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§ 27. Effect of Indulgences on the Suffering Souls.
124. According to the doctrine of the Church, the guilt of sin and its eternal punishment is remitted in the sacrament of Penance. The temporal punishment due to sin however is not always remitted entirely in the sacrament of Penance, as is done in Baptism. This remaining temporal punishment, as long as it is not remitted, must be suffered either in this world or in Purgatory, before we can enter heaven. Satisfaction for temporal punishment is made by the works of penance imposed in the sacrament of Penance and united with the merits of Christ, and is applied to us by the power of binding and loosing granted to the Church. By this same power works of penance are imposed on us outside the sacrament of Penance for the purpose of gaining indulgences. Finally, satisfaction is also rendered by voluntary works of penance, and by unavoidable sufferings borne with patience and resignation—all this in union with the merits of Christ.
An indulgence therefore is the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin which the Church grants to the faithful, provided they observe certain conditions. The entire temporal punishment is remitted by a plenary indulgence; a part of it only by a partial indulgence. The Council of Trent declares that "the use of indulgences is in the highest degree wholesome to the Christian people; that the Church was empowered by Christ to grant them, and has made use of this power from the earliest ages: and that because their use is approved of by the councils, they are to be retained in the Church."
125. By an indulgence the temporal punishment is remitted only on certain conditions; that is, the gaining of the indulgence is made dependent on the performing of certain specified good works. By the faithful performance of these works the temporal punishment is atoned for; or rather, to state it more exactly, the punishment is thereby counterbalanced. However, not every temporal punishment incurred by sin can be remitted by indulgences. For the temporal punishment of sin can be threefold: first, punishments of a natural order—for instance poverty, sickness, disgrace, etc.; secondly, punishments inflicted by Providence and to be undergone in this world and in Purgatory; thirdly, punishments fixed by the penitential code of the Church, by which she ordained certain penances for certain sins. To maintain that the punishments of the natural order are remitted by indulgences would be saying too much, for the natural consequences of sin can be removed only by divine interposition. An indulgence therefore can be nothing-more than the remission of one or both of the two Other kinds of punishment mentioned, because for the remission of these punishments no change of the natural order is necessary. These two kinds of punishment being inflicted by the will of God, they must also be remitted by this same divine will.
We now come to the question: Who can declare that certain temporal punishments of sin are remitted ?—It cannot be denied that the Church of Christ has this power; but she has not the power to change the natural order established by God. When God has fixed a punishment, the Church cannot summarily declare this punishment to be remitted; she can only replace it by a punishment of some other kind. This she does by adding to certain penitential works to be performed by the penitent with scrupulous exactitude the infinite merits of Christ committed to her treasury, thus rendering them so valuable that they replace the punishment fixed by God.
126. To gain an indulgence the first rule to be observed is contained in the motto: "All for the greater glory of God !" If we were intent only on our own profit or that of the deceased, without regard to the glory of God, we would not gain the indulgence. We must seek our own salvation and that of others because it is the will of God that we should. The more the love of God is increased in our hearts, the easier it will be for us to overcome our natural evil inclinations. If we have triumphed over every voluntary, conscious inclination to sin, then we are in the condition requisite for gaining an indulgence. For to gain a plenary indulgence we must be without sin; not only without mortal sin, but without unrepented venial sin, yea, without voluntary, conscious inclination even to venial sin, which though venial is nevertheless sin. By a plenary indulgence we are delivered entirely from the punishment of sin, so that we would be admitted to heaven immediately in case we should die right after gaining such an indulgence.
As often as we desire to gain a plenary indulgence, let us strive to fulfil with the greatest purity of heart the conditions that are prescribed. If we do not gain the indulgence to its whole extent, we may be sure that we will gain at least a part of it.
127. The power of the Church to apply indulgences to the faithful departed is a consequence of the intimate union existing between the Church militant and the Church suffering. This is evident from the papal Bulls. Moreover, the doctrine that the living can come to the relief of the dead is clearly contained in Holy Scripture, and is handed down to us by the most ancient tradition. It is evident that if private suffrages relieve the Suffering Souls, the suffrages authorized by the popes, and for which they granted an indulgence, must have the same effect. Heretics, for example Luther, Calvin, etc., deny that the Church has the power of granting indulgences applicable to the souls in Purgatory. The Church has ever proclaimed the doctrine that she can aid the Suffering Souls by indulgences. St. Thomas Aquinas declares it to be a custom of the Church to grant indulgences not only to the living, but also for the benefit of the dead. Pope Sixtus IV. condemned the doctrine of Osma,.who maintained that the pope had no power to release the punishments of Purgatory. Pope Leo IX. declared it to be the continued doctrine of the Roman Church, that the pope had the power of granting indulgences for the benefit of the living and the dead.
128. Since, however, the Church on earth has no jurisdiction over the souls of the dead, she cannot apply indulgences to them in tHe same manner as she does to the living. To the latter she grants indulgences by way of judicial sentence and absolution, to to the former she does so by way of suffrage. That is, the Church in applying indulgences to the dead offers to God the satisfaction made by the good works of the faithful and rendered meritorious through the merits of Christ; in doing so she petitions the Most High that, in view of the offered payment, He would deign in His mercy to remit the whole or a part of the debt of temporal punishment still weighing on the soul of the deceased. In granting an indulgence to the living the pope's act may be compared to that of a man who gives the means of payment into the hands of the person indebted, thereby enabling him to release himself from prison; in granting an indulgence for the dead he may be said to act like a man who offers payment of the debt to the creditor, asking that in his mercy he might release the prisoner. : It has always been the practice of the popes to grant numerous indulgences applicable to the Suffering Souls; by the gaining of which indulgences we cede to these imprisoned friends of God so much remission of temporal punishment as we would have obtained for ourselves. The charity of Holy Church for the souls in Purgatory has always been the same; in her love and compassion she continually invents new means and methods of assisting them. She has granted indulgences for various devotions, exercises, prayers, etc., in order that all her children might ever co-operate with her the more readily and willingly in the grand work of relieving and rescuing the Suffering Souls.
129. God does not always bestow the indulgence on that soul for whom we intend to gain it, especially if the soul be that of a Christian, who during his life in this world was negligent in gaining indulgences and relieving the Suffering Souls; for divine justice deals according to the words of Christ, "With what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matth. vii. 2.) It is probable in such a case that God applies the indulgence to some other soul more pleasing to Him; and this soul will then be very grateful to the person by whose charity it is released from Purgatory. The same is due with regard to Masses said for a certain soul at a privileged altar with the intention that the indulgence granted in consequence of the privilege may be applied for the release of that soul from Purgatory. When the indulgence is refused to the soul for whom it was intended, God will probably grant it to some one of its relatives in Purgatory; or it may be given to a soul who in this world was assiduous in prayer for the Suffering Souls, but is now forgotten. This may sometimes be the case with poor persons, who during their life on this earth remembered the Suffering Souls by prayer and good works, but who, for want of means on the part of their relations, do not receive the benefit of even one Holy Sacrifice after their death.
130. St. Magdalen of Pazzi and the religious of her convent were confirmed in their zeal to gain indulgences for the Suffering Souls by the release of one of the Sisters, who after her death had to suffer in Purgatory for fifteen hours, and was then released on account of the indulgences gained for her by the inmates of the convent. She revealed to St. Magdalen that this speedy deliverance was due to the zeal she had herself manifested during life to gain indulgences for the Suffering Souls.
It was revealed to St. Bridget that many and great punishments are remitted on account of indulgences, so that whosoever departs this life after having gained a plenary indulgence before consenting to another sin, is admitted to heaven the same as one dying in his baptismal innocence.—At Venice there lived a pious priest who intended to make a pilgrimage to Assisi in order to gain the great indulgence of Portiuncula. Falling sick before he was able to do so, he requested a friend to gain the indulgence and to apply it for his release from Purgatory in case he should die. Soon after he departed this life, but his friend postponed the gaining of the indulgence. One day the deceased appeared to him quite disconsolate, and asked him: "Why do you postpone so long the good work I so ardently implored you to perform? Go at least now, I pray, and gain the indulgence for me!" The friend did so, and the deceased appeared to him radiant as the sun, .telling him that by the indulgence he had been released from Purgatory and was now on his way to heaven.
As we may take it for granted that many of our relatives, friends, benefactors, etc. are in Purgatory, where they have to undergo severe punishment, who amongst us should not be most zealously intent on gaining for them as many indulgences as possible, thereby to release these poor captives from their prison ?