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.

Resources For Learning More About Catholic Indulgences

Recently,  I answered a reader’s question about indulgences. There are a lot of misconceptions about indulgences, even among faithful Catholics; thus, for those looking to go deeper into their understanding of this tenet of faith,  I thought I would share some further resources that do a good job explaining everything a Catholic should know about indulgences.

Resources for learning more about Cathoic Indulgences

1. Catechism of the Catholic Church (scroll down to article 1471-1479)

2. New Advent (does a good job explaining what indulgences are not)

3. Catholic Answers (debunks the usual myths about indulgences)

4. Catholic Online (introduction to indulgences)

5. Our Catholic Faith (general information)

6. Catholic Answers forum (A good discussion about indulgences)

7. Catholic City (simplified version of the catechism articles on indulgences)

I hope that these resources are helpful and give you a better understanding of the place of indulgences in our Catholic faith. Even more importantly, I pray that these resources will inspire your faith and they encourage you to gain indulgences so that you will grow ever closer to our Lord. (Just remember, indulgences can’t buy you into heaven!)


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What are Indulgences in the Catholic Faith?

*I recently discussed why there is Purgatory. During my discussion, I mentioned that we can help the Souls in Purgatory by our prayers. Another way we can help us is through indulgences which I discuss in this re-post.

What are Indulgences in the Catholic Faith

One of my readers, Yiessa, asked me to “discuss the meaning of indulgences in the Catholic faith.” This is a good topic and a teaching of the Church that is sorely misunderstood by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

What is an indulgence?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic church (scroll down to article 1471):

An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporary 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 applied with authority the treasury of the satisfaction of Christ and the saints.

What does this mean? Let me see if I can explain it In layman’s terms, in the way it was explained to me by the sisters: When we go to the Sacrament of Confession and receive absolution our sins are forgiven and we are freed from the guilt of said sin; however, the effect of sin still remains on our soul, like a stain on our soul, if you will. This stain must be purified before we can be with God in heaven. When we “gain an indulgence” then that stain on our soul is either partially or completely taken away.

Does that make sense? Let me use an analogy with my son as an example. When my son breaks a house rule, such as have a temper tantrum or disobeys me, when he is remorseful and says sorry I forgive him. However, there is still a consequence for his actions. He goes in timeout or loses a privilege to “make satisfaction” for his bad behavior. As far as sin goes, sins have consequences and even though we are sorry and forgiven for our sin we still have to face the consequences of our actions – which is what “temporal punishment due to sin” means above. We go to purgatory to be purified and “make satisfaction” for the effects or stains of sin on our souls. When we perform the acts of indulgence it is as if we are making satisfaction here on earth as opposed to doing so in purgatory.

You see, God is all perfect and all holy. All that is not perfect and holy cannot enter heaven. When we die in the state of grace but still have the “remains” or “stain” of sin on our souls we go to purgatory to be purified before entering the full glory of heaven. Through the grace of Christ, and through the authority of the church, when we gain indulgences we have the opportunity to have some or all of the stains removed from our souls so that we can either lessen our time in purgatory or bypass purgatory all together.

What indulgences are not…

The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia gives a good explanation of what an indulgence is not. It says,

To facilitate explanation, it may be well to state what an indulgence is not. It is not a permission to commit sin, nor a pardon of future sin; neither could be granted by any power. It is not the forgiveness of the guilt of sin; it supposes that the sin has already been forgiven. It is not an exemption from any law or duty, and much less from the obligation consequent on certain kinds of sin, e.g., restitution; on the contrary, it means a more complete payment of the debt which the sinner owes to God. It does not confer immunity from temptation or remove the possibility of subsequent lapses into sin. Least of all is an indulgence the purchase of a pardon which secures the buyer’s salvation or releases the soul of another from Purgatory. The absurdity of such notions must be obvious to any one who forms a correct idea of what the Catholic Church really teaches on this subject.”

In other words, a person can’t buy their way out of purgatory through indulgences, a person can’t have his or her sin forgiven with indulgences and a person can’t use indulgences as an excuse for sin: “Oh it doesn’t matter if I do ____. I can just get an indulgence and wipe it away.”

Indulgences are a gift that God has given us, through the authority of the Church, to help us on our road to heaven. It is meant to help us prepare our souls to be in the presence of the eternal and all holy Trinity. We should make use of this gift as often as we can!

I hope this helps. To read more about indulgences and help you deepen your understanding of them, next week I will post several links for further reading. And in another post after that, I will explain the difference between partial and plenary indulgences and the requirements for receiving an indulgence.


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