Essential and Exceptional Conditions for Obtaining a Plenary Indulgence during this time of the Stay-at-Home Order and of the suspension of publicly celebrated liturgies in Ohio
Bishop Monforton has announced a truly special decree to help all of us in the Diocese of Steubenville to be enriched and protected spiritually until the time publicly celebrated liturgies are made available again for all. He announced the establishment of Plenary Indulgences able to be obtained through ways that do not require immediately two of the key usual steps.
This spiritual gift is a way to calm our fears about being prepared for eternal life in Heaven with Our Lord even while the usual access to Holy Communion and Confession is not possible at this time.
To appreciate this exceptional spiritual gift, let me review briefly 1) the effects of sin, 2) what is a “Plenary Indulgence,” 3) how we usually experience the graces of a plenary indulgence (both the external actions, a.k.a. “the indulgenced work”, and the necessary interior disposition) and 4) the exceptional requirements established by Bishop Monforton that are a tremendous blessing for us here and now.
1) When we commit a sin, it generally has two basic effects on us (it has effects on other people, too, but for the sake of understanding a Plenary Indulgence, we need to focus on the effects on us). First of all, our relationship with God is either damaged or severed. We should be condemned for willingly violating God’s teachings, commandments and guidance for us. Secondly, when we sin, we start to have a stronger affection for and attachment to something or someone other than God. Healing from this affection and attachment happens through what is traditionally called the “temporal punishment of sin.” We need to be healed or purified of this before we can enter into the presence of God in Heaven.
When we go to Confession, with the Prayer of Absolution, the condemnation due to sin is removed. We are asked to complete a penance that is meant to help us experience healing of that affection for and attachment to something or someone other than God. Sometimes healing that affection and attachment takes stronger actions for “purifying” the soul from them. One of the greatest gifts in the Church’s approaches to help us with that healing and purification is called a Plenary Indulgence.
2) A Plenary Indulgence is an act of faith with several steps that has a central component to it – often in the form of a prayer prayed deeply and devoutly or a journey to a holy place – that has an effect in our hearts of helping us to desire and to love God above everything else and everyone else! This act of faith usually has a sobering effect of waking us up to the awesome reality of God. Or, it can draw us into a new or renewed joy of experiencing God’s amazing love for us.
When we have completed the steps for obtaining a Plenary Indulgence, we are given a complete remission of our sins, both from the condemnation due to sin and of the “temporal punishment of sin.” Simply stated, it’s as if we had just been baptized! We are completely prepared for Heaven!
3) The external actions usually involve: a) accomplishing that central component, such as going on a pilgrimage to the place of an approved miracle or reading very attentively certain passages of the Bible or praying something sobering like well-written Stations of the Cross, b) offering prayers for the Pope and his Intentions (which for this month of April 2020 is for Freedom from Addiction, “we pray that those suffering from addiction may be helped and accompanied”), c) going to Confession and receiving Communion usually within several days of accomplishing that central component.
The interior disposition needed is desiring and loving God in place of that affection for and attachment to something or someone other than God.
Again, when we have completed the steps for obtaining a Plenary Indulgence, we are given a complete remission of our sins, both from the condemnation due to sin and of the “temporal punishment of sin.” Simply stated, it’s as if we had just been baptized! We are completely prepared for Heaven!
The pope and individual bishops often establish special circumstances for Plenary Indulgences, drawn from the authority Jesus gave to St. Peter to “bind and loose” things in Heaven and on Earth (see especially Matthew 16:19). For example for the Jubilee Year of 2000, Pope John Paul II decreed that the faithful could obtain Plenary Indulgences for going to various basilica churches in Rome or certain sites in the Holy Land or sites in each local diocese or – in a very beautiful way – one could “visit for a suitable time their brothers and sisters in need or in difficulty (the sick, the imprisoned, the elderly living alone, the handicapped, etc.), as if making a pilgrimage to Christ present in them” (cf. Mt 25:34-36). After doing these acts of faith, which very often stir that interior disposition needed of desiring and loving God above everything and everyone else, the faithful would offer the prayers for the pope’s intentions, and go to Confession and Communion (best when done that day, but sometimes it takes a few days to have access to Mass and Confession).
4) This week, Bishop Monforton has decreed that during this time of the Stay-at-Home Order and the suspension of publicly celebrated Masses the faithful of the Diocese of Steubenville can obtain a Plenary Indulgence without having to go to Confession and Communion in the usual manner. Instead (and this is essential), the faithful of the Diocese of Steubenville can offer the prayers of a Spiritual Communion and express to God “contrition for their sins and have the [sincere] intention of receiving these sacraments as soon as possible.”
Bishop Monforton identified at least three “central component” acts of faith that could be accomplished for obtaining this special Plenary Indulgence:
* Pray the Way of the Cross -- the pious celebration of the Way of the Cross in those churches that remain open, or for those impeded from celebrating in a church, the reading and meditation on the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ for at least a quarter of an hour (#13),
* Rosary -- the devout recitation of the Rosary, including in a family setting (#17),
* Scripture -- the reading of Sacred Scripture for at least half an hour from a text approved by the competent authority (#30).
Then, the faithful would then offer prayer for Pope Francis and his intentions, followed by an Act of Contrition Prayer to express sincere sorrow for sins and a prayer for Spiritual Communion (with an intention to go to Confession and Mass as soon as possible).
We can still sin again after completing the steps for this special access to the graces of salvation. But, this is to give the peace that comes from truly having a new beginning even while dealing with any fearfulness this “coronavirus stuff” could bring. You can read Bishop Monforton’s formal declaration about this Plenary Indulgence at the Diocese of Steubenville’s website (www.diosteub.org) posted at that main homepage with other recent “Officials, Press Releases and Letters” for April 3, 2020
May the Lord draw us into the joy and reawakening of the gift of faith and mercy that He wants us to know and to have, especially during this time of separation from each other in our usual practice of our Faith!