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Question

Good morning Father Angelo,

Here is my question: if I apply a plenary indulgence for a deceased person, is it correct to say that the deceased has completed his purification in Purgatory, and is therefore admitted to Heaven? If so, does it make sense to continue celebrating a Mass of suffrage for that deceased person?

Thank you for your attention.

Have a nice day,

Maria Cristina


The priest’s answer

Dear Maria Cristina,

1. First of all let me say that, although the plenary indulgence is an immense treasure, it is not easy to obtain.

Apart from the conditions concerning the practices to be carried out, which are quite easy, this part, of the utmost importance, is also necessary: the total repudiation of any sin, including the venial ones.

2. A willingness to repudiate any form of sin constitutes a leap forward in the way of holiness.

That’s the reason why the Church favors and rewards this willingness by granting a plenary indulgence.

3. Indulgence is not an arbitrary invention of the Church. It rests on the fact that we all constitute one whole body in Christ through sanctifying grace.

Jesus was the first to atone for us and apply to us the merits of His Redemption.

All those who live in Christ (that is, in grace) do likewise. 

That’s why, in the early centuries of the Church’s life, some of those who were guilty of grave sins were asked to visit persecuted Christians, so that they could share their sufferings and their expiation.

4. With the plenary indulgence the Church applies this mutual merit in Christ.

Christ gave the Church  this power when He said: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 18:18).

5. Receiving the benefit of indulgence is necessary to be in the grace of God. St. Thomas states that “a dead limb receives no influence from the living ones. Now he who is in mortal sin is like a dead limb. Therefore he cannot receive any influence from the living limbs of the Church through indulgences”  (Supplement to the Summa Theologica, 27,1, sed contra)

This is why in all indulgences, mention is made of people “truly contrite and confessed” (Ib,. 27,1)

6. St. Thomas also says that “indulgences have the value that is given to them: as long as there is authority in those who grant them, charity in those who receive them, and in their motivation there is no lack of piety, which includes the honor of God and the benefit for the neighbor”. In this way there is not “too much market” for God’s mercy, as some say; nor is there an exception to divine justice: since no punishment is condoned, but only compensated with the merits of others” (Ib., 27,2).

7. So, plenary indulgence is obtained if the contrition of sins is absolute, if the intention not to commit them is also total and if the charity is full (without rancor, resentment, desire for revenge).

This is the most difficult point which makes us uncertain whether a plenary indulgence is obtained.

However, if the indulgence is not plenary, hopefully it is at least partial.

8. The same also applies to masses of suffrage. Although the sacrifice of the cross has an infinite value in itself, we always reap a “finite”, “limited” fruit from it.

It all depends on our capacity to welcome this immense treasure.

The clear proof is that, even though Christ’s sacrifice has been completed, each of us remains what he is.

We have a deposit of immense and infinite value next to our life, but holiness depends on our personal participation in this sacrifice.

A single Mass would be enough to sanctify us entirely. This does not happen though. Certainly not because the sacrifice of the Mass has little power, but because we do not fully treasure it.

It is a similar case to that of solar energy. It is immense in itself, but we take as much of it as we are willing to receive.

This is as true for us as it is for the souls in Purgatory for whom we await the suffrage of the Mass.

Hence the need for the multiplication of the celebration of Masses.

I wish you well, I remember you in my prayers to the Lord, and I bless you.

Father Angelo