Christ Carrying the Cross - MAINERI, Gian Francesco


If a member of the Church, according to the principle of vicarious satisfaction and the doctrine of the Communion of Saints, can transfer his satisfactory merits to another in payment of that person s temporal punishments due to sin, how much more may we expect of Christ, Who is the head of that mystical body of which we are members. Now, let us suppose Our Lord said to you, My child, if you practice some little devotion and perform some small penance, I will suffer again the agony of Gethsemane in atonement for your sins, I will again undergo the torments of the Scourging, of the Crowning of Thorns, I will again carry My Cross to Calvary, in payment of the debt which you cannot cancel of your own resources, while you are making those exercises of devotion. What an astounding offer, what self-sacrificing generosity this would be! Who would not want to avail himself of this complete vicarious satisfaction on the part of Christ? But does not our Lord promise us as much, speaking to us through the voice of the Church when she grants us an indulgence?

In receiving an indulgence from the Church, is it not Our Redeemer Himself Who is paying our debt with his Most Precious Blood?  Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled (I Peter I, 18-19). Vicarious satisfaction as applied by one individual or a community of individuals to another, is not a true indulgence; not only because such good works are of limited merit, but especially because the transfer is not made by the Church. An indulgence is the remission of a debt contracted towards both God and the Church, to which the sinner is liable even after having received the pardon of his sins.

Christ gives keys to St Peter - pietro perugino-1482

This remission is made in virtue and by means of the application of the superabundant merits of Christ and His saints, by the authority of the lawful pastors, who grant it for a just and reasonable motive. Hence we conclude, that an indulgence is at the same time a payment, solutio, and a remission, absolutio. It is a rigorous payment of the debt contracted by the sinner, for the whole penalty is exacted to the last farthing; it is a remission, because the sum paid does not come from the sinner’s own funds, he being destitute of any, but from the inexhaustible treasure of the Church.Indulgences have in the eyes of God the exact value set forth in the granting of them by the Church. I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; but temporal punishments due to sins forgiven exclude from the kingdom of heaven; hence, the Church has the power to remit temporal punishments; in other words, to grant indulgences, and we may rest assured that the indulgence is accepted by God in that quantity which the Church establishes; otherwise it would be useless to speak, for instance, of indulgences of one hundred or two hundred days as of distinct grants. If the Church has the power to dispose of Christ’s Precious Blood in the forgiveness of sin, it is quite fitting that she should be able equally to dispose of its merits for remitting the lesser debt, the punishment.

Engraving of the Mass of Saint Gregory by Israhel van Meckenem, 1490s, with an unauthorized indulgence at the bottom

The Church grants indulgences to those only who are truly repentant and have confessed their sins, a clear proof that the indulgence does not dispense from contrition and confession but takes the place of satisfaction. It is because of their poverty that the faithful, anxious to satisfy divine justice as quickly as possible by effacing all their debt, have recourse to the infinite treasure left them by Jesus Christ expressly to supply their need. Thus do they show clearly how they value the possessions won for them by Him at the cost of all the torments He endured. By gaining indulgences, we appreciate properly the Price of our Redemption. You have been bought with a great price. Indulgences apply the merits of the Precious Blood to our souls.


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