Limited Time Offer?

Here’s a gem of misunderstanding which gave me a chuckle:

“Often misunderstood or simply unknown to many Catholics, an indulgence is a way to cut time off of Purgatory either for oneself or for a soul who has already died.”

I’m sure that I will need lots of purification when I die. But I don’t intend to take a stopwatch or calendar with me into that realm outside of time… assuming that my soul doesn’t die when I take my last breath, which would make the whole issue moot…



  1. I’m really confident that the merit of Christ on the Cross has obviat your need for a transition period before seeing the glory of the RXP63421 in person! Of that. I am totally confident, so should I proceed you in dying, I pray I get to greet you as a brother in Christ, in Christ!

    1. Thanks, Pastor.
      I sometimes get this, have other heard anything similar? “Catholics go to purgatory when they die, but Lutherans don’t because they don’t have that.”

  2. The most common misunderstanding I’ve encountered is that Vatican II did away with Purgatory all together, so as far as “misunderstandings” go, this seems pretty mild. It probably stems from a failure of newer sources/texts to communicate what indulgences are and how Purgatory works, thus forcing people to turn to older sources that might be a little outdated.

    1. Correct. Definitely have run into clerics and liturgical folks who n one form or another substantially assert “we don’t do that any more”. To which one might respond, “Who’s we, Ke-mo sah-bee?” They may not, but the Church and many of its faithful certainly still do, just not in the quantitative way of the past.

      1. If “we don’t do that anymore,” why have Mass offered for the repose of the deceased soul?

        Or, in the case of many parishes, Masses offered for 3-4 souls at the same time at the same Mass as intentions multiply.

        From a strictly business perspective, the chances of purgatory going away as a belief are probably zero. Some parishes ask $25.00 per intention per Mass.

      2. 1. My reading of canon law is that an individual may specify different people are comprised within one single intention (e.g. Mum and Dad RIP), but that a priest may not group together different intentions in one mass if the offerings for those masses are less (or even more) than the guidelines suggested by the bishop’s conference. If a priest has more intentions than he can satisfy within a reasonable time (i.e. a year), he should send them to priests who do not, especially those in “mission” territories.

        2. The guidelines suggested by the bishops’ conference are just that. Refusing to celebrate a mass because the offering is less than the guidelines is deplorable and has more than a semblance of “trafficking”.

        3. If this is right – and I am happy to be corrected by someone who knows more about canon law than I do – then what becomes of the practice of concelebrants accepting different intentions for a single mass? The logic of the argument suggests that it is not within the spirit of canon law, even if it is not specifically ruled out. Does anyone know of an authoritative ruling on this point?

  3. When it comes to matters purgatorial, the doctrine of the church doesn’t seem to break free from the notions of space (Purgatory is a place) and time (indulgences obtain the remission of temporal punishment). Perhaps we chalk that up to the limits of human imagination and even human language: it seems to me that our very prepositions lead us to these spatial notions, as when we talk about the saints who are “in” heaven and the damned who are “in” hell’; likewise, it seems to us that “in” is the proper preposition to join up with “Purgatory”.

    An item that seems somewhat analogous in its incorporation of notions of time and space, and which also has a liturgical reference point, is Holy Saturday, during which Jesus descended into Hell (a place) and freed those who had been awaiting (time) the great events of the paschal mystery (CCC 633).

    Paul VI issued a post-Vatican II apostolic constitution, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, which may reasonably be considered the church’s post-Conciliar take on indulgences and Purgatory.

    I thought the Lifesite News reporter put things a little baldly but in light of these considerations, it’s not easy to fault her explanation too much.

    1. Jim,
      I think Paul VI tried to take care of time dimension, not that it is obvious:
      “it has been considered fitting that this remission of temporal punishment which the Christian faithful acquire through an action should serve as the measurement for the remission of punishment which the ecclesiastical authority bountifully adds by way of partial indulgence.” (I think the ecclesiastical authority bountifully adds to the “remission of punishment,” not to “the punishment.”)
      The tempotal punishments are those established by the Church by which reparations are gained by a lving person. This is used analogously to speak of the remission indulged in Purgatory, which may not be a temporal punishment.
      IOW, the punishment here is in days and months, but “in” Purgatory the remission is of the same magnitude in another system, eg fingers and arms; ordepth of memories or whatever.

  4. Some old (pre-VII) pew missals used to list actual increments of time with their respective indulgence action. As far as I know they were always intended to be symbolic, as the Church has never officially attached physical time to Purgatory, as you state above. But this practice brought untold confusion, which is why ID rightly put a stop to this nonsensical contradiction, well intended though it may have been.

    Sadly though, most priests and catechists haven’t stepped up to the task of teaching such a sensitive subject as indulgences. I first learned about indulgences in my middle school history class when we talked about the Protestant reformation (not exactly a dignified first impression on the matter), and I bet most younger people today had similar experiences. It’s very rare that priests or catechists teach about indulgences, and even rarer is it taught well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.