The Difference Between Partial and Plenary Indulgences

Over the last few blog posts, I have discussed why there is Purgatory, what Indulgences are and I have offered some resources to help you learn more about them. In today’s post, I am going to briefly explain the differences between partial indulgences and plenary indulgences.

Diffrence Between Partial and Plenary Indulgences

The difference is actually very simple.  According to

“An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin” (Indulgentarium Doctrina 2, 3). Only God knows exactly how efficacious any particular partial indulgence is or whether a plenary indulgence was received at all.”

In other words, partial indulgences remit part of the temporal punishment due to sin and plenary indulgences remit all of the temporal punishment due to sin. (Years ago, there used to be a time attached to certain prayers or acts [such as 3 years for saying a certain prayer] but the Church no longer attached a time to partial indulgences.)

How to “gain” a partial or plenary indulgence?

Gaining a partial indulgence is rather easy. The only requirements are to be in the state of grace (which means to be free from mortal sin), to have the intention to gain the indulgence and finally to perform the actual act (say the prayer, make the sign of the cross, etc). A person can receive partial indulgences several times a day.

Gaining a plenary indulgence is a bit more involved. The requirements are five-fold:

  1.  You must receive the Sacrament of Confession a few days before or after the plenary indulgences.
  2.  You must have the intention of gaining the indulgence.
  3.  Say a prayer for the Pope. Any prayer will do but traditionally the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be is said.
  4.  Do the actual act or prayer of the indulgence.
  5.  Be free from the attachment to sin, mortal or venial.

Only one plenary indulgence can be gained a day. (FYI, if you go to confession once a week then you automatically fulfill the confession requirement.) Also, if the requirements are not met then the indulgence becomes a partial indulgence.

Indulgenced Prayers

Here is a list of links that also explain indulgences and have prayers that impart a partial or plenary indulgences. There are many other prayers that offer at least a partial indulgence, such as making the sign of the cross. If you have a prayer you love you can easily look it up to see if there is an indulgence attached to it. In fact, here is a free online version of the Handbook of Indulgences.*


Prayers for Reparation

The Raccolata

Keeping it Catholic

I hope you have a better understanding of indulgences now. Indulgences can be a great help in our spiritual life.


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*The older copies of the Handbook do include the time ranges that I wrote about above. The new versions do not include those time ranges.


  1. Rick Zabala says

    I reviewed the Handbook of Indulgences. It looks like it was written by a corporate law firm. I really wish there could be a much sorter virsion for a general church goer or parishioner. maybe a short pamphlet.

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