Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


The Best of The Question Box

by Father I.J. Mikulski

(From the May 16, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)

Father I.J. Mikulski Q. What about indulgences and specifically about temporal punishment due to sin that can be remitted by performing an indulgenced act along with confession, Communion, prayers for the Holy Father and willful renunciation of sin? What is this temporal punishment? Nowadays we don’t do public penances, although I don’t think it would be a bad idea.

A. Indulgence is one of those odd words of foreign origin that lends itself to confusion. It’s a synonym for self-gratification, self-indulgence, permissive behavior. There’s a phrase we use, “to indulge one’s self,” that couldn’t be farther from the theological meaning of the word for self-control, discipline, strict repentance. Temporal is temporary.

Sin leaves traces. Sin is not wrong because it’s forbidden. Sin is forbidden because it always causes damage. Sin always leaves some emotional, physical, mental or genetic residue on the sinner(s), like airplanes leave contrails 30,000 feet in the sky.

We have a prominent doctrine in the Communion of Saints, our belief that we’re all joined together in the body of Christ. We share the same creed, sacraments, Scripture and tradition. Because we share we can help each other. Our earliest ancestors in the Catholic faith made that a high point in our creed. Our people can help us live better.

Theologians, who never met an issue they could not sub-divide, distinguish between partial and plenary indulgences. After a sin has been forgiven there’s still the damage that needs clean-up. It may require partial (minor) renewal or plenary (total) overhaul by the good deeds you just mentioned – confession of sins, Communion, prayer, renunciation of sin – followed by virtuous living to compensate for the damage done.

Indulgences were terribly abused in the middle centuries when migrant preachers reduced them to little more than scams for profit and publicity. The Council of Trent (1545) restored them to their rightful place, and somewhat more recently, Pope Paul VI (1973) linked them once again to their original status in the Communion of Saints.

Indulgences, used properly, are remedial. “The main concern has been to attach greater importance to a Christian way of life and lead souls to cultivate a spirit of prayer and penance and to practice the virtues of faith, hope and charity rather than merely repeat certain formulae and acts.” (Handbook of Indulgences)

Q. I have been told by the Ladies Sodality, of all people, that it’s not right to pray my rosary during Mass. What’s so wrong about that? I will abide by your answer, whatever you say.

A. Bless you. Now please find a comfortable chair and read on.

Here’s a homespun parable:

You’re having a family reunion. Folks from your clan gather from far and near, young and old, re-telling old stories and finding new ones, comparing photos with matching names and inquiring about their children. They share a meal with the food they brought and they agree “how good it is for us to be here.” (Luke 9:32)

While your folks are celebrating family day, you’re off by yourself in another room, having a cell phone conversation with a friend. Your family wonders why you couldn’t have waited to make that call.

The rosary is a highly recommended prayer. The Virgin Mary, good mother, would have told you to wait until after the family re-union.

Q. Statistics show that U.S. marriages fail into divorces at about 50-50. A minister on the west coast has written marriage vows, asking 50-50 on a trial basis renewable each year. Have you heard?

A. His license to practice should be lifted – on a trial basis, of course.


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