification after death and before entrance into Heaven for those who died in God’s friendship, but were only imperfectly purified; a final cleansing of human imperfection before one is able to enter the joy of Heaven.”

How will this purification take place? There are two forms of atonement that will cleanse us of our impurities before we can enter Heaven. The first is the pain of loss and separation from the Beatific Vision. The second is the physical suffering of fire. In his "Summa Theologica", St. Thomas Aquinas describes these methods of purification:

“In Purgatory there will be a twofold pain; one will be the pain of loss, namely the delay of the divine vision, and the pain of sense, namely punishment by corporeal fire. With regard to both the least pain of Purgatory surpasses the greatest pain of this life. For the more a thing is desired the more painful is its absence. And since after this life the holy souls desire the Sovereign Good with the most intense longing--both because their longing is not held back by the weight of the body, and because, had there been no obstacle, they would already have gained the goal of enjoying the Sovereign Good--it follows that they grieve exceedingly for their delay.”

These torments are tempered only by the existence of hope within our consciousness. That glimmer of light distracting us from our anguish is the knowledge that our separation is only temporary. We know that all those in Purgatory will attain their release after their final debt has been satisfied. That thought is perhaps the only thing which separates the torments of Hell from those of Purgatory.

While hope sustains the souls in Purgatory, the source of that hope is also the source of their pains of separation. They in some way have received at least a small taste of the ultimate joy which is the experience of God’s loving embrace, whether that stems from their experiences on earth or at their particular judgment, for without knowing what they hope for, they cannot entertain hope. Without knowing what they are separated from, they cannot suffer the pain of longing for it.

The following excerpt explaining the punishment in purgatory is from the book, "Read Me or Rue it" by Fr. Paul O’Sullivan:

"How Comes it that the Pains of Purgatory are So Severe?

1. The fire we see on Earth was made by the goodness of God for our comfort and well-being. Still, when used as a torment, it is the most dreadful one we can imagine.

2. The fire of Purgatory, on the contrary, was made by the Justice of God to punish and purify us and is, therefore, incomparably more severe.

3. Our fire, at most, burns this gross body of ours, made of clay; whereas, the fire of Purgatory acts on the spiritual soul, which is unspeakably more sensitive to pain.

4. The more intense our fire is, the more speedily it destroys its victim, who therefore ceases to suffer; whereas, the fire of Purgatory inflicts the keenest, most violent pain, but never kills the soul nor lessens its sensibility.

5. Unsurpassingly severe as is the fire of Purgatory, the pain of loss or separation from God, which the souls also suffer in Purgatory, is far more severe. The soul separated from the body craves with all the intensity of its spiritual nature for God. It is consumed with an intense desire to fly to Him. Yet it is held back. No words can describe the anguish of this unsatisfied craving."

“Read Me or Rue it” is not an official Church document, and we are not bound to believe everything it says about Purgatory, however, the descriptions of Purgatory it contains are well-founded among the writings of the Church Fathers. Given these terrible images of the suffering in Purgatory, we must logically consider how we can avoid this punishment, and how we can help those who are subjected to it presently. These subjects will be discussed in the next 2 articles in this series.

Other articles you may like:

How to Make a Good Catholic Confession
What is Mortal Sin (The Catholic Definition)
What is Venial Sin (The Catholic Definition)
A World Without God is a Hell on Earth

Divine Grace and the Entitlement Mentality

clock October 25, 2012 07:46 by author John |
The Holy Spirit By Giaquinto Corrado
The Holy Spirit By Giaquinto Corrado
Grace is the result of the Holy Spirit working in our lives

In present American culture, the term “Entitlement” has a particularly strong connotation with social help programs, which provide support for many people in the lower economic rungs of our society. Many on the right side of the political spectrum associate entitlements with handouts that frequently are undeserved and wasteful. Those on the left equate entitlements with a lifeline, sustaining those who are unable to sustain themselves whether through disability or hard luck.

As humans, we are all part of a universal entitlement society, living hand-to-mouth on the Divine assistance of grace. Grace is the Divine handout, the result of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. In a sense, grace is the spiritual assistance which parallels the entitlements our government provides.

Grace is undeserved. By our nature as fallen humans who have rejected the loving plan of God from the very beginning, we could hardly fault God if He simply went along with our will of spiritual destruction. We made a choice which removed us from the relationship God intended for us. Through His perfect mercy and love for us, God did not allow us to languish and succumb to spiritual death. He intervened in our destiny, sending His Son to save us through His passion and death. He also intervened throughout our history to bring about positive outcomes to dire circumstances. Wars have been won, plagues overcome, and natural disasters averted through His loving involvement in our affairs. He has furthermore inserted good outcomes into each of our lives when surely those results were not deserved. His grace is abundant and freely given despite being utterly unmerited in due to our actions.

Grace is most often wasted by its recipients. Time and time again, Our Lord showers grace upon us and just as often, we derive some benefit from it, but after a while, we turn away from the life of grace and fall into depravity. The abundant gift of grace is forgotten, ignored and rejected more often than it is embraced and utilized. Nevertheless, God comes back to us. He gives us this gift of grace even after we have consistently rejected or squandered it.

Grace sustains us when we are unable to sustain ourselves. Without the gift of grace, we would scarcely be able to function as a society. Without the continual intervention in our lives and events, we would descend into thoroughly selfish and prideful behavior. Every time we receive an infusion of grace, we are called back from sinfulness to reestablish a loving relationship with God. You can see the good that is done when grace is given and eagerly accepted.

Grace can be refused and frequently is. The effects of rejected grace echo throughout the world. Sin is the result of the rejection of grace. Wars, terrorism, abortion, prostitution, pornography, infidelity, promiscuity, secularism, atheism, theft, greed, sloth are all the product of our fallen nature devoid of the life of grace in our soul. Just as a person living in poverty would struggle unnecessarily without public assistance, so too do we when we turn down the help of God.

Grace is necessary for our salvation and in fact for the proper functioning of our society. We can grow in holiness through the undeserved gifting of this Divine assistance. Our fallen nature at times inclines us to turn away from this grace, so it is important for us to consciously look for the infusion of grace, beg and plead God for it, accept it when it is given and build on it in order to perfect our lives and realize the end to which we are all called: Heaven.

What are the Responsibilities of a Catholic Godparent?

clock October 22, 2012 09:28 by author John |

The Baptism of Christ by RaphaelWhether you are looking for a Catholic godmother and godfather for your child, or you have been asked to be a godparent for someone else’s child, it is important to know exactly what being a godparent means. First we will cover what is expected of a godparent, and then we will cover who can be a godparent.

Responsibilities of a Catholic Godparent

1. Godparents make a profession of faith for the person to be baptized if necessary.

The first responsibility of a catholic godparent is to profess the faith in the name of the person to be baptized. This is generally the case with a child who is to be baptized, but could also be done if the person is an adult with a disability that prevents them from professing the faith themselves. Under normal circumstances, adult converts to Catholicism will profess the faith themselves. The priest will guide you through the profession of faith, asking you specific questions, to which you will reply in the affirmative. Many people think their responsibilities as a godparent end there, but they are wrong, as you will see.

2. Godparents provide spiritual guardianship for the baptized person throughout their lives

The most serious responsibility a godparent has is to make sure that the baptized person is given proper instruction in the faith, particularly when the parents neglect this duty or are otherwise unable to do so. If the parents die or become unable to teach their child the faith, it is the responsibility of the godparent to ensure that the child learns and loves the faith. Godparents are given a big task in fulfilling this duty, so they should be carefully chosen to make sure they can and will comply with this duty.

3. Godparents must provide a living example of the Catholic faith

The third important task of a Catholic godparent is to provide a living example of the Catholic faith to the baptized person. In addition to knowing the faith, they must live the faith. Their example should provide inspiration to the baptized person, not only teaching by words, but by the witness of their lives. They should follow the commands of the Church, believe its teachings, and strive to build it up.

Who can be a Catholic godfather/godmother?

The requirements for being a Catholic godparent are that the godparent:

  1. Must be baptized and have received the Eucharist
  2. Must be at least 16 years old - or there must be an exception made for a just reason
  3. Must physically hold or touch the person to be baptized – they must be present at the baptism
  4. Must not be a parent (natural or adoptive) or a spouse of the person to be baptized
  5. Must be practicing catholic, so no heretics, schismatics, or persons who have been excommunicated.
  6. "Must live a life of faith which befits the role to be undertaken". This including regular mass attendance, living in accordance with their marital state, and agreement with all of the Church's teachings.
  7. Must be 1 man and/or 1 woman. There cannot be two men or two women, three or more people, etc.
  8. Must be familiar with the faith in order to catechize the baptized person and ensure their spiritual wellbeing.
  9. Must intend to fulfill the role of the godparent
  10. Must intend to stay in regular contact with the baptized person throughout their lives

A non-Catholic person can be chosen for a "witness", but there must be at least 1 Catholic Godparent as well.

It is not a requirement of the godparents to physically adopt the baptized person if the parents die, though that is sometimes also asked of the godparents. Such a commitment should be discussed thoroughly and specifically if it is to be asked of the Godparents.

Godparents are not merely gift-givers. Giving gifts may be done at the will of the Godparents, but it is not a requirement of the role. Choosing godparents should be done based on their spiritual maturity and holiness, not their financial situation.

Godparents can be confirmation sponsors for their godchildren. This is encouraged strongly, but it is not a strict requirement. If a godparent has fallen out of a child’s life, then a separate confirmation sponsor should be chosen.


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How to Be a Good Catholic

clock October 8, 2012 19:29 by author John |

Being a good Catholic might be something you take for granted. Many times we have an inflated sense of self which causes us to assume that we are always or mostly always right. If that applies to you, (as it often does to me), then this list is for you. If you find that you are fulfilling everything on this list, then you are off to a good start in your practice of the Catholic faith. I say “good start” because it is never over until the day you stand in front of St. Peter at the pearly gates, and this list is just the basics. There are many other things which you can do to increase your faith and strengthen your relationship with God.

On the other hand, being a Catholic might be something that you are unfamiliar with. Maybe you are a recent convert to Catholicism, or maybe you haven’t started the journey yet, but you have been given the grace to seek out the Catholic faith. Maybe you are a lifelong Catholic and you just want to start living it fully. Regardless, this list should help you get a good start on that pursuit, which is a noble one.

1. Know your faith

The first step to becoming a good Catholic is to know what Catholicism is and what specifically it is that Catholics believe. There are many ways to do this including:

Study the Bible – The Bible, particularly the New Testament gives us the Word of God directly. It is important to understand the way God has interacted with us throughout the ages. This is known as salvation history. The Bible details all the works that have contributed to the salvation of the human race and each of us in particular.

Study the Catechism - The definitive source of this information is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism contains brief discussions of all the basics of the faith including what we believe, what our laws are, the sacraments, the commandments, and prayer. These are the essentials for living the Catholic faith authentically. The Catechism shows us how to interpret the truths proclaimed in the Bible in the way God intended.

While every Christian denomination (or at least most – there are some strange ones) professes to believe in the Bible, they all have a different interpretation of it. The Catholic Church has been given the assurance from Jesus that on matters of faith and morals, the teachings of the Church will always be true. Every faith has some portion of the truth, but only the Catholic Church has the fullness of the truth – all of it! The Catechism summarizes the truth as taught by the Catholic Church.

Read the lives of the saints – The Saints are our examples in holiness. They show us the way to live virtuous lives. Throughout history, holy men and women have sought God and brought many souls to Him. These people were so moved by the grace of God that we have declared them to undoubtedly be in Heaven. A great way to get to Heaven is to learn how other people have done it in the past and follow their example.

Study the writings of the great theologians. There is an incomprehensible quantity of writing that has been compiled over the centuries since Jesus walked the earth. While Jesus revealed everything necessary for our salvation, our understanding of that revelation can grow and bring us important insights to help us on the faith journey. When choosing a theologian to study, make sure they are approved by the Catholic Church. There are many who claim to be theologians, but they can lead us astray when their writings contradict the teachings of the Church. Look for a Nihil Obstat and an Imprimatur on a book before reading it. These are designations that nothing in the book contradicts the faith.

2. Participate in the life of the Church

Go to church. Attend prayer meetings or study groups. Go to Eucharistic Adoration. Volunteer to teach others through a religious education program or help someone come into the Church in the RCIA program. You can help the poor or visit the elderly in a nursing home with your parish group. There are many ways to participate in the life of the Church. Just as “Iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17), we can strengthen each other through our mutual efforts and inspiration.

Being a member of the Church requires more than just going to mass on Sundays. Though mass is a requirement, you will find that participating in some activities outside of mass to build up the Kingdom of God brings an emotional and personal encounter with the faith in a way that purely academic endeavors cannot.

Even more importantly, participate in the sacraments. Confess your sins and be free of the burden that those sins place on you. Receive the Eucharist worthily. participation in the sacraments gives you tremendous grace, which helps us to live a holy and exemplary life.

3. Follow the laws of the Church

If you want to call yourself a Catholic you need to act like one. The Church has provided for us a set of laws that must be followed in order to maintain our proper standing in the Church. These are summarized in the 10 Commandments of the Old Testament and by the precepts of the Church.

The 10 commandments are very basic in their common form. The 10 sentences to which you may be accustomed are not the whole story. The Catholic Church has given us guidelines around the 10 commandments to help us maintain a good relationship with Christ.

The precepts of the Catholic Church are laws established to help us identify the minimum requirements to consider yourself a practicing Catholic. These laws include going to mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation, confessing your sins at least once a year, receiving the Eucharist at least during the Easter Season, performing the necessary acts of fasting and abstinence, and providing for the needs of the Church. Just as you would be out of place calling yourself a soldier in the army if you refused to wear the uniform and went missing from your unit, you would be out of place calling yourself a Catholic if you do not abide by the precepts of the Church.

You can go through a thorough examination of conscience in order to help you form your conscience and determine where your shortcomings are in relation to the commandments and precepts of the Church.

4. Pray

Prayer is the way we communicate with God. There are various prayers that have been prepared for us such as the Our Father and Hail Mary. Here is a list of standard prayers that will give you a good start in your prayer life. Beyond the standard prayers, we should strive to have a personal relationship with God. Just as you have to talk to your friends to maintain a relationship, so too you have to talk to God to maintain the relationship. You should talk to God in a personal way (making sure to be respectful). Let Him know your needs and desires, your concerns, your love for Him, and your gratitude for His many blessings in your life.

5. Practice the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy

The 7 corporal works of mercy and 7 spiritual works of mercy are the actions by which we can show mercy for others. The corporal works of mercy are ways in which we can provide for the physical needs of others. The spiritual works of mercy are the ways in which you can provide for the spiritual needs of others. These works are not simply suggestions. They are what we are required to do. We are called to help the poor, the lonely, and the hungry. We are also called to instruct the ignorant and admonish the sinner. In doing these things, we can help build the Kingdom of God; making lives better, giving people comfort and strength. Perhaps the most important part of these works of mercy is the opportunity to bring the faith to others. We are all called to evangelize - to spread the faith. We can do this through our words, but the most effective way is through our actions.

What is the Year of Faith?

clock October 6, 2012 18:30 by author John |

The Holy Father Benedict XVI

The Year of Faith Explained

The first thing to know about the Year of Faith is that it is actually more than a year, lasting from Oct. 11, 2012 to Nov. 24, 2013. Pope Benedict XVI issued an Apostolic Letter on October 11, 2011, entitled “Porta Fidei” in which he declared that a "Year of Faith" will begin on October 11, 2012 and conclude on November 24, 2013.  October 11, 2012, is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Vatican II and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. November 24th is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King. The Pope begins his Letter in this way:

The “door of faith” (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. – Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei

How to Participate in the Year of Faith

Grow in your faith – In his apostolic letter, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the need to enrich your faith through the study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There are 2865 paragraphs in the Catechism. Evenly distributed, that comes to about 8 paragraphs every day of the calendar year (365 days) or 7 paragraphs every day of the full year of faith (410 days). I will be creating a blog post each day of the year of faith with quotes from the Catechism and additional commentary on the subjects covered in the Catechism paragraphs for that day. I will try to go through the Catechism in a calendar year and focus on other Church documents and teachings for the remaining days of the Year of Faith.

In addition to the Catechism, the Holy Father emphasized the study of the history of the Church. Throughout the ages, holy men and women of the Church have labored tirelessly building the Kingdom of God on Earth, traveling great distances to preach, exhorting the lukewarm, rebuking sinners, and proclaiming the name of Christ in the darkest of times, even if it meant the spilling of their blood. We can draw tremendous inspiration from their witness. Pope Benedict puts it this way:

One thing that will be of decisive importance in this Year is retracing the history of our faith, marked as it is by the unfathomable mystery of the interweaving of holiness and sin. While the former highlights the great contribution that men and women have made to the growth and development of the community through the witness of their lives, the latter must provoke in each person a sincere and continuing work of conversion in order to experience the mercy of the Father which is held out to everyone.

Provide a witness to the Faith - The Holy Father asks us to bring Christ to others by providing a virtuous witness of our faith:

The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us.

The first aspect of this witness is that we are called to conversion. True witness of the faith can only be accomplished by first ridding ourselves of attachment to sin and by renewing our relationship with God. This is done through participation in the sacraments. Confess your sins and receive Our Lord in the Eucharist in order to enjoy the graces God showers upon you.

The second aspect of this witness is to bring Christ to others. We should provide an example of a virtuous life and when possible, lead others to Christ with gentle guidance and education in the ways of the faith. The Pope calls us to “make a public profession of the Credo”, meaning to profess our beliefs in the public square, not only in private or in Church.

What is the Hypostatic Union? (The Catholic Meaning)

clock October 4, 2012 14:08 by author John |

Basic definition of the Hypostatic Union

The Hypostatic union is a dogma of the Catholic Church. It refers to the two natures of Christ. These natures are the Divine and human which are united in one incarnated person, Jesus.

The term comes from the word Hypostasis, which means, that which lies beneath as basis or foundation. Hypostasis denotes reality as distinguished from appearances. It denotes an actual, concrete existence. Before the Council of Nicæa (325) hypostasis was synonymous with ousia (roughly meaning “being” in English). The distinction between them developed in the Church as the various heresies about Christ emerged and were debated. It was definitively established by the Council of Chalcedon (451), which declared that in Christ the two natures, each retaining its own properties, are united in one subsistence and one person. They are not joined in a moral or accidental union (as Nestorius asserted), nor commingled (as Eutyches asserted), and nevertheless they are substantially united.

Biblical Basis for the Hypostatic Union

In the first chapter of John, we have a solid basis for the understanding of the Incarnation of Christ, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). In verse 14, we hear about the incarnation of Jesus: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).

In Philippians 2:6-7, St. Paul writes about the natures of Christ: “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance”

Acts 3:15 gives us some perspective on the relationship between the human and Divine natures of Christ, “But the author of life you killed, whom God has raised from the dead: of which we are witnesses”. If Christ was killed, he must have had a human nature. He could not have been killed had he not been human, as Tertullian argues later on.

In Colossians 2:9, St. Paul tells writes, “For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity-bodily”. Paul refers to both the human and Divine natures.

The Hypostatic Union in the Early Church

The early forms of the creed all make profession of faith, not "in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, Who became Man for us and was crucified" (Denzinger’s “Enchiridion”). These creeds express the 2 natures of Christ: God and man.

In his work, “Ancoratus” (the well anchored man), which includes arguments against Arianism and the teachings of Origen, Epiphanius of Salamis (? - 403) contends that even before the heresies of Nestorius, the Oriental Church proposed to catechumens a creed that was more detailed than that proposed to the faithful. This creed contained the following: "We believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of God the Father . . . that is, of the substance of the Father . . . in Him Who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made Flesh, that is, was perfectly begotten of Mary ever Virgin by the Holy Spirit; Who became Man, that is, took perfect human nature, soul and body and mind and all whatsoever is human save only sin, without the seed of man; not in another man, but unto himself did He form Flesh into one holy unity [eis mian hagian henoteta]; not as He breathed and spoke and wrought in the prophets, but He became Man perfectly; for the Word was made Flesh, not in that It underwent a change nor in that It exchanged Its Divinity for humanity, but in that It united Its Flesh unto Its one holy totality and Divinity.”

The ante-Nicaean Fathers expressed the belief in the union of the two natures of Christ. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, “There is only one physician — of flesh yet spiritual, born yet unbegotten, God incarnate, genuine life in the midst of death, sprung from Mary as well as God, first subject to suffering then beyond it — Jesus Christ our Lord.” St. Justin the Martyr wrote, "Since the Word is the first-born of God, He is also God"

Melito, Bishop of Sardis (about 176), wrote: "Since the same (Christ) was at the same time God and perfect Man, He made His two natures evident to us; His Divine nature by the miracles which He wrought during the three years after His baptism; His human nature by those thirty years that He first lived, during which the lowliness of the Flesh covered over and hid away all signs of the Divinity, though He was at one and the same time true and everlasting God"

St. Irenæus, contends that: "If one person suffered and another Person remained incapable of suffering; if one person was born and another Person came down upon him that was born and thereafter left him, not one person but two are proven . . . whereas the Apostle knew one only Who was born and Who suffered" Tertullian also strongly argued for Christ's two natures: "Was not God really crucified? Did He not really die as He really was crucified?"


Drum, Walter. "The Incarnation." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 4 Oct. 2012 <>.
Pace, Edward. "Hypostatic Union." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 4 Oct. 2012 <>.