Pardon me: What is a plenary indulgence?

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines an indulgence as “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven” [1471].

    When we celebrate the sacrament of penance, our sins are forgiven, our communion with God is restored and the eternal punishment for our sins is removed.
    Yet the temporal punishment caused by sin – the hurt we have caused to ourselves and to others – remains.

    The lingering effects of sin are described in a new brochure from the archdiocesan Office of Worship for use in the upcoming Year of Family and Faith: “When we sin, it is like hammering a nail into a plaster wall. When we ask for and receive forgiveness, it is like removing the nail from the plaster. Although the nail is gone, the hole remains and needs to be repaired.”
    Christians are called to repair the damage wrought by sin through prayer, penance and works of mercy and charity.
    Happily, because of the fullness of the redemption obtained for us by Christ, the Church sometimes attaches an indulgence – or a pardon – to certain prayers and actions undertaken by the truly penitent. The indulgence, which may be either “partial” or “plenary” (full) lessens or completely removes the temporal punishment of sins that already have been forgiven.
    Through the mercy of God and the action of Pope Benedict XVI, a plenary indulgence is available to Catholics during the Year of Faith’s worldwide observance period of Oct. 11, 2012, through Nov. 24, 2013.
    “It’s taking the penance that the priest gives you and you’re adding to it,” explained Betty-Ann Hickey, associate director of the Office of Worship, whose office is available to assist Catholics in their understanding and attainment of the plenary indulgence. “You’re choosing to do an additional act of penance, in conjunction with the church.”

Pilgrimage sites in N.O., Jeff Parish and the northshore
    To receive the indulgence, the faithful must visit one of eight places of pilgrimage in the Archdiocese of New Orleans designated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond, and while there participate in Mass, eucharistic adoration, benediction or some other liturgical service. The pilgrimage sites are:
    ➤ Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis King of France, 615 Pere Antoine Alley, New Orleans
    ➤ International Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 411 N. Rampart St., New Orleans
    ➤ St. Ann National Shrine, 3601 Transcontinental Drive, Metairie
    ➤ St. Joseph Church, 610 Sixth St., Gretna
    ➤ National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, 2701 State St., New Orleans
    ➤ National Shrine of Blessed St. Francis Xavier Seelos, Church of St. Mary’s Assumption, 919 Josephine St., New Orleans
    ➤ Shrine of the Vietnamese Martyrs, Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, 5069 Willowbrook Drive, New Orleans
    ➤ St. Joseph Abbey Church, 75376 River Road, St. Benedict
    Those seeking the indulgence conclude their time of prayer and meditation at the pilgrimage site by praying the Our Father, the Apostles’ Creed (or another profession of faith such as the Nicene Creed), a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary and any prayer for the intentions of the pope. Within three days before or after the pilgrimage, they must receive holy Communion and the sacrament of penance.
    In lieu of participation in a liturgical service, a more personal format can be followed at the place of pilgrimage, with the pilgrim making the Sign of the Cross, spending time in silent, personal prayer, then reading and reflecting on the Creed or a passage from Scripture. Those who select this format conclude their time at the place of pilgrimage by praying the Our Father, the Apostles’ Creed (or another profession of faith), a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary and any prayer for the intentions of the pope. Within three days before or after the pilgrimage, they must receive holy Communion and the sacrament of penance.
    Throughout 2013, posters will be displayed inside all churches listing the places of pilgrimage. Brochures explaining the plenary indulgence and listing suggested prayers and Scripture readings will be placed at each pilgrimage site, Hickey said.

An ‘intentional’ journey
Pilgrimages can be taken alone or performed with families or parish groups, Hickey said, noting that she recently received an inquiry from a church in Baton Rouge whose parishioners were planning a pilgrimage to New Orleans. Pilgrimages, which involve taking a journey, demonstrate the intention and conviction of the penitent, and also remind the faithful they are “journeying with Christ,” on the road to salvation, Hickey notes.
    “Not only are you doing all of these (prayerful) actions, but you’re becoming free of all attachment to sin,” she said. “Your intention has to be right. It’s not magic; it’s about drawing yourself closer to Christ. If you do this prayerfully and reverently with a heart of love for God, then you will be drawn closer to Christ. That is the purpose of prayer.”
    Hickey said “the comforting part” of endeavoring for an indulgence is that even if one ends up not receiving the plenary – or full – indulgence, one still can receive a partial one.
    “The core of what it means to have no attachment to sin is to have that pure desire to do the will of God, to have that pure desire to separate one’s self from sin, “ she said.
    For more information, visit
    Beth Donze can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
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