Listers, the following lesson is taken from the Baltimore Catechism. The Baltimore Catechism was the standard catechism of teaching the faith and catechizing children from 1885 to Vatican II. Its basic question-and-answer approach is the most natural learning style for the human mind and simplifies even the most complex theological questions.
Q. 839. What is an Indulgence?
A. An Indulgence is the remission in whole or in part of the temporal punishment due to sin.
Q. 840. What does the word “indulgence” mean?
A. The word indulgence means a favor or concession. An indulgence obtains by a very slight penance the remission of penalties that would otherwise be severe.
Q. 841. Is an Indulgence a pardon of sin, or a license to commit sin?
A. An Indulgence is not a pardon of sin, nor a license to commit sin, and one who is in a state of mortal sin cannot gain an Indulgence.
Q. 842. How do good works done in mortal sin profit us?
A. Good works done in mortal sin profit us by obtaining for us the grace to repent and sometimes temporal blessings. Mortal sin deprives us of all our merit, nevertheless God will bestow gifts for every good deed as He will punish every evil deed.
Q. 843. How many kinds of Indulgences are there?
A. There are two kinds of Indulgences — Plenary and Partial.
Q. 844. What is Plenary Indulgence?
A. A Plenary Indulgence is the full remission of the temporal punishment due to sin.
Q. 845. Is it easy to gain a Plenary Indulgence?
A. It is not easy to gain a Plenary Indulgence, as we may understand from its great privilege. To gain a Plenary Indulgence, we must hate sin, be heartily sorry for even our venial sins, and have no desire for even the slightest sin. Though we may not gain entirely each Plenary Indulgence we seek, we always gain a part of each; that is, a partial indulgence, greater or less in proportion to our good dispositions.
Q. 846. Which are the most important Plenary Indulgences granted by the Church?
A. The most important Plenary Indulgences granted by the Church are:
The Indulgences of a jubilee which the Pope grants every twenty-five years or on great occasions by which he gives special faculties to confessors for the absolution of reserved sins; The Indulgence granted to the dying in their last agony.
Q. 847. What is a Partial Indulgence?
A. A Partial Indulgence is the remission of part of the temporal punishment due to sin.
Q. 848. How long has the practice of granting Indulgences been in use in the Church, and what was its origin?
A. The practice of granting Indulgences has been in use in the Church since the time of the apostles. It had its origin in the earnest prayers of holy persons, and especially of the martyrs begging the Church for their sake to shorten the severe penances of sinners, or to change them into lighter penances. The request was frequently granted and the penance remitted, shortened or changed, and with the penance remitted the temporal punishment corresponding to it was blotted out.
Q. 849. How do we show that the Church has the power to grant Indulgences?
A. We show that the Church has the power to grant Indulgences, because Christ has given it power to remit all guilt without restriction, and if the Church has power, in the Sacrament of penance, to remit the eternal punishment — which is the greatest — it must have power to remit the temporal or lesser punishment, even outside the Sacrament of Penance.