Fr Richard Ballard, the Parochial Vicar at Our Lady of the Rosary has written the most beautiful and complete explanation of the indulgences being offered by Holy Mother Church at this tribulation for the whole world. This is written by a man I am honored to call my best friend. A former Lutheran pastor with 25 years experience, numerous graduate degrees and a caring heart–a convert who gave up so much to become a Catholic,  he explains a difficult to understand tradition of the church with simplicity, charm and compassion. I should say he does so while so many fellow Catholics dismiss the concept of indulgences as so much superstitious medieval malarky.

I encourage you to read it and share widely. It gives much comfort for so many who are in fear at this time.

Pope Francis has announced that he will give an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing on Friday, March 27 at 6 p.m., [Rome time] with the opportunity for Catholics to receive a plenary indulgence by tuning in via media. Urbi et Orbi means “To the City [of Rome] and to the World.” In order to receive the indulgence, the faithful must be present through live participation via television or radio broadcasts, or through other live streaming media, while the Pope is offering the blessing. The time when we should tune in for this blessing on the east coast (Eastern Time Zone) is 1:00 p.m.

In addition to this special opportunity, the Apostolic Penitentiary, with the approval of the Holy Father, has also granted additional opportunities to receive plenary indulgences during this time of pestilence. A full explanation of the requirements to receive these spiritual benefits will be given at the end of this article.

Why is this important, and why would we want to obtain indulgences?

I would suspect that most all of us will depart this life with some unfinished business, spiritually speaking. Even if we die in the state of grace in friendship with God, we likely will still have some imperfections that we were unable to overcome during our lifetime. All these sorts of faults will require purification in Purgatory after we die before our sanctification is complete.

Moreover, even though we die in the state of grace, and through the sacrifice of Christ have been forgiven the eternal punishment in hell that our sins rightly deserved, there may still remain the temporal punishment due our sins. What is temporal punishment? The word “temporal” means “time.” Put very simply, temporal punishment is the suffering in this life “in time” that we may experience due to the consequences that flow from our sins. This, too, must be completed in Purgatory.

An imperfect, though perhaps helpful, illustration of temporal punishment might be the following. Imagine a child playing in her mother’s flower garden. The beautiful flowers are filled with honeybees from a nearby hive gathering nectar. The mother has told the child repeatedly not to bother the bees, not to touch them, or try to pick them up, because they could sting and hurt her. But the child is headstrong and determined and thinks she knows better than her mother about honeybees. So she decides to pick up a bee that is resting on a flower and the bee stings her. The child cries out in pain and runs to her mother with tears streaming down her face. Of course, the mother removes the stinger, forgives the child’s disobedience and consoles her, but that doesn’t take away the hurt, swelling, and itching resulting from the sting. The child still has to “pay the piper,” so to speak, and suffer the pain that is a consequence of her disobedience. Temporal punishment for sin is similar to this.

There are, however, opportunities in this life that can be accessed by the faithful before we die in order to lessen the degree of satisfaction that will be required of us in Purgatory. Through uniting our penitential efforts and good works, our prayers, our charity, and our sufferings patiently endured to the sufferings of Christ, and with him, offering these up to God, we are enabled by his grace to satisfy in this earthly life—at least in part—the temporal punishment that we would otherwise fulfill in Purgatory.

In addition to doing penance, the Church also offers us the opportunity to obtain indulgences that can also lessen the degree of satisfaction for temporal punishment that we may have to experience in Purgatory. By means of the authority that Christ gave his Church (to St. Peter, the apostles, and their successors) in the “power of the keys,” the power to “lose and bind,” and the power to “forgive and retain sins” (Matt. 16:19; 18:18; John 20:23), the Church has the ability to confer the satisfactions from the treasury of the merits of Christ and his Saints upon the faithful for their sanctification. The Church does this by means of granting indulgences that are declarations of the lessening of all or part (plenary indulgences or partial indulgences) of the temporal punishments due an individual’s sin. Indulgences are granted after the person seeking them performs the particular prescribed acts of penance, prayer, devotion, good works, charity, and the like to which the promised indulgence has been attached. The Catechism says that an indulgence is “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven,” which the Church, “as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”

Indulgences can be obtained not only for a living person’s particular benefit, but also for the benefit of the holy Souls in Purgatory, according to the intention of the individual receiving the indulgence.

In addition to the special Urbi et Orbi opportunity on March 27, the Apostolic Penitentiary has granted the possibility of receiving a plenary indulgence once per day to all “the faithful affected by the Covid-19 disease, as well as to health workers, family members and all those who, for whatever reason, even with prayer, take care of them.” The full text of the decree is included at the end of this article.

For both the Urbi et Orbi blessing, and the special indulgences granted during this time of the coronavirus, the following requirements are in effect for obtaining an indulgence:

• be detached from all sin, even venial, otherwise the indulgence is only partial;

• undertake at least one one of the following spiritual good works: spiritually unite through the media to the celebration of the Holy Mass; recitation of the Holy Rosary; the pious practice of the Via Crucis [Way of the Cross] or other forms of devotion; or at least recite the Creed, the Our Father and a pious invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary; make a visit (where possible) to the Blessed Sacrament; undertake Eucharistic adoration (where possible), or the reading of the Holy Scriptures for at least half an hour; recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy;

• when undertaking any of the good works mentioned above, “implore from Almighty God the cessation of the epidemic, relief for those who are afflicted and eternal salvation of” those who have died;

• have the intention to fulfill as soon as it is possible the usual obligations of sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion, and prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father.

I trust that this explanation of the special opportunity to receive indulgences during this time of the COVID 19 pandemic has been helpful.

May the LORD of all mercies grant a swift end to this pandemic, protection of the vulnerable, healing of all who are ill from it, and blessed repose for those who have died. Please know that all of you are in my prayers, and let us remember to pray for each other often.

You can read the official decree from the Vatican here.