What is an indulgence?

Contrary to popular belief, an indulgence is not a way of earning or buying forgiveness from God. To those who are truly sorry for their sins, God freely grants forgiveness through the merits of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. This penitence and forgiveness are known to be tangible and effective in the Sacrament of Penance.

An indulgence is, rather, "a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven." Even a sin that has been forgiven will have undesirable consequences (punishments) throughout one's personal life and the social and cosmic orders. This is both a matter of God's just way in correcting a wayward person and of the natural order of things. These temporal consequences of sin may play out over the course of one's life and, to the extent necessary for the purification of the reconciled soul, in Purgatory after one's death.

The purpose of an indulgence is to make reparation for these punishments, either for oneself or for another. A faithful Christian, duly disposed, may offer prayers and good works determined by the rightful ministerial authority of the Church and thereby draw upon the inexhaustible good of Jesus Christ and the saints to correct and make right that which has been corrupted through sin. An indulgence gained may be either a plenary (full) indulgence, which removes in full temporal punishment due to sin, or a partial indulgence, which removes said punishment in part.

Plenary indulgences may be gained by the faithful for visiting sacred places, such as the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi and the Shrine of the Porziuncola, Our Lady of the Angels, and by devoutly offering prayers during the visit.

Indulgences associated with visits to the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi and the Shrine of the Porziuncola, Our Lady of the Angels in San Francisco, California.

A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who visit either of these shrines and there devoutly recite an Our Father and the Creed. The indulgence may be gained only at specific times and with certain specifications:

For the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi:

  1. on October 4th of each year, the Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi, principal co-patron of the Archdiocese of San Francisco
  2. and once a year, on a day chosen by the Christian faithful;
  3. and as often as they assist in a group pilgrimage visiting the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi.

For the Shrine of the Porziuncola, Our Lady of the Angels:

  1. on August 2nd each year, the Solemnity of Our Lady of the Angels (within the Porziuncola itself)
  2. and once a year, on a day chosen by the Christian faithful;
  3. and as often as they assist in a group pilgrimage visiting the Shrine of the Porziuncola.

Other Conditions for Gaining an Indulgence

In addition to the conditions listed above, the following norms apply for a plenary indulgence:

§1. To gain a plenary indulgence, in addition to excluding all attachment to sin, even venial sin, it is necessary to perform the indulgenced work and fulfill the following three conditions:

• sacramental confession,
• Eucharistic Communion,
• and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff [the Pope].

§2. A single sacramental confession suffices for gaining several plenary indulgences; but Holy Communion must be received and prayer for the intention of the Holy Father must be recited for the gaining of each plenary indulgence.

§3. The three conditions may be fulfilled several days before or after the performance of the prescribed work; it is, however, fitting that Communion be received and the prayer for the intention of the Holy Father be said on the same day the work is performed.

§4. If the full disposition is lacking, or if the work and the three prescribed conditions are not fulfilled, [saving the provisions given for those who are legitimately impeded,] the indulgence will only be partial.

§5. The condition of praying for the intention of the Holy Father is fully satisfied by reciting one Our Father and one Hail Mary; nevertheless, one has the option of reciting any other prayer according to individual piety and devotion, if recited for this intention.

For a more complete explanation of indulgences, see:

Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1471-79.

Paul VI. Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum doctrina, 1967.

Apostolic Penitentiary, Manual of Indulgences: Norms and Grants, Washington, D.C., United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2006.