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Good morning, Father Angelo, glory be to Jesus Christ.

I would like to ask for clarification about indulgences. According to the Doctrine of the Church, they decrease or cancel the so-called temporal punishment that we must endure in this or the other world because of our sins which were remitted by the Confession. The not so clear point to me is: can “temporal punishment” also mean the penance that the priest gives to the penitent after confession? For instance, because of a sin, after absolution the priest imposes on me a day of fasting as a penance. Can a plenary indulgence gained in accordance with the norms and practice of the Church possibly eliminate the need for that act of penance and, consequently, is the day of fasting any longer necessary? or does the indulgence not eliminate the penances that are “imposed” on us by the priest in confession?

Thanking you in advance for your reply, I cordially greet you.

Answer from the priest


1. The Plenary indulgence does not replace the penance imposed by the confessor.

It does cancel whatever remains even after having completed the penance, but it does not replace it.

The doctrine of indulgences is so summarized in a document of the Magisterium: “However, even after mortal sin has been forgiven and, as a necessary consequence, the eternal punishment it deserves has been remitted, and even if slight or venial sin has been remitted, the forgiven sinner can need further purification, that is, be deserving of temporal punishment to be expiated in this life or in the life to come, namely, in Purgatory. An indulgence, whose purpose is to remit this punishment, is drawn from the Church’s wonderful treasury mentioned above. The doctrine of faith regarding indulgences and the praiseworthy practice of gaining them confirm and apply, with special efficacy for attaining holiness, the deeply consoling mysteries of the Mystical Body of Christ and the Communion of Saints” (Enchiridion indulgentiarum quarto editum, 16.7.1999).

2. We must remember that the penance imposed by the priest is an integral part of the sacrament.

Therefore, if it is voluntarily omitted, the sacrament is profaned and thus it remains incomplete.

The voluntary omission of penance is a sin.

Given the penance is generally modest, it is assumed that it is just a venial sin.

The obligation is sub gravi (grave) only if it is a considerable penance which the priest makes clear to be sub gravi.

3. It must also be said that nobody can change on his or her own initiative the penance imposed by the priest during Confession.

It is given to us by virtue of the judicial power of the priest confessor.

Only another priest, and in the act of Confession, can change it.

4. Finally, although the plenary indulgence is a wonderful treasure given by the Church, it is nevertheless not so easy to earn.

It is not enough to simply perform the prescribed deed, but the total repudiation of sin, including venial sin, is also required.

This way only, can plenary indulgence radically renew a person.

Otherwise, those relics of bad inclinations or that “infectious source of sin” (John Paul II, Reconciliatio et paenitentia, 31, III), which require purification after death (Purgatory) and “must always be fought with mortification and penance” in the present life (ib.), would still remain in us.

I will remember you to the Lord and I bless you.

Father Angelo