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Acts of Mercy - Indulgences

On April 30, 2000, the Second Sunday after Easter, Helena Kowalska was canonized as St. Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament, and the Second Sunday after Easter was officially declared as Divine Mercy Sunday to be celebrated by the Universal Church. This action of the Magisterium brought to fulfillment Jesus' request to Sr. Faustina as recorded in her diary, 'Divine Mercy in My Soul'.

Jesus told Sr. Faustina, “My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the Fount of My Mercy. ”1

Later, “In a decree dated August 3, 2002, the Apostolic Penitentiary announced that in order “to ensure that the faithful would observe this day (Divine Mercy Sunday) with intense devotion, the Supreme Pontiff himself established that this Sunday be enriched by a plenary indulgence…so that the faithful might receive in great abundance the gift of the consolation of the Holy Spirit.”2

With the publication of this decree the question arises, Given the Graces available on Divine Mercy Sunday, why has the Holy father issued an indulgence for the Feast of Divine Mercy? I can think of two possible reasons.

First, as the Divine Mercy Devotion and the Divine Mercy Promises are private revelations, like those of Lourdes and Fatima, they do not carry the same theological status as doctrines of the faith. No one is required to believe in the authenticity of a private revelation.

Notwithstanding, the Church deems the revelations given to Sr. Faustina in her Dairy as worthy of belief. The Church states that an evaluation of the facts suggest to a reasonable person the truth of her Diary and its supernatural origin. Catholics can reasonably accept it as coming from God and are encouraged to believe.

The authenticity of this revelation is further strengthened by the canonization of St. Faustina and a Papal Decree declaring the second Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. While the faithful are encouraged to believe, the declaration of an indulgence furthers the approval of the Holy Church, since an indulgence does carry theological certainty. Thus, those who want greater certainty have the opportunity of gaining an indulgence on Divine Mercy Sunday. Additionally, as an indulgence can be sought for ourselves or any deceased person, the indulgence enables the faithful to gain the benefits of Divine Mercy for those in Purgatory.

The second reason is an extension of Our Lord's Mercy. The requirements for the Divine Mercy Promises are less stringent, and more easily obtained, than those of an indulgence. The Promises of Divine Mercy can be received by a soul in a state of grace, but with imperfect love for God, and imperfect contrition for sin—as long as the soul merely trusts in the Mercy of God. The difficult part of a plenary indulgence is that it requires a complete detachment from sin.3 This means that we must detest all our sins, even venial sins. Thus, the Graces of Divine Mercy are more accessible to those in a state of grace who may be struggling to live a holy life.

In this regard, Jesus said, "My Mercy is greater than your sin." and "Were a soul like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint, there would be no [hope of] restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full." Jesus wants to restore everyone in His love and to pour His graces on all who approach the font of His Mercy.

Fr. George Kosicki, a renown Divine Mercy theologian, coined the phrase, 'The ABC's of Mercy';

  1. Ask for God's mercy,
  2. Be merciful, and
  3. Completely trust in God's Mercy.

Jesus re-emphasized just how important this is when He told Sr. Faustina to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for the whole world, and in particular to pray a Novena of Chaplets – each dedicated toward a specific group of souls.

One the eighth day of the Novena Jesus said, “Today bring to Me the souls who are in the prison of Purgatory, and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy.”4 He said, “It is in your power to bring them relief. Draw all the indulgences from the treasury of My Church and offer them on their behalf. Oh, if you only knew the torments they suffer, you would continually offer for them the alms of the spirit and pay off their debt to My justice.”5

So, how do we fulfill Our Lord's request?

First, while we enjoy the greatness of His Mercy in the sacraments and in this Feast, Jesus' mercy comes in infinite ways. Of these, indulgences are, perhaps, the least understood and the least practiced. Yet, here Jesus instructs us to, “ Draw all the indulgences from the treasury of My Church.” Understanding and implementing the teaching of Our Church regarding indulgences is essential.

For your benefit, we have placed flyers on indulgences on the gift counter. There are also several articles on indulgences on my website, parishdeacon.com, including references to the “Handbook of Indulgences”, the “Manual of Indulgences”, and “The New Regulations on Indulgences.”

In general, a plenary indulgence, which pardons all of a soul's sins, can be gained only once a day, and the work of the indulgence needs to be accompanied by

  1. being in a state of grace,
  2. going to confession and receiving Holy Communion,
  3. a complete detachment from all sin (even venial sin),
  4. performing the work of the indulgence (generally very simple acts),
  5. and praying for the intentions of the Holy Father.
  6. one confession suffices for multiple indulgences (generally up to 20 days).

Second, we can extend God's Mercy by keeping our own souls in a state of grace. If we go to confession every three weeks, it would position us to continually 'pay off a soul's debt' every day we receive communion. What power to heal and restore Jesus gives us in drawing these gifts from the Treasury of His Church! Imagine how many of your friends and ancestors in Purgatory would welcome such a pardon.

Third, can you imagine the cosmic effects frequent confessions would have on our lives, our families, and our world! The power for good would be untold and unimaginable! St. Pope John Paul II went to confession weekly as a sign to us that even the most faithful, most devote souls, need to make constant amends to God. And in so doing, we can share the mercy we have received with others.

Finally, performing an act of mercy is a requirement for receiving this complete pardon for our sins. Given the extraordinary graces that we receive from Holy Communion on Mercy Sunday, namely the complete renewal of baptismal grace, [today] is an excellent time to put the mercy we have received into action by interceding for our departed loved ones.6 Jesus tells us, “It is in your power to bring them relief.”

As St. Faustina says in her Diary, “The three stages of a soul’s life are bound together; that is to say, life on earth, in purgatory and in heaven [the Communion of Saints].” In reviewing our own lives let us ask, “How am I fulfilling God's Will?” How am I, and others, profiting from the time God has given me?”

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