Friday, November 11, 2011

How indulgences are offered for the dead

Throughout the month of November (and especially in the first eight days) the Church encourages her faithful children to offer indulgences on behalf of the poor souls in purgatory. Pope Paul VI states that this is a great work of charity and helps us to grow further in charity and in communion with the Church (cf. apostolic constitution, Indulgentiarum doctrina).
Still, we might wonder how it is that an indulgence can be applied to the holy souls. Since the Church on earth has no jurisdiction over the souls in purgatory, how can she provide an indulgence to ease their sufferings?

What is an indulgence?
“An indulgence is the remission before God of the temporal punishment due sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned, which the follower of Christ with the proper dispositions and under certain determined conditions acquires through the intervention of the Church which, as minister of the Redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of the satisfaction won by Christ and the saints.” (Paul VI, Indulgentiarum doctrina, norm 1)
The doctrine of indulgences is the affirmation of the communion of the saints and of all the members of the Church. Precisely because the Church is the one body of Christ, and each member is united to every other, the merits acquired by one are able to be applied to another. Most especially, the merits of Christ and of the saints can be shared in by all the members of the mystical body.
Communion with the Church makes a real difference in the world and in the spiritual life – the doctrine of indulgences is nothing more than the practical application of this point. If I am united (through the Church) with St. Thomas Aquinas, then I will be able to share in the graces which St. Thomas merited and offered to the Church for the sanctification of her children. And if this is true of the saints, how much more of Christ!
How does the Church grant indulgences?
The Church is able to grant indulgences on account of the fact that the saints have offered their lives and all their good works (principally, for the glory of God, but also) for the salvation of souls through the growth and sanctification of the Church. The granting of indulgences comes from the power of the keys, which is to say that it is not only a matter of sacramental power, but also a matter of jurisdiction.
Hence, while all priests can forgive sins through the sacrament of confession, not all priests (in fact, only bishops) can grant indulgences. Further, even bishops have a limited power when it comes to indulgences, since they do not have authority over the whole Church but only over their own diocese. Thus, the Holy Father has supreme control over all indulgences, while local bishops have a somewhat limited ability to grant indulgences as well.
We must recognize that an indulgence is more than simply a prayer – in addition to the prayer of the individual, the Church herself adds further merits (those of Christ and the saints). Now, our Mother the Church can only grant the additional merits of an indulgence to those over whom she exercises the power of the keys. Hence, only those who are visibly united with the Church are able to receive indulgences.
A problem arises, however, when we consider after what manner indulgences may be offered for the poor souls in purgatory – they are no longer under the power of the keys as exercised by the Pope, and yet we are still able to offer indulgences in their behalf.
Indulgences for the poor souls, by mode of suffrage
When the Church grants an indulgence to the living, it is made per modum absolutionis (by the mode of absolution). What we mean here is not that the indulgence is itself the absolution of sin, but rather that the granting of the remission of the temporal punishment of sin through the indulgence is effected through the same juridical power by which the Church forgives sin. Stated most simply: When she gives an indulgence to the living, it is through the fact that the Church is able to forgive their sins.
However, it is obvious that the Church cannot grant indulgences to the poor souls in purgatory per modum absolutionis, because she has no power to absolve the dead! Rather, the Church teaches that indulgences are granted to the dead per modum suffragii (by means of intercession). Indulgences for the dead, then, are not applied to the poor souls directly (by means of absolution), but only indirectly (by means of supplication).
While we are certain that, if the soul be in purgatory, the indulgence will be granted by God according to the prayer of the Church; it is good to recognize this difference between the way in which indulgences are applied to the living and to the dead.
Why this an important point
At one time, there was some controversy over whether or not it was necessary to be in the state of grace in order to gain an indulgence for the dead. While it is obvious that, to gain an indulgence for oneself, the state of grace is required; it was not quite so clear whether the same holds for indulgences gained for the dead.
Some theologians (including Suarez) held that one need not be in the state of grace, but could even be in mortal sin when gaining an indulgence for the dead. In the 15th century, this point was further obscured by certain theologians (especially Gabriel Biel) who held that the Pope exercised juridical authority over the souls in purgatory.
If the Pope was able to directly exercise the power of the keys over the poor souls, then he could grant indulgences to them per modum absolutionis, rather than according to the mode of suffrage and prayer. However, if indulgences can be granted to the dead by way of “absolution”, then it is not at all clear that the living person gaining the indulgence would need to be in the state of grace – the indulgence would no longer rest on the prayer of the individual performing the indulgenced work, but would rather rest upon the authoritative and legal power of the Pope. It was this errant theology which led some to believe that it was possible for people to purchase indulgences for the dead, without being in the state of grace or offering any authentic prayers.
Precisely because indulgences offered in behalf of the dead are offered by way of suffrage, it is necessary for the living individual to be in the state of grace when gaining the indulgence – since the offering of the indulgence rests upon the friendship with God which is gained through sanctifying grace. If we wish to apply an indulgence in behalf of the dead, we must pray well and unite our prayer to the prayer of the Church that it may be acceptable to God.


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Wow. That is truly a fantastic and easily understood explanation of this much-neglected truth.

You are a real treasure for the Catholic Church, Father.

Kudos Kudos, Kudos. Amen; and may God Bless and Keep you

A Sinner said...

Of course, if the Pope did have jurisdiction over Purgatory, he could simply empty it ala Martin Luther's misguided complaint, so clearly they are offered "only" by way of suffrage.

However, I'm not as certain why the Church's lack of such jurisdiction implies the need of the State of Grace. Was this ever definitively declared by some magisterial decree?

It seems to me that while prayers not in the State of Grace cannot be meritorious or have any intrinsic satisfactory value, nevertheless they can be movements of actual grace and have supplicatory value before God.

And if the prayer when offering an indulgence by way of suffrage for the poor souls is NOT that God take MY merit or supererogatory satisfaction, but rather that He take that of Christ or the Saints as offered by the is unclear to me why this supplication would necessarily not work.

Surely even if I am in mortal sin, the Church is not, and surely She still has jurisdiction over me, and likewise my prayers may be movements of actual grace or be of gratuitous supplicatory effect on God's part.

It is unclear to me, then, why (myself being under the Church's jurisdiction still) the Church could not grant me an indulgence that, even though it would not benefit me personally in a state of mortal sin, I could supplicate (as a movement of actual grace) God to take instead for a soul in purgatory which it COULD benefit.

Anonymous said...

Along a similar thought....can a person make, say, a Sacred Heart Devotion for another person (still living)?



Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
I tried to respond to your comment earlier ... but I see that I must not have done so properly (since my response did not appear).

First, "no", there has been no definitive magisterial statement ... theologians are free to disagree.
Still, the current norms for indulgences require that the individual be in the state of grace ... and this is some indication.

Second, the reason why one would have to be in the state of grace in order to offer an indulgence through suffrage is that prayers are pleasing only insofar as the individual is united to God by friendship.
And one is a friend of God only if he is in the state of grace. Hence, as Scripture says, "God does not hear the prayer of sinners".

Yes, actual graces can lead a man to conversion (from mortal sin into the state of grace) ... but it does not seem that he can benefit another until after he himself is in grace, and a friend of God.

Still, as you say, the point is open to debate ... and it is extremely complex.

Thanks for the comment! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It depends what you mean by "Make a Sacred Heart Devotion for another" ... who is still living.

If you mean, offer prayers for his conversion ... yes! Most certainly, we can merit (de condigno ... by friendship with God) the conversion of others ... so long as we are in the state of grace ourselves.

If you mean, offer prayers in the place of another, as though they offered the prayers themselves ... no. Each must have his own charity.

Also, under the current norms, one is not permitted to offer indulgences for others who are living -- however, this is only the current practice and could (theoretically) change in the future (as it has changed from the past).

Peace to you ... thanks for the question ... I hope it is clearer now! +

Stomachosus said...

Father, you stated

"Most certainly, we can merit (de condigno ... by friendship with God) the conversion of other"

Did you mean to state de congruo rather than de condigno? It was my understanding that we can only merit de condigno (broadly taken) an increase of charity, reward in heaven and heaven but through merit strictly de congruo the conversion of another

That is certainly what Ott presents (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 267-269 TAN) as well as Prümmer, OP (Manuale Theologiæ Moralis, Vol. I pp 92-97) and Jone, OFM and Tanquery as well in their works.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thank you! Yes, of course. I meant to say "de congruo", but was typing too quickly.
Thanks for the correction! +
[also, thank you for the citations from Ott and Prummer]

A Sinner said...

The ultimate result of this would seem to be something along the lines of "Don't bother praying if you're not in a state of grace"...which surely goes against the whole instinct of our whole Church and tradition.

True, in a state of mortal sin you cannot merit (an increase in charity, heavenly glory, etc), nor make any satisfaction for sin.

But the supplicatory effect of prayer (ie, asking God to do something externally) wouldn't seem to depend on state of grace. As that is already "at God's discretion," in other words, God doesn't always do what we ask for if it's not His Will (though, it may still be good to ask for a good thing, and He may arrange things providentially so that our prayer truly can be accounted as causal.)

And tradition doesn't indicate anything like "God only grants the requests of the Just" when it comes to this sort of supplication. Nor that the only requests granted to mortal sinners are requests for repentance, confession, etc.

Meriting by prayer, and having a request granted, seem two different sorts of questions. Having "external" requests possibly granted, and offering indulgences by way of suffrage to purgatory, both seem to be things that we do not merit a response to on God's part, they are both "at His discretion" as it were, we're just asking.

And unless you'd recommend as sensible an attitude like "Don't bother praying in mortal sin" I don't see why praying for the repose of the dead would be any less effective in such a state than praying (an actual grace) for a sick friend's healing, for the grace of repentance, etc

Except for a Church-imposed requirement that an indulgence simply won't even be granted to a person who is not in a State of grace, I'm not sure why the Church can't make a grant of such merits to the mortal sinner who then prays, "Oh, God, this indulgence can't help me personally, but maybe take it for purgatory instead?"

Indeed, the origin of indulgences is in the libelli pacis the martyrs gave to apostates, and on account of some of these libelli Cyprian and other bishops let them back into the Church with less penance. Yet they were granted by the martyrs BEFORE the apostates were absolved, and simply "applied" by the bishop, as it were, after they were absolved, yet absolved only in consideration of the fact that they already possessed the libelli!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
I thought I was fairly clear: Prayer in the state of mortal sin can be valuable for the individual (actual graces can work in him).

However, in order for my prayer to help you, I must be a friend of God - such that the Lord receives my prayer as his friend and then aids you on behalf of that friendship.

So there is no danger of falling into the idea of "don't bother praying if your in mortal sin".

What does go against the instinct of our whole tradition is the idea that one in mortal sin can gain an indulgence for a soul in purgatory ... Suarez and Biel are about the only well-known theologians who held that position, and neither of them are saints (indeed, those two men can be largely credited with the corrosion of theology which led to the protestant revolt).

Still, it is an open issue ... but don't accuse me of rejecting the Church's tradition.

A Sinner said...

Okay, then what you say amounts to "Don't bother praying for anyone but yourself in a state of mortal sin."

If you're saying the tradition of the Church is that the only thing someone outside a state of grace can pray for effectively is to be restored to the state of grace...well, I've never heard that before.

In fact, it seems to me, there are many stories of a hardened sinner in a desperate moment praying something like, "O Lord, if you'll heal my dying son, I'll turn my life around" and then God granting the favor and the sinner repenting and turning his life around on that account.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

A Sinner,
Even in the example you gave, God answered the prayer in order to bring the man into the state of grace.

One in mortal sin is not a friend of God, but prayer is answered on account of our friendship with God ... hence, I cannot see how prayer would be efficacious unless it is rooted in divine friendship.

As far the the tradition: ST I-II, q.114, a.6 (and also the articles before and after) --

Hope that helps, I know it is complex! (and surely, I am not always very clear in my explanations) +

Neo said...

Would you mind if I ask you a simple question ?
Within the conditions to obtain an indulgence, there's one I don't perfectly understand : to pray for the intentions of the pope.
What does it mean ? I until now didn't manage to find an answer. Is it : to pray for the physical, mental and spiritual health, ie the good, of the pope ? Or is it : to pray for what the pope does pray for ? (and the monthly intentions released by the Holy See could be and indication thereof)
Thank you very much for your answer to this very humble question.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Good question - I will give my best answer (which is nevertheless only provisional).

It is required not simply that we pray for the Pope, but that we "pray for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff" -- and this leads me to think that we are praying for his intentions (in addition to his own well-being).

The prayer for his intentions is meant to be an expression of filial devotion for the Holy Father - and thus, his intentions become our intentions through the common bond of charity (which unites our will to his).

Peace! +

Ken said...

Dear Fauther Brian My friend Lauren died in a carr accsident which, corect me if I'm wrong, is not under the catigory of a nateral death because of her acctions that night, she was drunk. is she intitled to an indoljense? Yours in Christ, Ken

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