What is a plenary indulgence?
Editor: Bishop, this year, as the diocese celebrates its 75th anniversary, Pope Francis has granted us the opportunity to receive plenary indulgences. What is a plenary indulgence?
Bishop Vásquez: First, I want to let our readers know that this subject can be a bit complicated, but plenary indulgences center around the mercy of God. A while back, as we prepared for our 75th anniversary celebration, I wrote to the Apostolic Penitentiary to seek a plenary indulgence for our diocese. And we were granted two indulgences by Pope Francis.
A plenary indulgence is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a “remission before God of the temporal 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 applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”
A person having gone to confession, knows they have been forgiven by God, but there may be consequences to those sins either here on earth or in purgatory. An indulgence frees the person from those consequences, but the indulgence can only be earned if certain criteria are met. Indulgences can be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased, but they cannot be applied to other persons living on earth.
As I said before, the Diocese of Austin has been granted two plenary indulgences. The first indulgence involves travel to one of the pilgrimage sites designated for the 75th anniversary between Nov. 19, 2022, and Nov. 18, 2023. While visiting one of the pilgrimage sites (St. Mary Cathedral in Austin, St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in College Station, St. John the Evangelist Parish in Marble Falls, St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Taylor or Sacred Heart Parish in Waco), one must pray the Our Father and recite the creed. Within a few days (less than 20) of the visit, one must go to confession and receive the Eucharist and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father.
The second plenary indulgence may be received by visiting any Catholic church or mission in the Diocese of Austin on Nov. 18, 2023 (there were two other dates, but they have passed). At the church or mission, one must offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the 75th anniversary, pray the Our Father and recite the creed. Within a few days of the visit (less than 20), one must go to confession and receive the Eucharist and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father.
Editor: You are right, this is a complicated subject, but the bottom line is that God is merciful, correct?
Bishop Vásquez: Yes, the church offers us this indulgence because Christ by his very suffering, death and resurrection conquered sin for us and in thanksgiving for the holy lives of all the saints who have gone before us. To be clear, an indulgence cannot be purchased. It is achieved through true repentance, and we must be in a state of grace in order to receive an indulgence. Sin separates us from God, and every sin also entails an unhealthy attachment to something on earth. This is why it is important to make a proper confession, and to be free of all sins both venial and mortal in order to receive the indulgence.
Editor: What about those who are sick or homebound and cannot travel?
Bishop Vásquez: The church, in her wisdom, is very understanding. If one is extremely ill and incapacitated and unable to make the trip to one of the sites, they can still receive the indulgence if they go to confession, receive the Eucharist and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father. I encourage those who are homebound to speak to their pastor if they wish to earn an indulgence.
Editor: What is your prayer as we move through Lent and move through the 75th anniversary?
Bishop Vásquez: God is a merciful father — like the father in the story of the prodigal son, he is ready to embrace us. His mercy is infinite and always there for us. I pray that we will take advantage of God's mercy and that we never doubt his love for us. I encourage all of us to make a good confession during Lent (and make a pilgrimage to one of our five pilgrimage parishes if you can). Through God’s forgiveness, we are cleansed of our sin, and we recognize ourselves to be sons and daughters of a loving Father. Amen.
The five parishes where we can earn a plenary indulgence are St. Mary Cathedral in Austin, St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in College Station, St. John the Evangelist Parish in Marble Falls, St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Taylor or Sacred Heart Parish in Waco.
Bishop Joe S. Vásquez is the fifth bishop of the Austin Diocese, which is home to more than 700,000 Catholics. For details, visit the diocesan website at austindiocese.org.