In a letter to the editor last week, a distressed correspondent asked: “[W]hen did you last hear the word ‘purgatory’ at a Catholic funeral? People wonder why we have a dearth of vocations and declining congregations. May I suggest that the Catholic faith is not being taught effectively?”

Speaking of purgatory, for the record an indulgence (cf CCC 1471 ff ) is a remission, for either the living or the dead, of all or part of the temporal punishment due to sins of which the guilt has been forgiven. Every sin has consequences.

We can be forgiven the guilt of sins, but, in justice, we must make reparation. Furthermore, we must not be “attached” to sinful thoughts or actions. If we come to the end of our lives and, even though we die in the friendship of God in the state of grace, we still have sinful attachments, or if we have not done sufficient penance in reparation for our sins, then we must experience a period of purification from sinful attachments and imperfections, and complete our penance before we can enter forever into heaven and the Beatific Vision.

Because Christ gave His own authority to the Church to bind and to lose, and because of the boundless merits of His Sacrifice and the lives of the saints, which are like a treasury upon which the Church can draw, the Successor of Peter and others to whom it has been permitted can grant that certain good works may make up for some or all of the temporal punishment which, in justice, is due to sins. By performing certain indulgenced works, the Church opens that treasury and makes up for what we or the Poor Souls have not done.

Indulgences are not permissions to sin. They are great works of mercy. We have many opportunities for indulgences. They are both easy and hard to obtain. In general the work to be performed is quite easy. The hard part is that we must be free from attachment to our own sins to obtain full, plenary indulgences.

Holy Church is a good mother. She wouldn’t dangle before our eyes something that is impossible for us to attain.

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