For each sin we commit, there are two consequences. The first is this; our communion with God is severed, and we become unworthy of the eternal life which God has promised us. This is the eternal punishment due to our sins. This eternal punishment is however removed the minute God forgives us our sins. Immediately our sins have been forgiven, our communion with God is restored and we once again regain that promise of eternal life with Him in heaven which He has promised us.
Although our sins have been forgiven, however, the stains, patches, dents and wounds imprinted as a result of those sins remain, and can only be removed through certain punishments or acts of purification either here on earth, or in purgatory. These punishments are called temporal punishments and are the second consequence of sin.
During our baptism, God adorned us with white robes of holiness. These robes are our identification as God’s children whom He has promised eternity in heaven with Him. When we sin however, we throw away God’s promise, and leave a big dirty stain on our robes. Because we threw away His promise and glorified the devil, we become unworthy of his heavenly kingdom, we become unworthy of his holy communion. When we repent however, and confess our sins while denouncing the devil and all his works, God accepts us back into his loving embrace. He restores back to us His eternal promise of eternal life, he blesses us with his presence and grace to guide us all through this earthly journey. However, in spite of these, that stain of sin remains on our robe. And this stain can only be cleansed by the power of the precious blood of Jesus Christ through certain acts of charity, perseverance in trials, poverty, ill health, or other forms of set-backs. If at the time of death the punishments due to these sins have not been fully received, the soul has to continue paying for those sins in purgatory.
The same cycle continues each time we offend God. And each time, we become liable to certain punishments for each sin we commit.
The church however, has given us the grace of plenary or partial indulgences through which these punishments due to our sins can be completely or partially removed.
An indulgence is “the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to our sins which have already been forgiven”.
An indulgence can either be partial or plenary. It is partial if it removes only part of the temporal punishment due to sin, or plenary if it removes all punishment due to sin.
To be able to gain an indulgence, one must have the intention to gain them.
The traditional conditions to attain a Plenary Indulgence:
A Plenary Indulgence can be gained only once per day. The faithful must be in the state of grace and these three conditions must accompany the prescribed act:
- The faithful must receive the sacrament of confession, either eight days before or after the pious act is performed,
- Receive Holy Communion on that day
- Recite prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father (one Our Father and one Hail Mary is the minimum, but any other additional prayers may be added).
All attachment to sin, even venial sin, must be absent. If one’s disposition is less than perfect or if some of the above conditions are not fulfilled, the indulgence becomes partial.
The authority of the church to grant its members the grace of plenary or partial indulgences is based on Christ’s exhortation to the disciples (the church) when He said “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matt 18:18
Hence, we are called to make conscious efforts to gain plenary indulgences for ourselves as often as possible. The punishment due to certain sins can be so great. Most people suffer greatly as a result of certain sins they may have committed without even knowing it.
Strive hard to live worthily, and as often as possible, carry out charitable acts. “Love covers a multitude of sins” 1 Peter 4:8. Charity remains one of the easiest ways to have God look at you with pride. It remains one of the ways through which God cleanses us of the punishment due to our sins.
Mortification is also another way. Denying ourselves of certain pleasures and punishing the flesh. Either by not eating meat, or by fasting, or by wearing uncomfortable clothing or by certain prayers, or any other offering which you feel can be offered up to God in reparation for your sins and those of the whole world.
The penance given by the priest after confession is not enough to cleanse us completely of the punishments due to our sins.
May God bless us with His wisdom and grace to be victorious in this earthly journey. Amen!