Paul Moore: I beg your indulgence while I research the church’s plenary process
In My Father’s House / Paul Moore
My wife and I recently went through the process to receive a plenary indulgence for Divine Mercy Sunday in April. We did the prescribed things: confession, Communion, and in a spirit (we pray) that was “completely detached from sin,” recited the Our Father, the Creed, and the invocation, “Merciful Jesus, I trust in you,” in front of the Blessed Sacrament in His tabernacle.
Catholics believe that our sins are forgiven in confession, but for most of us, our souls are still partially weighed down, suspended between earth and Heaven, like half-filled helium balloons.
It’s a theological oversimplification, but if we die in this half-ascended state, we’re in Purgatory. As an analogy, imagine kids playing ball and accidentally breaking a neighbor’s window. The neighbor forgives the kids for the uninvited ball bouncing off their dining room table, but there’s still the matter of getting the window fixed. That debt might be settled by the kids mowing the neighbor’s lawn or raking leaves.
Some say the Church has a ridiculous number of rules, but I say she is even more ridiculously merciful.
In the same way, we receive God’s forgiveness through confession, but the unbalanced account resulting from breaking our covenant with Him must still be squared. That’s where Purgatory comes in. From here, we can figuratively “look over the fence” and see how wonderful Heaven is, but we have to pay the price of purifying patience before we can enter.
However, with the gift of a plenary indulgence — and make no mistake, a plenary indulgence is a gift — all that changes.
Through this process, I borrow from the merits and suffering of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the Communion of Saints to settle the debt for my past sins. As Jesus said, “Others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.” (John 4:38)
Until now, the plenary process has always been a bit of a mystery for me. This time, I did a little research, and it was even more miraculous than I had suspected: with a plenary indulgence enacted in good faith, we receive total remission of the just punishment due for past sins. That means no Purgatory at all.
I told my wife about this “total” remission, and I could see that she was a little surprised, too. It’s probably down to the fact that most of us don’t understand that the word “plenary” means complete . . . as in absolute, unqualified, unrestricted, full and entire.
There’s something else most of us probably don’t understand. We just can’t comprehend that level of mercy. Among the saints who have given of themselves to release others from Purgatory is Mother Teresa. “I can’t bear being photographed, but I make use of everything for the glory of God. When I allow a person to take a photograph, I tell Jesus to take one soul out of Purgatory and into Heaven,” she said.
Some say the Church has a ridiculous number of rules, but I say she is even more ridiculously merciful. We are taught to turn the other cheek, forgive not seven times but 70, and that only the one who has not sinned may cast the first stone.
Would the world forgive a criminal for a lifetime of sin in an instant, as the Lord did when He forgave the Good Thief who stole Heaven from the Cross by saying, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”? (Luke 23:43)
We talk as if it’s God’s judgment that we have trouble with, but I believe it’s His flagrant forgiveness — evidenced by plenary indulgences, for instance — that we can’t process.
It’s kind of hard to fathom that we get something so limitlessly big (Heaven) for maybe 1.5-2 hours total for Mass, confession and some prayers. This is not a stern, inflexible Church; this is a Church that wants as many of us former sinners in Heaven as soon as possible after we die.
On the occasion of this Mother’s Day issue of The Catholic Post, I am reminded that we will always be welcomed home by Our Mother the Church, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
PAUL THOMAS MOORE is a Catholic commentator and singer-songwriter. He and wife Mary Louise attend St. Mary of Lourdes in Germantown Hills, Illinois. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.