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In the past week, thanks to the New York Times, I've thought about indulgences at least as much as I had in my entire life up to this point. Judging from the lively back-and-forth on this post, I'm not the only one who's been doing some quick self-catechesis.For those not yet sick of the topic, the NYT follows up today with an online "Room for Debate" blog (their term -- it's not a "blog" in any real sense of the word, just a collection of short articles). Unfortunately, the Times is still not getting any holy cards for their explanation:

Catholic churches have recently revived indulgences, a spiritual tradition that faded away in the 1960s after the Second Vatican Council. The indulgence, as Paul Vitello of The New York Times explained in a recent article, is "a sort of amnesty from punishment in the afterlife."

Oh well. If readers keep going, they'll see that notion debunked by the always even-tempered John Allen (too bad they didn't ask him for help in the first place!). His take is an especially helpful exercise of his talent for combining comprehensiveness and comprehensibility. I do think he's being a tad optimistic, however, when he notes, after describing the situation that made "indulgences" a dirty word: "Needless to say, that abuse was curbed a long time ago." I wish it were "needless" to point that out, but in fact it seems to be quite necessary. (The absence of corruption in the Church is hardly something the average newspaper reader is willing to take for granted.)

The next response is from University of Scranton medieval-history professor Robert Shaffern (from my hometown parish!). He places the subject in a helpful historical context -- though he may be giving readers (like me) too much credit by referring to, but not elaborating on, "the creeping Pelagianism that many think is a serious problem among Catholics today."The other two responses are generally predictable reactions from right and left. Colleen Carroll Campbell, a fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center called on to give the positive take, can't resist trotting out that old postconciliar caricature:

Catholics growing up in the 1970s and 1980s were more likely to spend their CCD classes making felt banners and painting "Jesus Loves You" on rocks than learning about the necessity of frequent sacramental confession or the means the Church offers to alleviate "temporal punishment due to sin."

I'm a product of this era, and yes, I did my share of religious arts and crafts. But what this version of the story leaves out is the fact that religious ed of previous generations had its own unhealthy excesses. Yesterday I was talking with a religious sister who is a hospital chaplain. She said many of the older patients she ministers to as they face death are struggling with an overwhelming amount of fear -- their concepts of the afterlife are so crowded with calculations about sin and punishment, purgatory and pain, that they can't take comfort in the thought of going home to God. She said, "Their childhood faith had no concept of a loving God" -- and without that, even careful instruction in the intricacies of indulgences, purgatory, and "temporal punishment" can't prepare a person to meet God face to face. If catechists took a soft approach in the 1970s, perhaps it's because they resented having to research God's soft side on their own. I may have been relatively untutored in the double consequence of sin, but the "Jesus Loves You" message came through loud and clear -- and if I now embrace the idea of purgatory as a fundamentally hopeful notion, rather than another frightening obstacle to happiness, I suspect that's why.Campbell is eloquent, however, in explaining the appeal of indulgences (and the theology that supports them) to spiritual seekers. The rebuttal from the left, offered by Leonard Swidler, is less helpful -- Benedict may be intent on "roll[ing] back the joyful renewal accomplishments of the Second Vatican Council," but I think there are better grounds on which to make that argument. And yes, of course, the pope has bigger fish to fry (or catch?), but (at least until this week) announcing the occasional plenary indulgence wasn't preventing progress in other areas, as far as I can see.I grant a partial indulgence (void where prohibited) for anyone still putting up with all this indulgence talk from me. Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. And don't forget: Jesus loves you!Update: One more follow-up post here.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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I pray for the living and the dead, and I also have occasional quite frank talks with God. I have no room for this indulgence stuff (maybe it's because I'm half-Protestant, my Tridentine altar boy days notwithstanding? :)Perhaps because of my study and interest in organizational culture, not to mention a greater appreciation for Vatican II because of Benedict's attempts to undermine it, I see efforts at reviving, inter alia, the old Latin mass, fancy ecclesial garb, and indulgences as dangerous moves that simply reinforce the paternalistic/clerical culture of the Church of Rome. As I've noted before elsewhere, we certainly know some of the scandalous "fruits" of this culture, not to mention the harm inflicted on children and other vulnerable folks as well as financial and other wrongdoing by bishops and priests who somehow believe they were/are above the law.Words, symbols, beliefs, clothing, etc. all have meaning. We come to take certain beliefs and underlying assumptions for granted. And look what we got!!!Those who don't learn the lessons of history...and of group psychology...................

Mollie --I keep looking for reasons so many people have left the Church, and I wonder whether it was the image of God as only a stern, even sadistic judge that did it. Here that was not the only image we were given of Him. I also wonder whether the individual religious orders had their own official images of what God is like. The St. Joseph nuns here certainly didn't teach God-as-Horror, nor did the Ursulines or Jesuits or Holy Cross brothers. Hmm. Now that I think of it I did get the feeling back then from the graduates of St. Aloysius High School that the local Christian Brothers did emphasize the punitive side of authority. Some really mean guys there. The local seminary here taught the seminarians that God is love, and that might have had a lot to do with our understanding of a fundamentaly benevolent God. Or maybe it was the local bishops who set the tone.On the other hand, I don't think fewer people have been lost to the Church here than have been lost in other places. It does seem to me that funerals here still tend to include Mass. Complexity, complexity.

After reading all the pieces, it still seems to me that the idea of Purgatory and the idea of indulgences are incompatible. However you look at it, an indulgence is a shortcut. Getting the merit for 40 days of penance by performing simple actions that take a few moments just doesn't make sense. Being a soul in Purgatory and being instantaneously and completely purified because of something a living person does makes even less sense. Developing mentally or spiritually is no different from developing physically. Even if you take steroids to build muscles, you still have to do the exercises.

Hello All,As I mentioned on the earlier thread Mollie started on indulgences, in my own case this is the doctrine that has given me more personal trouble than all the other "hot button" Roman Catholic doctrines and teachings combined. I was somewhat surprised that most of the 120+ posts on Mollie's earlier thread reflected attitudes towards indulgences even more hostile than those I expressed. Surely some of we Commonwealers must like indulgences better than I do!All levity aside, I aspire to be an orthodox Roman Catholic now that I have reverted. So I've concluded I am not entirely free to do as I did when I was a youngster raised as a cradle Catholic, which was to ignore Church teaching on indulgences altogether and avoid practices that "earned" one an indulgence. The theologians here can correct me but if I'm right I cannot reject Church teaching on indulgences outright without veering into heresy.At least I think I have some understanding of why so many of we Catholics despise Church teaching on indulgences, while so many others love it. One background question lurking behind this and many other issues we discuss here is simply this: Why be Catholic? At the risk of oversimplification, I think one answer many would give goes something like this: God wants each person to be a faithful Catholic, and He will tend to reward the faithful Catholics more (or at least punish them less) than those who are not Catholic or (Heaven forbid) are "cafeteria Catholics" who disobey certain Church teachings such as the prohibition on contraception or reject certain Church doctrines such as the doctrine of purgatory. This kind of answer is comforting in a certain sense, reflected in a slogan I have read: "The Catholic Church is a hard church to live in, but a good church to die in.". I emphasize that I mean no disrespect to Catholics who would agree with this kind of answer. After all, this is quite a natural conclusion to draw given what the CCC declares regarding Heaven, purgatory, indulgences and so on. (I would add, though, that if I favored this answer I would be somewhat reluctant to try to convert anyone to Roman Catholicism. If this were the best answer, would not God be more lenient with people who never became Catholics in the first place than with people who are "cafeteria Catholics"?)But what if you are a Catholic like me, who resists the former answer? (As I mentioned in an earlier post, one can remain within the bounds of orthodoxy and still believe that no one will ultimately end up in hell, that purgatory is not a state of torment where God is getting his "pound of flesh", and especially that Roman Catholics are not liable to get privileged treatment from God.) Then I think one can still give good reasons for being Roman Catholic. But I think if you try to take this line like I try then I think it's simply hard to understand indulgences. I'm sorry to be crass but every time I see indulgences discussed in official Church documents, I get the impression that they are "get out of jail (purgatory) free" cards that only Roman Catholics can receive. And why would anyone want an indulgence unless the temporal punishment of purgatory were torment that did not heal? And does it make complete sense to say that our sins are forgiven but unless we get our indulgences we will receive a kind of vengeful punishment in purgatory? And. . . ?So I'm not at all tired of talking about indulgences myself. I need help, and from what I saw on the earlier thread I think I am not the only one. Is there a different way to understand indulgences?And let me second Mollie's wishes to you all that you have a very Happy St. Valentine's Day.

Peter, perhaps a good part of my objection/rejection of indulgences is the formalistic/legalistic nature of this teaching. Jesus gave us the two great commandments, i.e., to love God and one's neighbor. This indulgence stuff simply comes across as artificial, mechanical. The Law is Love, a teaching/understanding that reflects the Creator of the Law. I cannot see God or his love/forgiveness/mercy somehow constrained within the four pages of a papal declaration or formal teaching on this subject.In addition, "appearance is reality." The Vatican should either do a better job of explaining the rationale for indulgences, or it should let this topic die off (my guess is that the Spirit is ticked off at Benedict for not allowing this teaching die a natural ecclesial death :)

My objection is the notion that God has special discounts only available to Catholics, while all others have to remit the full price of salvation. It's like some divine merchandising card.

I still miss 40 days per pious ejaculation that I got in my teenage years.Don't dwell on that too long .....

I have not yet tried to wade through the other posts, so I apologize if I am repeating what others have already said while I was away.1> Canon Law was codified in 1918, suspended after V2, and a revised code issued in 1984. During the period of suspension, all the specific periods of time were eliminated and there were only partial and plenary (full) indulgences. I think this is continued with the 1984 code, but I am not sure.2> The penalties remitted are for temporal punishments, ie pre-death. So if the punishment for murder was a 3-year pilgrimage, and saying one Hail Mary remits 3 days of punishment, then saying 365 Hail Marys would remit the penalty. Or walking around the Labyrinth in Chartres 720 times might do. But nothing has anything to do with three years in Purgatory, since it, like Heaven and Hell is in eternity, not in time.3> Purgatory includes the beatific vision which is characteristic of Heaven, which overwhelms any punishment there. Painful, even agonizing, but not the focus of attention, more like a fading annoyance. I just bought myself a copy of vonHugel's Mystical element in religion, which dwells on St Catherine of Genoa's visions of Purgatory. Maybe I will get back to this after looking at what those two have to say.

One more note to offer a metaphor.Suppose you are hungry for some bread to eat. To get bread, you have to grow wheat, mill it into flour, make into bread, and then eat it.If you know a farmer who will give you wheat, you can skip the first step. If you know a miller, you can skip the next. If you know a baker you can skip the next step. If you know all of these, and they will indulge you, you can satisfy your hunger, maybe even before you starve to death.And if you know Christ, by praying to Him, His mother or His friends, you might relieve your spiritual hunger by eating bread from heaven.

Mr. Jaglowicz,Pope Benedict is one of the foremost authorities in the world on the meaning, the aims, and the theology of Vatican II, certainly far, far more authoritative than any of us posting here now. Moreover, there is likely no one in the world more dedicated to seeing its aims realized than the Pope. Whether his theology and his papacy has met Joseph Jaglowicz's understanding of the aims of Vatican II is a different story. But to make that matter-of-fact accusation against the Holy Father--that he is attempting to undermine Vatican II--especially a Holy Father as learned as Benedict, is as uncalled for as it is unsupported.

I decided to pass up entering the previous post on the same topic. But Ann Olivier, ever wisely, has touched on my hesitations, great hesitations. It comes down to this -- scrupulosity. It's, I strongly believe, a cognate topic. I don't want to go there. It is a deeply painful subject. So many tormented, and, in the limited vision of this life, ruined lives -- priests, religious, laity. I don't doubt that this awful agony still exists here and there, but nothing like in the Church of my youth and before. I was twenty-five when the Council ended. It is a large subject, and probably deserves a thread all its own. Oh the hurt, oh the incredible hurt! "Sinners in the hands of an angry God." The God of the calculator.

I saw that Matt wrote ... "Pope Benedict is one of the foremost authorities in the world on the meaning, the aims, and the theology of Vatican II, certainly far, far more authoritative than any of us posting here now. Moreover, there is likely no one in the world more dedicated to seeing its aims realized than the Pope."...Yes, Benedict was at the Council, but I think a number of people, including Leonardo Boff, would disagree with your conclusion that no one wants the aims of the Council realized more than he.

Of the four "experts" quoted, Leonard Swidler seems most qualified and most on target. To place Coleen Carroll Campbell as an expert is really a confounding of scholarship. But she has all the Tridentne credentials; Ethics and Public Policy Center and Ewtn. John Allen takes the easy path and tries to make everyone happy.At any rate, for those who believe in this stuff I am here to assure you that you will receive a plenary indulgence everytime you read this post.

I didn't see anything in the Wek in Review on this "newsworthy" topic this morning. Or did I miss something?

Hello Jim McK (and All),Thank you for your informative posts. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little:"2> The penalties remitted are for temporal punishments, ie pre-death. So if the punishment for murder was a 3-year pilgrimage, and saying one Hail Mary remits 3 days of punishment, then saying 365 Hail Marys would remit the penalty. Or walking around the Labyrinth in Chartres 720 times might do. But nothing has anything to do with three years in Purgatory, since it, like Heaven and Hell is in eternity, not in time."Is your source the 1984 Code of Canon Law? If one checks the CCC (which I did earlier today) then it seems that temporal punishment refers to punishment either before death or in purgatory, perhaps both. Paragraphs 1479 and 1498 strike me as especially explicit on this point because they refer to the possibility of obtaining indulgences forthise who have died before us.Regarding the last sentence I quoted you from above, this is certainly the current teaching of the Church made explicit at least since Paul VI's teachings on indulgences. Do you (or any other participants here) know if this has always been the theaching of the Church? If so, then some of what I (and surely others here) read and heard years ago would have to be in error. For example, I read as a youngster that blessing oneself with holy water upon entering a Church gained one an indulgence "worth" 10 days (which I admit is why at twelve I abruptly stopped blessing myself with holy water in church). I also received cards with an image of the BVM on one side, and the Hail Mary pronted on the other together with a footnote declaring that praying the Rosary gained one an indulgence "worth" 500 days (and I admit I discarded theses cards).Not that I would be surprised to learn that the Church has never taught that the temporal punishment of sin is like a prison sentence to be measured out in the time we know. I'm continually impressed by the large gaps between what the Church (in any given era) teaches and what most Catholics (in any given era) believe(d) the Church teaches.

Hello again Jim McK (and All),Sigh, I realized I have been perhaps too hasty in my last post. I realized that if my reading of the CCC is wrong and your interpretation of temporal punishment as punishment before death only is the right one, then it could make sense to assign specific periods of time to acts that gain one indulgences. And you tried to make that clear in your earlier post, so I aoplogize for my sloppy reading.I have to admit that even on your interpretation I don't like indulgences any better (for the reason I and Antonio gave earlier). I guess I need to keep working at it.

John Page --I think it's your own acute perceptivity that grasped the connection between indulgences and scrupulosity. I agree that scrupulosity is an important topic worth an airing. I fear that the conservative direction the Church is going in these days will only lead back to it. Not that the liberal turn didn't result in a loss of a sense of sin in some eople. But there is a happy medium, I think.

Peter --Where is it written that the Beatific Vision will start immediately? That's not what I was taught.I don't find any problem with suffering after death -- spiritual suffering is very real, and so I don't see the necessity for physical suffering. Those "fires" are probably meant metaphorically, I suspect. I just don't see any point in physical suffering. It's our souls that need changing.

Peter, please understand that I state what I learned. It may or may not be true, so I am grateful for any insight you can provide.Von Hugel's Mystical Element in Religion is a study of St Catherine of Genoa with the intent of describing religious experience more generally. Since St CG had visions of Purgatory as well as Heaven and Hell, he goes into her ideas about indulgences and purgatory. He goes into a long discussion of time and eternity in purgatory vs heaven's eternity, and concludes that there must be time/succession in Purgatory, though St CG seems to hold a number of irreconcilable opinions on the matter.My sense of Purgatory is that we do not know. Talk of time there may be metaphor, or there may really be time there. In any event, we do not know what kind of time-bound punishments God might decree for each situation, so applying indulgences to '3 days in purgatory' simply makes no sense. At best it is applied to the purgatorial equivalent of 3 days punishment on earth, which may or may not be 3 days in purgatory.(Ann, I think you are addressing something I said which has to do with the question of duration and succession in Purgatory. So where is it written that the Beatific Vision starts, and so is not eternal?)This discussion is somewhat abstract, as are any discussions of time paradoxes whether in religion or in Science Fiction. That is about the only level on which indulgences interests me; I would rather spend my time on God's love. (though St CG has some interesting thoughts on love and justice.)

I sympathize with the NYT reporters trying to explain indulgences. My mother, not a trinitarian Christian, asked me about this over the weekend, and the various metaphors you try to use never seem entirely apt (I tried grocery store coupons and fell into a morass with the whole expiration date issue. No, Mom, they don't have expiration dates, but you have to EARN the indulgence within a certain time frame). Not a conversation I want to repeat anytime soon.Interesting sidenote: Mom thought the Church was still selling indulgences ("Don't you have to buy them, just like those annulment divorces?"). I wonder how widespread the notion of indulgences for sale is. I wonder whether this is something the Catholic League might address. If/when it decides to quit freaking out about obscure dadaist videos on YouTube that hardly anybody sees, of course.

"3> Purgatory includes the beatific vision which is characteristic of Heaven, which overwhelms any punishment there. Painful, even agonizing, but not the focus of attention, more like a fading annoyance. ""Where is it written that the Beatific Vision will start immediately? Thats not what I was taught."I believe Ann is right about this - Purgatory is what prepares us for the beatific vision, which is heaven.

Jim McK --Don't ask me about the teachings about Purgatory. I'm not too interested either, except I"m convinced there has to be some sort of cleansing "time". As to Purgatory being eternal, I doubt it existed with nobody in it, so that would make it finite at that end, and it will end at the Last Judgment. At least that's what my little Primer Catechism that I ran across yesterday taught me. What a charming, existential little treatise it is! E. g.::Q: What does the Resurrection mean?A.: The Resurrection means that Our Lord came back to life. Q,: Will there always be a Purgatory/A,: There will be no Purgatory at the end of the world.Q. What must we do after Holy Commiunion?A. After Holy Communion we must stay awhile and and pray to God to thank HIm.(Yes, pre-Vat II had certain advantages :-)

I don't know if anyone is still reading this thread, but this morning I came across the NYT letter to the editor reproduced below, and I'm wondering if anyone has any thoughts on the writer's (he identifies himself as a member of the faculty at Ave Maria University) comment that reception of the Eucharist absolves the recipient of venial sins. Despite elementary, secondary, and tertiary education in Catholic schools, I did something of a double take when I saw that comment. I know one cannot receive in a state of mortal sin, and I know that receiving the Eucharist provides sanctifying grace, but I confess (pun intended) to not knowing that venial sins can be forgiven by receiving the Eucharist. To the Editor:You article states, To remain in good standing, Catholics are required to confess their sins at least once a year. In fact, Catholics must make what is commonly known as their Easter duty, which requires the reception of the Eucharist once a year during the Easter season, but are required to go to confession only if they have committed a mortal sin to receive the Eucharist. Since the Eucharist takes away venial sin, a Catholic may never have to go to confession if mortal sin is not present. But the church does encourage frequent confession for growth in the spiritual life; hence, the renewed emphasis on the availability of indulgences that are attached to a sacramental confession. (Rev.) Michael P. OrsiAnn Arbor, Mich., Feb. 10, 2009

Hmm. Maybe when he says "the Eucharist takes away Venial sin," he means the Mass itself, including the penetential rite (and not just reception of Communion)? I also thought you had to go to Confession once per year regardless of whether you had mortal sins to confess. But I suppose Fr. Orsi would know the rubrics better than I.Here's a link to the letters published today, including the one above.

Fr. Orsi is right. Cf. paragraph 1393 of Catechism of the Catholic Church. Mollie, you're also right that the penitential rite at mass also leads to forgiveness of venial sins. But it's worth remembering that for those who are hospitalized, homebound etc. communion is received outside of mass.

Hello All,Well, I for one am still reading. William's post surprises me as well as Mollie. I had never heard that either attending Mass or receiving the Eucharist results in one's venial sins being forgiven. But I wonder if Fr. Orsi might be slightly in error, because while the CCC states that Catholics are obligated to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, it also state's it's preferable (not mandatory) that one receives during the Easter season. (How's that for nitpicking!)I had thought that Mollie's was the right understanding, that is, that one is obligated to receive the sacrament of reconciliation at least once a year. But as Mollie notes Fr. Orsi probably knows what's what on this question.A more general comment: From the discussion on this thread regarding indulgences, reconciliation and so on it's becoming apparent that even with 2800+ paragraphs the CCC is not going to provide answers to everyone's questions. Which is perhaps for the best.

Hello Ann (and all),"Where is it written that the Beatific Vision will start immediately? Thats not what I was taught."Me, neither."I dont find any problem with suffering after death spiritual suffering is very real, and so I dont see the necessity for physical suffering. Those fires are probably meant metaphorically, I suspect. I just dont see any point in physical suffering. Its our souls that need changing."I think you Cathleen and I have a similar view of the purpose of suffering after death, and if we are right tehn this is in fact something to look forward to. I think the problem remains, how should we then understand indulgences? Why, for example, should I pray for the intention that a dead loved one receive an indulgence if the suffering in purgatory is remedial? Why should I want one if the point of spiritual suffering is to change my soul?Incidentally I learned some time back that "penance" literally means conversion. I think the term has fallen somewhat out of use because we catholics have mistakenly thought that penance refers to penalties. It would be interesing to study a reliable history of the issues we are discussing here, such as indulgences and the sacrament of reconciliation. (Unfortunately unreliable histories are all too easy to come by.)

Hello Jean (and All),"Interesting sidenote: Mom thought the Church was still selling indulgences"I'm pretty sure that the sale of indulgences for money was outlawed by the Council of Trent. But as a youngster I learned of a much more recent practice I find just about as appalling as the sale of indulgences. Children in parochial schools are frequently obligated to sell magazine subscriptions in support of their schools. In some cases these children could offer a scapular as a premium for buying a magazine subscription, and they would market their subscriptions by repeating the story that one who wears a scapular at the point of death will not suffer the fires of hell. I've read reports of this going on till at least the 1960s but so far as I know the practice has died out completely.I was greatly relieved to learn that it's not an article of faith that wearing a scapular protects one from hell should one die while wearing it. But I'm afraid I have never gotten past my youthful aversion to scapulars.

"I think you Cathleen and I have a similar view of the purpose of suffering after death, and if we are right tehn this is in fact something to look forward to. I think the problem remains, how should we then understand indulgences? Why, for example, should I pray for the intention that a dead loved one receive an indulgence if the suffering in purgatory is remedial? Why should I want one if the point of spiritual suffering is to change my soul?"Hi, Peter, it seems that indulgences offered on behalf of a loved one can have a couple of salutary effects: (1) they reduce the pain and suffering to which the loved one is subject in Purgatory - something that I suspect most of us are only too glad to do on behalf of our parents and grandparents; and (2) they speed the loved one's ascent to the beatific vision (using "speed" advisedly; I'm at a loss on how to express these ideas in temporally-neutered language). I've recommended this once before: for those who would like a deeper understanding of indulgences than what the CCC covers (the CCC seems inadequate), please take a look at Paul VI's very accessible and relatively brief apostolic constitution on indulgences. I especially recommend chapter 2, which discusses the solidarity and exchange of spiritual fruits within the community of the faithful, both living and dead.

Jim P. is right (I never doubted him) about pointing us to section 1393 of the CCC, which when read in conjunction with sections 1394 and 1395 seem to make clear that receipt of the Eucharist leads to remission of venial sins. All three sections are part of the topic about the "fruits" of the Eucharistic, one of which is that "Holy Communion separates us from sin": "1393. Holy Communion separates us from sin. The body of Christ we receive in Holy Communion is "given up for us," and the blood we drink "shed for the many for the forgiveness of sins." For this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins: 'For as often as we eat this bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord. If we proclaim the Lord's death, we proclaim the forgiveness of sins. If, as often as his blood is poured out, it is poured for the forgiveness of sins, I should always receive it, so that it may always forgive my sins. Because I always sin, I should always have a remedy.' 1394 As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins. By giving himself to us Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in him: 'Since Christ died for us out of love, when we celebrate the memorial of his death at the moment of sacrifice we ask that love may be granted to us by the coming of the Holy Spirit. We humbly pray that in the strength of this love by which Christ willed to die for us, we, by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, may be able to consider the world as crucified for us, and to be ourselves as crucified to the world. . . . Having received the gift of love, let us die to sin and live for God.' 1395 By the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins. The more we share the life of Christ and progress in his friendship, the more difficult it is to break away from him by mortal sin. The Eucharist is not ordered to the forgiveness of mortal sins - that is proper to the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Eucharist is properly the sacrament of those who are in full communion with the Church."I'm glad I now know about this, and I wonder if Fr. Imbelli or Fr. Komonchak might have helpful commentary to share with us.

Hello Jim (and All),Thank you very much for the reference. Sorry I missed iy when you posted it previously. I will look forward to studying this. Pretty much everything I have ready by Paul VI has been terribly helpful, so I expect this will be very helpful as well. I have to admit I think that in the short run hostory has given him a rather raw deal. Hopefully he will get the credit that is his due over time.I agree with your comment about the CCC. I've come to the conclusion that the CCC should be used like an encyclopedia, in that one can consult the CCC if one has a specific question and one might get a short, fairly straightforward answer. But I don't think one regard the CCC as the final word on any topic, and I also don't think it's suitable as a textbook. (and I don't think the authors meant the CCC to be regarded as either a textbook or the final word on anything.)

I heard of the Eucharist absolving sin about 30 years ago, and of course it makes sense. The Eucharist is not just an extra, cream on the cake, but the full presence of the saving act of Christ, and therefore of the forgiveness of sins. One should approach with a repentant disposition: "With faith in your love and mercy, I eat Your Body and drink Your Blood; let it not bring me condemantion but health in mind and body". With the general disuse of Confession is it importat to bring out this aspect of the Eucharist.

William, thank you for fleshing out the CCC reference on the Eucharist and forgiveness. I would add for the benefit of readers that the quotes William provided within sections 1393 and 1394 are from St. Ambrose and St. Fulgentius of Ruspe respectively.And if, like me, you wonder, "Who the heck is St. Fulgentius of Ruspe?", check this out:

Hi, Peter, yes, I agree with you about Paul VI. He was the Pope throughout my childhood, until I was almost through high school. He doesn't seem to have made as big a splash in public consciousness as John XXIII and JPII, but he seems to have been a prolific writer, and like you I find his writings helpful. To me, he seems to have done a very good job helping the church digest and live the work of the council. Not that we're done with that work!

Matt Emerson, the Second Vatican Council ended just two months before my 18th birthday. I am not the only Catholic (unchurched as I may be right now) who sees Benedict --- notwithstanding his presence as a peritus at the council --- trying to weaken the impact and understanding of this momentous pastoral event. As others have noted elsewhere, this was not a council that issued anathemas, formal dogmas, etc. I think one must evaluate Vatican II in its totality and, by the way, in how it was overwhelmingly and positively received by the laity and clergy.I'll trust my perception.However, I've got a bridge in California for sale...........

Im pretty sure that the sale of indulgences for money was outlawed by the Council of Trent.Outlawed or not, I still recall getting charitable solicitations from various religious orders offering, by the way, to say prayers or conduct novenas for the living or dead. Has anyone received something like this recently? Strictly speaking, not a sale of indulgences but pretty darn close. That's why historian Peter Brown referred to the early convents and monataries subsidized by the local European warlords as "powerhouses of prayer".

"Pope Benedict is one of the foremost authorities in the world on the meaning, the aims, and the theology of Vatican II."You'd have a hard time convincing me and many others familiar with the council. Benedict, we are told, wants to "reform the reform."Vatican II was fundamentally about renewal, defined by my dictionary, in part, as "to make new or as if new again; restore." The latter word is defined, in part, as "to bring back into existence or use; re-establish; to bring back to an original condition."Reform, on the other hand (and this is Benedict's preferred term for Vatican II), is defined, in part, as "to improve by alteration, correction of error, or removal of defects; to abolish abuse or malpractice in."Church historian Christopher Bellitto offers "a simple comparison of reform and renewal language" used in the 21 general/ecumenical councils of the church. His research "reveals 113 examples of reform language in the ecumenical councils' documents, compared to 86 examples of renewal language. But 63 of the latter examples, nearly 75 percent of all uses of renewal language at ecumenical councils [over the centuries], are found in Vatican II's documents alone [!!!!!]." RENEWING CHRISTIANITY: A HISTORY OF CHURCH REFORM FROM DAY ONE TO VATICAN II, Paulist Press, 2001.If Benedict believes the Second Vatican Council was all about "reform," then his understanding (predicated on fear, I contend) does not reflect the overarching theme of this council, namely, aggorniamento and renewal."[T]here is likely no one in the world more dedicated to seeing [Vatican II's] aims realized than the Pope."Again, you would have a hard time persuading me and many others, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Paul VI, if I recall, acknowledged that the Tridentine liturgy had been replaced (or words to that effect). Most Catholics were content to see the practice of indulgences fall by the wayside. Benedict is keen on bringing back a church culture directly responsible for the sacrificial victims of sexual abuse and episcopal coverup of same, financial and other irregularities of priests and bishops who believed they were/are above the law, and other obsolete artifacts too numerous to mention here.

Ann, and others, you could look at St CG's Treatise on Purgatory, a relatively brief document that is available on the web. She does not describe the experience of Purgatory as "the beatific vision", so I may have overstated that matter, but she does describe Purgatory as an experience of a vision of God's love that burns away our 'impurities'. But the pain, while greater than any felt in this life, does not matter to us because our love for our own self has been replaced by a greater love for God. An all consuming vision of God's love that is closer to the beatific vision than anything else...Obviously, this is only one way of teaching about Purgatory. Aquinas, or a friend (in the supplement to the ST) says one of the punishments of Purgatory is the delay of the Beatific vision. That is probably what you were taught. But some subjects are taught differently in different places, which is why the CCC is not always the final word.

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