Indulge me

“Pope will wash away your sins through twitter” ran the headline in my newspaper. Apparently those who wish to earn the plenary indulgence associated with the Pope’s visit to Brazil do not need to go there; instead they can follow the events through the television, on a computer, or on a mobile telephone. But mere listening may not be enough – we would first have to confess our sins and attend Mass, At this time I do not know whether recording is allowed. It would for example, be useful to store the event on a dvd recorder, and switch it on at one’s deathbed. In that way the slate would be clean at just the right moment. Nor do I know whether watching the recording from time to time in the future would result in a series of indulgences, or merely share in the one gained at first viewing. Perhaps I could transfer an additional indulgence obtained this way to contributors to this Blog – or would I need to let you have a copy of the recording?

If I find myself speculating in this way I wonder what sort of messages are received by non Catholics. It must seem very weird, it could even cause scandal, I wonder if the time has come to bury the whole idea of indulgences.

We are all aware that indulgences are not a forgiveness of sin but represent a relieving of all or part of the punishment owing to sin; many indulgences are expressed in terms of the remission earned by so many days of penance. They do not represent days in Purgatory – which, being outside time, has no days.

But unfortunately indulgences have form. We are only too well aware of how they have been misused in the past through being applied to unworthy causes. Luther put them forward as a major reason for his insistence on reformation. Chaucer tells us of the Pardoner in the Canterbury Tales: “His walet lay biforn hym in his lappe/bretful of pardons come from Rome al hoot.” In one day, apparently, he collected more money than a parson could in two months.

The earliest indulgences appear to have originated in the third century where those about to be martyred could be induced to sign vouchers (libellus pacis) whereby, after death, their merits could be transferred to others. St Cyprian was greatly concerned by the ‘blank cheque’ option where the recipient’s name could be filled in later. Worth a few bob, I imagine.

One might argue that they are conducive to ‘slot machine’ Catholicism. Put a penny in the slot and out comes the jackpot every time! But the Christian life should not be like that. We know the seriousness of sin, we know how Christ is ready, even anxious, to forgive our sins. And we understand the obligation of penance to correct through our good deeds what we have spoiled through our bad deeds. Catherine of Genoa held that holy souls were only too happy to be in Purgatory, having at last realised their need for cleansing before they would be ready for the beatific vision. To attempt to obtain the rewards of penance by trivial acts such as indulgences smacks of superstition.

So perhaps indulgences belong to the past, and should stay there. Then there would be no need for misunderstanding and scandals. Moreover it would help us to realise that God only requires one thing: that we should love him enough, and live that love in the world. But you may disagree.

Having said that, perhaps rather smugly, I must confess that I take comfort from the Nine First Fridays. This was the promise, made by the Sacred Heart to St Margaret Mary, that all those who received Holy Communion on nine successive First Fridays in honour of the Sacred Heart would receive the grace of final perseverance on their death bed. I completed them at the age of eleven, and have felt more secure ever since. Superstition? Or, trust?

(link to Nine First Fridays: http://www.prayerbook.com/Devotions/Sacred%20Heart/ninefri.htm )

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Church and Society, Moral judgment, Quentin queries, Spirituality. Bookmark the permalink.

117 Responses to Indulge me

  1. Peter D. Wilson says:

    I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of indulgences: whatever good it may do must surely be outweighed by its inevitably fostering superstition within the church and scandal – indeed, derision – outside. However, the Church must presumably have some reason for continuing the practice of granting them; it would be good to be given an adequate justification if such exists.

  2. JohnL says:

    I, too, feel happier for the Nine First Fridays at an early age, though I would probably bear criticism that I knew little of what was really important – your “slot machine” comment might have some force. There again, I trust the Lord to allow for and protect the innocent. I remain totally in favour of indulgences, which, we have always understood, could be applied to other souls than our own. I managed to get a Mass said for a deceased friend at at Privileged Altar for a plenary indulgence applicable only to him – who hears of these nowadays?
    For some reason the Church seems to be playing down the idea of indulgences, and I wish it would shout from the rooftops what they actually are. The thing that hurts about indulgences is the rubbish that is spoken about them. Did the Protestant Reformation really spring from a reaction against the “sale” of indulgences?
    I guess you might hear from our old friend Advocatus Diaboli on the subject.

  3. tim says:

    Yes. Well. While on the one hand, yet on the other….

    I have no doubt that the doctrine of indulgences is misunderstood and can cause scandal. On the other hand, it is difficult to think of any specific Catholic doctrine of which this might not be said (counterexamples welcome!). But it also causes scandal if the Church says “We got this wrong” (though not as much as when she fails to do so when she ought to). Apologies (however necessary in some cases) are also likely to be misunderstood. Newman (somewhere, I believe – I haven’t checked) expresses regret about the apology to Galileo. Modern science, I believe, does not privilege frames of reference – so that it is as valid to consider the universe rotating round the earth as to consider the earth rotating on its axis. On indulgences, anything that encourages more frequent confession has a lot going for it.

  4. Horace says:

    At school I made several attempts at the ‘Nine Fridays’ always getting as far as the 7th or 8th and then missing the next Friday for some reason. Worrying?

  5. Singalong says:

    Same here, Horace, while my husband has succeeded many times and still never misses!

    • stormdog1 says:

      I try to go to Mass every day,to me it is not something that is a hardship for me-so therefore I don’t expect any favours from The Lord to be present, nor am I doing Him a favour to be there.
      There is also the Five Saturdays where it has something to do with what Our Lady asked for at Fatima (I think) which being at Mass on a Saturday I am doing all the time. I don’t think about getting into a state if I miss one, things don’t work for my faith like that.I am not knocking it,to each their own and if it helps someone’s spiritual welfare so be it!

  6. John Nolan says:

    Indulgences were certainly open to widespread abuse, but rather than suppress them, popes and Councils over the centuries identified and condemned the abuses while upholding the doctrine, so they are here to stay, at least in principle. In what are rather loosely termed the Last Rites, the priest confers a plenary indulgence on the person about to die: Ego, facultate mihi ab Apostolica Sede tributa, indulgentiam plenarium et remissionem omnium peccatorum tibi concedo.

    Non-Catholics often find auricular confession and transubstantiation a scandal, but surely that is not a reason for doing away with either.

  7. Singalong says:

    Yes, there are a lot of Catholic doctrines which are hard to understand until they are carefully explained, though indulgences are historically a special case and there was widespread abuse in the later mediaeval period.

    I have never been able to be sure of having gained a plenary indulgence as they certainly do not operate like slot machines. It was made very clear to me at a young age that the lifting of punishment due to sin depended on fulfilling the particular requirements with perfect dispositions. This is confirmed in the latest edition of the Simple Prayer Book, p. 124-126, which states, “It is further required, that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent. If this disposition is in any way less than perfect . . . the (plenary) indulgence will be partial only.”

  8. Michael Horsnall says:

    Isn’t anyone going to do the unthinkable and state clearly what indulgences are and what is the theology behind them?

    • John Nolan says:

      The Apostolic Constitution ‘Indulgentiarum Doctrina’ issued by Paul VI on 1 January 1967 states the post-Vatican II position on indulgences, and explains the theology behind them. It is on the Vatican website.

    • JohnL says:

      In laymen’s terms – we are so often discussing God’s infinite mercy that we forget that He is also infinitely just. Justice demands recompense for an offence. That is why we are urged to do penance. the Church may define certain acts as having the equivalent “value” as a period of the old “canonical” penances observed in earlier days. The Church may do so on the grounds that “Whatever you bind on earth shal be considered bound in heaven”.
      Theologians among our readership will accuse me of gross over-simplification. So be it.

  9. RAHNER says:

    Indulgences should be dropped or at least reinterpreted. Salvation involves transformation and this can be painful. But the idea that God wants, needs or requires human punishment for sins that have been forgiven evokes a crude anthropomorphic image of God as a bad tempered Cosmic dictator that is no more credible than is a literal reading of Genesis…..

  10. ionzone says:

    I’ve always understood an indulgence to be something like a letter of recommendation from a previous employer, and that they should be treated the same way by the church.

    One of the most interesting things that critics of the church attack is the forgiveness of sins, particularly the way the church seems to simply forgive them automatically. Some see this as hypocritical, but then Pope John Paul visited his fully-forgiven would-be assassin in prison and, amazingly, kept in touch. If I remember, Benedict was rushed by a crazy woman, but no charges were brought against her. The thing people find shocking is the same thing that people in Jesus’s time found shocking – the idea that a third party can forgive someone. Really, though, the Church’s job is not to forgive on behalf of the victim, but to forgive on behalf of God. In other words, the church doesn’t actually forgive people, they simply act as a conduit.

    One of the arguments I hear again and again, though, is that the church forgives people who are insincere, but that isn’t exactly true. Even if the church forgives knows of that insincerity and may or may not choose to take it up with them at a later date! All the church does is follow the eternal mandate to forgive whomever seeks forgiveness.

    The thing here that really angers those people, the crux of the issue, is that they don’t like forgiveness because it gets in the way of revenge. Which is the point.

  11. ionzone says:

    Even if the church forgives *God* knows of that insincerity and may or may not choose to take it up with them at a later date!

    Sorry.

  12. Geordie says:

    The abuse of indulgences was, and still is, easy. I agree with RAHNER. We tend to see God in our own image and likeness, instead of the other way round. There is only one specified command in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses and we forgive those who trespass against us”. This is very worrying. All the indulgences in the world will be ineffective if we harbour grudges against others and refuse to forgive. This isn’t easy.

  13. Geordie says:

    “as” not “and” . Sorry

  14. John Nolan says:

    Geordie, can you explain what you mean by “abuse of indulgences”? They cannot be earned unless the person is properly disposed, and refusal of forgiveness and harbouring grudges hardly indicates a right disposition. If anyone doesn’t like the idea of indulgences, he can simply ignore them, though it would a foolhardy Catholic who refused one on his deathbed. Tetzel exceeded his brief by offering indulgences for specific souls in purgatory. Luther condemned the abuse of indulgences, then the doctrine of indulgences, then the authority of the pope to teach on this or any other issue, then the doctrine of purgatory, and within a very short time you arrive at the position that if something isn’t directly referenced in Scripture, then it’s false. And if it’s false it’s contrary to Scripture, therefore the work of the Devil. There are protestant websites which claim to prove, using ingenious evidence which would certainly convince the gullible, that popes are agents of Satan.

  15. Advocatus Diaboli says:

    I am flattered that John L. suggests that I would like to contribute to your discussion on Indulgences.
    Actually, I think they are an excellent wheeze so I thoroughly approve.
    Invent, out of thin air, a store of value called, say, ‘The Church’s Merits’. It can neither be seen nor touched yet it is infinite in its volume. Then you sell it. It can be a direct sale, or it can be bought by a donation to be devoted to a good work such as building St Peters, or in return for some act of fealty to the Church.
    It’s enormously clever, and the psychology behind it explains why the Vatican Bank is continually in trouble. When Christ said “And I say to you: Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity” he may not have had money-laundering and indulgences precisely in mind, but it provides a good scriptural authority. .

      • St.Joseph says:

        On all Souls Day we would go to Mass, and come out and go in to the Church as many times as we like,and offer it up for the Holy Souls in Purgatory then visit a Cemitery say 3 Our Fathers, 3 Hail Mary.s and 3 Glory be to the Father for the Holy Father’s intentions. One would receive a Plenary Indulgence.
        That does not cost a penny, just our time’ our prayers, and our thoughts .It is a good and holy thing to pray for the dead.As we are taught when we were young.
        I still do it.One does not need to have money-just faith-but then that is a FREE Gift from God’ willing to accept it with humility.

      • Michael Horsnall says:

        AD:

        “The Magisterium of the Church has defended and illustrated this doctrine in various documents.[40] Unfortunately, the practice of indulgences has at times been improperly used either through “untimely and superfluous indulgences” by which the power of the keys was humiliated and penitential satisfaction weakened,[41] or through the collection of “illicit profits” by which indulgences were blasphemously defamed[42] But the Church, in deploring and correcting these improper uses “teaches and establishes that the use of indulgences must be preserved because it is supremely salutary for the Christian people and authoritatively approved by the sacred councils; and it condemns with anathema those who maintain the uselessness of indulgences or deny the power of the Church to grant them.”[43]………”..Indulgentiarum Doctrina’

        Whoops………. what was it you were saying?

  16. Iona says:

    Chaucer’s Pardoner sold indulgences for money, and that (I understand) is where the abuse came in. Going to confession and to Mass, taking communion, and saying specific prayers, on specified days, does not involve any exchange of money.

    I will admit to feeling uneasy about “the Divine economy” (what A.D. calls “the Church’s Merits”). It seems too automatic. (My husband used to refer to “Brownie points”). In my mind, it goes together with advice (which I came across in a booklet from Medugorje) to “sprinkle drops of holy water around for the Holy Souls, as a single drop of holy water may be enough to release a soul whose time in purgatory is nearly up”. Quite apart from the question of time and purgatory, this impels me to wonder why, if true, does not every priest bless a bucketful of water every day and throw it out onto his lawn, thus releasing hundreds of holy souls on a daily basis? – Or maybe he does?
    There must be another way of thinking about it. Someone tell me what it is!

    • St.Joseph says:

      Iona.
      That me me smile- I don’t know why But just imagining all the clergy doing what you said with a bucket of holy water,although I am a great believer in Holy water to make Satan flee!!!

    • JohnL says:

      This issue of “sale” of indulgences is what really annoys me when the question of “abuse” arises. An induklgence may be “earned” by prayers or good works.. If a good work consists in donating money to a defined purpose, then that is NOT a “sale”. Indeed the “sale” of spiritual benefits is well known to all (?) as the sin of simony.
      Apologies for the over-use of quotation marks, but, as I discussed with A.D. on a previous occasion, words are often inadequate to satisfactorily deal with spiritual matters. He makes good use of such literal-mindedness in his comment above.

  17. Iona says:

    Rahner rejects “the idea that God wants, needs or requires human punishment for sins that have been forgiven”; and presumably indeed He (God) does not. But human beings themselves may feel that they need in some way to make reparation, and would be uneasy with no more than a pat on the head and a “that’s all right, dear”. Hence penances (and indulgences?) meet a human need, rather than a divine demand.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Iona .
      I agree with you.
      If I commit a sin against my neighbour ; I must make it right even after Confession

    • Singalong says:

      “the idea that God wants, needs or requires human punishment for sins that have been forgiven”
      Isn`t it the whole basis of Christianity that God required His Son to redeem us by His life, and by His sufferings and crucifixion? Evil and sin had to be overcome by love even unto death. Christ has won forgiveness for us, but we have at least a small share in the punishment He accepted, for His sake as well as for our own.

      • Singalong says:

        On the other hand . . .

        The second reading from St. Paul`s letter to the Colossians, in today`s Mass, includes, “He has overridden the Law, and cancelled every record of the debt that we had to pay; he has done away with it by nailing it to the cross.”

        We certainly need the Church to interpret these writings.

      • RAHNER says:

        Perhaps your understanding of the whole basis of Christianity is wrong?

  18. Michael Horsnall says:

    As I understand it when we sin we break our communion with God AND we do some act or another in: ‘thought, word or deed’ which incurs a ‘debt’ if you like and this ‘debt’ is of temporal punishment. Its rather like a smudge on the table cloth which must be cleaned even though Johnny has been forgiven for scribbling on the linen with his wax crayons……So gaining remission from these the ‘stains’ of sin can be understood as penance-confession being one aspect and the earning of ‘indulgences’ another. This earning of indulgence can only be properly done, as John Nolan intimates, from the position of having a circumcised heart-in other words from the state of contrition, humility and an earnest desire to ‘make good’ The power of the church in the matter of ‘binding and loosing’ sins was conferred upon the disciples (as the early church) by Christ himself. This means that the granting of indulgences acts as a concrete manner of appropriating the grace and supernatural power of God to holiness of being and of conduct. Increase of holiness comes partly through the process of expunging temporal sin with its inclination to concupiscence. The gaining of indulgences is this understanding is similar in nature to penance:
    “Thus the Church dos not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them on to works of devotion” CCC1478.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mke Horsnall.
      A good comment from the CCC.
      The reason why it was published so that no one can claim to be ignorant as to what the Church teaches.
      Why is this not studied in our Catholic Schools in our homes and in our Parishes.
      With Bible studies we must include the CCC, not every one has a good priest to interpret Scripture after the Readings and Gospels at Holy Mass.
      Perhaps we would have more Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious life if it were.and along with a good Liturgy.which we are having mostly now or at least better.

  19. John Nolan says:

    It should of course be remembered that ideas of the afterlife are to an extent speculative, and the Church, which has no jurisdiction over the dead (indulgences for the Holy Souls being ‘per modum suffragii’, i.e. petitions to God), admits as much. The doctrine of purgatory as developed in the Western Church during the Middle Ages has no direct counterpart in the Eastern Churches, which therefore have no indulgences. Up to the nineteenth century Patriarchs would sometimes issue “absolution certificates” in exchange for money, but these were pardons rather than indulgences. When, at the end of the sixteenth century, the Byzantine-rite Ukrainian Church came into Communion with Rome, variations concerning purgatory and indulgences were not judged to be an impediment to unity. An indulgence is not a sacrament, nor even a sacramental. Iona’s and Mike’s recent posts are very insightful, and have certainly given me food for thought.

    • JohnL says:

      “the Church, (which) has no jurisdiction over the dead (indulgences for the Holy Souls being ‘per modum suffragii’, i.e. petitions to God),”
      Is this actually so,John? I repeat an earlier comment of mine…
      “I managed to get a Mass said for a deceased friend at at Privileged Altar for a plenary indulgence applicable only to him – who hears of these nowadays?”
      The Mass has infinite merits, so the indulgence is not limited by my dispositions. The privilege is the fact that, unlike our own offerings for the souls in purgatory, this indulgence is applicable to a specified individual soul.
      “What you bind on earth will be considered bound in heaven”.
      On the oft-repeated principle that God’s “environment” is not limited by time, then post-mortem spiritual benefits probably apply pre-mortem.
      OK – muddy waters, but worth considering. And, please, does anyone else remember privileged altars and privileged priests? Someone else wrote of the last rites including a plenary indulgence administered by the priest at the point of death. Given today’s shortage of priests, having one at the point of death may be considered a rarity, so post-mortem spiritual benefits are to be earnestly desired.

      • St.Joseph says:

        John L.
        When someone visits a Holy Shrine like Lourdes or Fatima or may be St Padre Pio’s Tomb.we send petitions and Masses for loved ones alive and deceased. We give a donation . Can we say that the Church is selling the prayers asked for by us.
        Would some say that we ought not to give an offering.
        Or why a collection at Mass on Sundays.
        The Church needs money.Where do other denominations get their money from.
        I have no problem with this.
        I agree with what you say.
        I would consider it as good works. A lot of people who were not catholics or lapsed. raised hundreds for a new Church when it needed building finance and fittings.
        I believe God will look on their generosity when they die-it will be in their favour.and serve towards their salvation. A matter of the Scales.

        .

      • Michael Horsnall says:

        John L,
        I think for ‘jurisdiction’ you could read ‘authority’ or ‘rule’ Then John Nolans quote makes a bit more sense. The church may have good intentions toward the dead but it cannot speak for them or make decisions for them in any real sense.

  20. Iona says:

    Indulgences being “petitions to God” – that makes sense to me.
    I’m sure Nektarios said something once about the Eastern Churches’ understanding of a stage after death which is neither heaven nor hell, but from which the soul will eventually reach heaven. But I’ve no idea, now, how to find it.

  21. Michael Horsnall says:

    “….For this reason there certainly exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth a perennial link of charity and an abundant exchange of all the goods by which, with the expiation of all the sins of the entire Mystical Body, divine justice is placated. God’s mercy is thus led to forgiveness, so that sincerely repentant sinners may participate as soon as possible in the full enjoyment of the benefits of the family of God…..” Indulgentiarum doctrina

    I don’t think that indulgences can be classed as petitions to God-unless we class the sacrifice of Christ in similar vein; perhaps this is a valid view I’m not certain. Indulgences presumably come from such as prayers, works, holiness, self sacrifice and ultimately the atonement of Christ which has gained for us a limitless mercy. To the extent that the prayers, works and martyrdoms of the saints for the salvation of souls can be classed as petitions to God then there is a point in terming them so. I think the sense overall is of Gods overflowing mercy channelled in such a way as to provoke the living to greater devotion which will inevitably lead to holiness of life. The church seems to say there is an equivalent process for the ‘dead’ in purgatory, as if the whole body of Christ in its various stages on both sides of physical death continues the journey into holiness and transformation to the likeness of Christ. Personally speaking I like this corporate aspect of God-the constant striving and failing of the individual life easily becomes wearisome and it is good to know in truth, that one is not alone.
    Finally its worth considering that some of the punishment for temporal sin happens here and now-in this life – in the form of the temporal misery we inflict upon ourselves as a result of our actions. I think Pope Gregory had thoughts along this line but I haven’t tracked them down yet.

    • John Nolan says:

      The idea of “petitions to God” only concern indulgences gained on behalf of the Holy Souls in purgatory. Indulgences granted to the living by the authority of the Church, in particular by the authority of the Roman Pontiff, are not suffrages.

  22. Michael Horsnall says:

    PS…Just checked the rules and find, to my surprise, I seem to have racked up a few plenary indulgences…anyone want to buy a couple???

  23. John Candido says:

    How much?

  24. Geordie says:

    John Nolan
    I mean by “the abuse of indulgences”; Julius II issued indulgences to make money to build the new St. Peter’s Basilica. Luther was right in condemning this. It is only one example of abuse but there are plenty of others.

    • John Nolan says:

      Geordie
      The reason I asked for clarification was that your post suggested that a) the abuse of indulgences still continues and that b) the abuse is on the part of the recipient. There are plenty of examples of historical abuse, and the reason we know about them is that they are mentioned in the papal and conciliar documents, stretching over hundreds of years, which condemned them. To use the term ‘abuse’ also assumes that there is a legitimate ‘use’.

      During the Second Vatican Council some of the German bishops argued that the granting of indulgences should be ended completely. This is hardly surprising given the origins of the Reformation in Germany, and the fact that there were Lutheran observers at the Council. However, Paul VI and most of the Council fathers disagreed, and Paul in his Apostolic Constitution of January 1967 reaffirmed the doctrine, explained the theology behind it, and simplified the system. John Paul II was the first pope to offer a television indulgence. This could be considered an abuse – the same pontiff has been accused of abusing the canonization process. But it seems to have passed without much comment, because I suspect most people don’t regard indulgences as being particularly relevant or important. In any case, few Mass-going Catholics avail themselves of the Sacrament of Penance, which is one of the conditions for gaining an indulgence.

    • JohnL says:

      Geordie, If an indulgence is granted for a good work, and the Church defines contributing money to a particular Church expense as a good work, then where is the problem?
      It is others, not the Church who regard this as a “sale”.
      Doubtless many of the priests who dispensed these indulgences failed to clarify this, and I dare say that more than a few pocketed the money themselves. Therein lies the abuse, but the indulgence itself is not at fault. There were many motives for the protestant reformation and this particular topic provided merely one axe for the reformers to grind.

  25. Iona says:

    Interesting link to a variety of views on purgatory – or at least, on an intermediate state before final judgement – thank you , Quentin.

    Are there other examples of “abuse of indulgences” besides attempting to make money from them?

    • John Nolan says:

      Iona, if you google ‘indulgences’ it will take you to the article from the (older) Catholic Encyclopaedia on the New Advent website. It’s a long article, but contains a wealth of useful information, and there is a section on abuses.

  26. John Thomas says:

    “Catherine of Genoa held that holy souls … in Purgatory, having at last realised their need for cleansing before they would be ready for the beatific vision.” – Isn’t this basically the view C. S. Lewis (an Anglican, of course) was putting forward in The Great Divorce?

    • St.Joseph says:

      John Thomas.
      I was wondering how the souls in Purgatory would come to the realisation for their need of cleansing-would you have an idea?
      I am thinking now about the good thief on the cross.

      • Singalong says:

        St. Joseph, isn`t it seeing our own souls clearly, in comparison with the searing goodness and greatness of God, when we come before Him after death, which will give us this realisation. We are not worthy to approach Him.

        We don`t usually see it in this life, but the Good Thief must have been given a special divine flash of illumination, Christ, in His love and mercy, responding to some real spiritual goodness in his heart.

  27. Iona says:

    Isn’t it also similar to Cardinal Newman’s, as indicated in “The Dream of Gerontius”?

  28. Iona says:

    John Nolan – thank you very much. Very interesting article (very interesting website, in fact).

  29. St.Joseph says:

    Iona.
    All this would suggest to me that only Catholics will be able to obtain enough Grace to enter into Paradise-unless of course they were ‘squeaky white and clean before they died..

  30. St.Joseph says:

    Singalong.
    Thank you for your reply.
    I don’t wish to seem presumptuous .
    But let me explain what I mean
    I am in my seventies but please God I hope by now (although still weak to sin but strength in my will,) I can be assured that I am prepared to die and meet my Maker,
    If NOT what a sad negative life it is has been to be a Catholic.
    I will explain it further ‘ We as Catholics do know or ought to ‘how to prepare for death-and the meaning to my comment to Iona above, ‘unless they are Catholics and have the opportunity as we do- will they be in Purgatory for a time..

    We can discuss all we like on the ins and outs of this.but lets be real.
    Other Christians don’t have the believe in our Churches teachings-so some ought to answer the question ‘NO Salvation outside the Catholic Church Unless they enter into Purgatory!.’ Or are ‘squeaky squeaky clean!’
    .

    • Singalong says:

      St. Joseph, I don`t think what you say sounds presumptuous, but I do think that many of us probably expect some purification in Purgatory before we are fit to live with our God in the heaven He has prepared for us.

      Anyone who is able to receive absolution and a plenary indulgence with perfect dispositions, especially at the hour of death, would not need this, and would be in the same situation as the Good Thief, and also anyone who is a real saint would be in the that position.

      This is all basic Catholic teaching isn`t it, though there do seem to be differences of opinion about how many “ordinary” people might be actual saints!

      “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold,” I think, includes all people who are doing the best that they know, according to their knowledge, and experience, and capabilities. I think that God treats them with the same mercy and justice as we trust and expect to receive, and makes allowances for all their circumstances.

      As Catholics, we have many graces available to us, and clear pathways to the love of God, but that also gives us more responsibility to use them, and to try and spread them to others, as He wishes. From those to whom much is given, much will be expected. I have to admit that there have been times in my life when I have looked on all these gifts as somewhat of a burden, and imagined that life as a non Catholic would be a lot easier.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Singalong.
        Thank you. Sorry.
        But I do disagree with you.
        John 14.
        We live in the world , but not of it.!
        If I felt how you describe, I would crawl on my belly to recieve Our Lord in Holy Communion!

  31. Michael Horsnall says:

    ST Joseph,

    I don’t think the Catholic Church any longer teaches that there is no salvation outside its bounds. I expect, and indeed hope for Purgatory since it seems pretty obvious that most of us will go there and I know that too much revelation in the state I am at present would probably be the end of me!! I don’t think there will be much distinction between Catholic and other denomination Christians personally. Certainly when I go prison visiting there seems no shortage of Catholics to pray for! As to purgatory illumination again it seems evident that our longing turns to Christ as we see both his radiance and our own sorry state together. This latter is the driving force of increased holiness in this life so it would seem that the same driving force will continue to apply. There can be no worse state surely to find oneself in hell yet longing for heaven?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike. One to my knowledge does not go to Hell for venial sins.
      I don’t know the state of your soul you obviously do as you speak.
      Despair is the opposite to presumption also a sin not to trust in the Lord..
      We can scrape at our soul to purify ourselves but we are now friends with Jesus-He calls us that now.
      The Church still teaches us HOW to get to Heaven and the answer is in RC teaching through Sacramental Grace-if not where is our Faith?
      Our Church has all the answers!
      Thats why I made the comment it is a good and holy thing to pray for the Holy Souls as we don’t know who is suffering in Purgatory
      Again I will say ‘ we know how to be saved’ BUT are those who don’t know forgiven because they have not the opportunity to the Graces that we have.
      All the more REASON to STAND firm in the churches teachings
      It is no good saying ‘all are saved’ We don’t KNOW!..

  32. John Nolan says:

    Mike, I remember an article in The Times some years ago wherein it revealed that the proportion of Catholics in prison exceeded the proportion of Catholics in society as a whole. A letter published the next day said simply: “Because the Devil concentrates all his efforts on them [ie Catholics]. Why bother with those who are his already?”

  33. Michael Horsnall says:

    Well you know John, there’s something in that I think, certainly we have enemies.

  34. St.Joseph says:

    An interesting comment from the Holy Father on the News tonight.
    Confirming the teaching of the Church on homosexuality.
    CCC. 2358 Nothing new!

  35. Iona says:

    Singalong – “life as a non-Catholic would be a lot easier” – there’s a character in one of Graham Greene’s novels (I forget which one), a Catholic, who makes a point of NOT telling her (non-Catholic) father anything about the Catholic faith, so that he will avoid damnation on account of his invincible ignorance.

    • Singalong says:

      Iona, that sounds typical Graham Green! Perhaps someone can tell us which book?

    • John Nolan says:

      Also Julia’s reflection in ‘Brideshead Revisited’ that her non-Catholic friends can divorce and remarry, and still go to heaven, but she cannot. Waugh thought Graham Greene’s theology was decidedly shaky.

  36. St.Joseph says:

    Another interesting comment from the Holy Father today on the News.
    He says, Atheists can go to Heaven as long as they do everything right
    Iona how would that fit in with the comment in one of Graham Green’s novel’s.?
    Surely he means the teaching of the Catholic Church! Then they would not be atheists-do you think?
    I don’t think it wise of the Holy Father to come out with these controversial comments.
    I also wonder what position in the Church he felt women could hold as he said not if’ not Priests
    Food for thought! !
    .

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      St.Joseph – I don’t see anything controversial in saying that atheists can get to heaven, though I can imagine some of them complaining bitterly about being taken there against all their beliefs!

      • St.Joseph says:

        Peter Wilson.
        Your quick off the mark!!Well said you.

      • John Candido says:

        Very clever! Peter Wilson is a wit among us.

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        John Candido – you flatter me – the idea is not original. It came from a radio play, many decades ago, about an atheistic British Council lecturer concussed after a fall from a Florentine(?) balcony and awaking in a hospital ward set up in a palazzo with a ceiling painting representing a celestial scene, and imagining himself defunct. I wonder if anyone else on the blog remembers it?

      • St.Joseph says:

        John Candido.
        It didn’t go over your head either
        !

  37. Singalong says:

    St. Joseph, There is no reply button under your 6/7.56 reply, so I am using this box.

    I would appreciate it if you could say what part of my comment you disagree with.
    And, also, I am wondering about, “if I felt like you describe . . . ” I did say, “times in my life when . . . ” which relates to a few times in the past, not to the present.
    I am genuinely quite puzzled

  38. Singalong says:

    Rahner, 6.54, again, no reply button . . .

    What is your understanding of the whole basis of Christianity?

    • Quentin says:

      Singalong, the site does not have unlimited levels for reply to a particular contribution – or we would end up with space for only three word replies! But, had you used the reply button on you ‘parent’ comment (10.26) , your reply would have been posted in the right place.

      • JohnL says:

        This is a useful note, Quentin, especially for one like me who is not well versed in the arts of blogging. The numbering identities which you and others refer to would be valuable insertion data, but I see no sign of those numbers on my screen.
        Kind regards

      • Quentin says:

        The numbers are the times recorded when contributions are received. It’s a simple way to identify a particular contribution.

      • JohnL says:

        Thanks, Quentin. I had gained the impression that someone was describing a numbering system based on (a) parent comments plus (b) reply plus (c) sub-reply etc. Clearly this is not so. Time is helpful, but date is needed also. Anyhow, the point is that this is a do-it-yourself methodology, it isn’t a built-in classification.
        Mea culpa.

  39. Singalong says:

    Thank you, Quentin, it is useful to know that.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Singalong.
      We all ought to be able to receive our Lord in Communion with Him when we receive Him at Holy Mass.
      Meet Him there as if we are meeting Him when we die.
      Our conscience must be clear even if it disagrees with anyone else, if not as I said I would ‘crawl on my belly to receive Him ‘ because His Presence is as real there as when we die!
      If we have repented and made atonement for our past. sins we recognise , He will not remember them.
      John 14 & 15 will tell us how Jesus feels about our relationship with Him..
      I hope this will explain what I mean. We must stand firm in our Faith and lose all doubts.
      As I said I hope not too presumptuous. The Apostles as we are too showed the strength of the Holy Spirit that is why they could die for their beliefs.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Singalong
        PS.
        But I still leave the last decision in ‘His Hands’-hence the reason why I receive Him on the tongue. That is just me .

      • Singalong says:

        Thank you, St. Joseph.
        I don`t really see, or agree with the connection you are making between the need many of us will have for further purification in Purgatory after death, and receiving Holy Communion in this life. Our Lord`s promise of eternal life is there, but not necessarily immediately.
        I wonder if you have ever sung The Dream of Gerontius in one of your choirs? Newman seems to be accepting that Purgatory is more than likely, and expresses it beautifully, and in the most consoling way, particularly, I think, in the Soul`s solo towards the end, “Take me away . . . “

      • St.Joseph says:

        Singalong.
        Am I making a connection between the need many of us will have for further purification?
        I have sung the Dream of Gerontius yes.I have also sung On Holy Ground Barbara Streisand. I feel Holy Mass the Eucharist the Sanctuary is our meeting with The Lord, the Tabernacle Most High there is no separation in life or death, past present or future it is timeless at that point. I don’t speak for anyone elses life I stand there alone worshipping GOD the Father receiving all 3 in One.That is where I will be when I die,hopefully.I don’t presume where anyone else will be that is their life..
        I only spread the Gospel as I see it like we all do if anyone wan’t to listen and then make their own mind and conscience it is up to them.Like I have and always will listen and make my mind up..
        .

      • Singalong says:

        Thank you for your reply again 1/2.31. I do follow what you are saying now. I hope you agree that it was worth persevering!

  40. Geordie says:

    JohnL
    If you consider knocking down a thousand year-old basilica so that you could build a bigger, vain-glorious one, then so be it. It doesn’t count as a good work in my book.

    In addition to this, I think that the Church in general, and the hierarchy in particular, are far too interested in money (“that tainted thing”).

    • John Nolan says:

      Without money, how can the Church carry out her missionary activity, let alone help the poor?

    • JohnL says:

      Fair point, Geordie. It wasn’t me who defined it as a “good work” so others may agree with you that it shows a wrong sense of priority.

  41. St.Joseph says:

    Singalong.
    Thank you for your reply.
    I know I can be a bit obscure when trying to explain things. It does not always become clear.
    I am pleased when people ask me to explain things , it helps a great deal when we do instead of ‘avoiding it”!..

  42. Michael Horsnall says:

    ST Joseph

    “…Our conscience must be clear even if it disagrees with anyone else, if not as I said I would ‘crawl on my belly to receive Him ‘ because His Presence is as real there as when we die!….”

    Hmmm, sounds like a novel way to receive communion. You are speaking metaphorically I guess and mean that if you had committed venial sins which did not separate you from communion with God then you would hurry along to receive communion which is recommended as a ‘cure’ for the state. You might do this before or after making reparation for whatever you did, said, thought or didn’t do because you would know that the way home was still open to you despite what you did to let yourself and the church down. If however you had committed mortal sin then you would hurry along for confession first! Is that what you mean?

    Just as a side issue, a clear conscience is no real guideline for anything unfortunately. If my conscience is sensitive then it may be accurate, if it is hyper sensitive it may be morbid, if it is seared it will be very dulled and if the conscience is uninformed then it may simply be ignorant of its task.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike Horsnall.
      A good little ‘story’ How old are you,? I expect I am old enough to be your mother. Perhaps you have a lot more time than me to learn.!!!

      • Michael Horsnall says:

        ST Joseph,

        “…..Hmmm, sounds like a novel way to receive communion. You are speaking metaphorically I guess and mean that if you had committed venial sins which did not separate you from communion with God then you would hurry along to receive communion which is recommended as a ‘cure’ for the state. You might do this before or after making reparation for whatever you did, said, thought or didn’t do because you would know that the way home was still open to you despite what you did to let yourself and the church down. If however you had committed mortal sin then you would hurry along for confession first! Is that what you mean?”

        Its not a story its me trying simply to make some sense of your words ST Joseph, is that what you mean’t or not? By the way I’m 60.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Mike Horsnall.
        Still old enough to be your mother
        Mike you worry about things too much when a lot is not necessary-look to thine own self-thats what I do!.
        I examine my own conscience not anyone elses..
        My venial sins may be your mortal, and my mortal may be your venial.
        Let me know if you are still puzzled!!!

    • Singalong says:

      “Just as a side issue, a clear conscience is no real guideline for anything unfortunately. If my conscience is sensitive then it may be accurate, if it is hyper sensitive it may be morbid, if it is seared it will be very dulled and if the conscience is uninformed then it may simply be ignorant of its task.”

      That is very true in my experience.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Singalong.
        Yes, but only you can know that.

        I know two or more people, who have unfortunate marriages. ,(just an example) but I do.
        One couple married a non Catholic, could not get a annulment.
        separated, husband divorced her. Many years later after bringing up the children as Catholics-met someone else not a Catholic but C of E. Could not marry in Church ,married in registry Office. Had more children, brought up as Catholics, Receives Holy Communion, have no conscience only a love for the Lord..

        Other couples Catholics-gets annulments, marries again-gets divorced. marries again ,doesn’t bring the children up Catholics, no Church loses their faith, no Catholic upbringing for children
        It is not for any one to judge- If it was me I would receive Our Lord..Even if it meant moving away!! Not to cause scandal. Which people who would gossip would be greater sinners to me. Judge and ye shall not be judged.
        I believe it is more wrong to use aborafacants and yet the Church and people will condemn the first situation more There are many more issues I would like the Holy Father to tackle where people are suffering spiritually!.

  43. Michael Horsnall says:

    ST Joseph
    I’m not puzzled about anything-just trying to get to the bottom of a figure of speech you used. Also to get to the issue which is that we cannot rely on our own assessment of ourselves. If we do then we are moving headlong into folly.
    Jeremiah 17:9
    New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
    9 The heart is devious above all else;
    it is perverse—
    who can understand it?

    That is why we have confession and that is why we need to be careful in our assessment of our own or any others state. It is also true to say that many of the saints of our Church assessed themselves as VERY low on the scale of holiness simply because in the increased radiance set before them their own sinfulness became even more difficult to bear.

  44. Michael Horsnall says:

    The small sins we swim through daily of course-venial sins which impair our charity. Selfishness of thought,word and deed. Failure to honour the creator and the creation etc etc. Failure to love our neighbour ourself…where do you want to begin!!!!!?????? Even the Apostle Paul got to the stage where he said that he didn’t judge himself any more because he didn’t know his own heart!

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike right.
      You thjerefore speak for your own conscience Good.
      So you know how to examine it. Hopefully we as Catholics do the same.
      We are then in Communion with the Lord when we receive Him at Holy Mass .
      Our conscience will be clear as it will be when we die. (IF we die on the spot) .
      If someone disagrees with me and thinks I ought not to be receiving Holy Communion,
      and tried to convince me I ought not- I would crawl on my belly to do so.
      In other words Wild horses would not keep me away.
      Mike when we love the Lord with our whole heart and our whole soul and our neighbour as ourself- we do things instinctively with the thanksgiving Grace our Lord gives us through the Holy Spirit. and trust in Him
      If you don’t understand that it means that you are not ready to die and meet your Maker.
      Our love for God has to be a pleasure to be enjoyed Because that is how He Love’s us..After all He does not suffer on the Cross any more. He wants us now to enjoy His relationship.We are His chosen people,
      Gosh you are really hard work Mike., but I do respect you for it.I would be the same in your shoes!..
      To be continued I expect!!!!!

  45. Michael Horsnall says:

    ST Joseph …aha at last we have it! Yes I am hard work but that’s because we speak of holy things and therefore clarity is needed sometimes

    “…If someone disagrees with me and thinks I ought not to be receiving Holy Communion,
    and tried to convince me I ought not- I would crawl on my belly to do so.
    In other words Wild horses would not keep me away.
    Mike when we love the Lord with our whole heart and our whole soul and our neighbour as ourself- we do things instinctively with the thanksgiving Grace our Lord gives us through the Holy Spirit. and trust in Him…”

    OK. Yes , wild horses. If that’s what you meant then I agree. One of the greatest mistakes in the life of a disciple is to allow sin to keep them away from the altar. When we do impair our communion with God we find it HURTS and so yes we do rush to restore that communion. Peter the apostle when asked if he was going to leave Jesus wanted to know where else there was to go- because Jesus had the words of life. The way you used ‘crawl on my belly’ was not clear to me since one associates the action also with self loathing and abnegation-to crawl as a worm in other words. Usually if I ask for an explaination that’s all I want, an explaination !! As to loving the lord as you describe Joseph, find me one spiritual writer, Doctor of the Church, saint, who claimed to do so as a settled state!! Therese of Liseux came close perhaps. Still, we keep trying.

  46. mike Horsnall says:

    Yes, amazing amazing grace! I bet she still grumbled at doing the washing though!!

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike Horsnall. How mush do you want to bet on it.
      It is not what Our Lady said so much as what She did. The same for us.. That is more important than words.
      We are not all liberated feminists!!.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Mike Horsnal.
        Something came into my mind so I thought you as you are on the road to being Ordained I would see what you think or would do

        .

        Many years ago 50 or 60 years ago, I had the chance to go to Mass unexpectedly
        in the week, but I had just eaten something. So as I went into Mass it would be less than an hour before I received Holy Communion- short Mass in those days- a priest was at the door so I asked him if it was alright for me to receive Holy Communion as it would have been under the Hour. He looked at me and said ‘I wish you had not asked me that question as I will have to say No. I felt very immature and wish I had not asked.
        My lesson learned! ! .

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        St.Joseph – I think that unless there are very strong contrary reasons, it’s always best to obey even arbitrary rules of the Church (or for that matter, of civil authorities).

  47. mike Horsnall says:

    St Joseph,

    I have recently begun to observe the hour as you say but only as a rough guide not a law. I would think of Jesus and his disciples picking the corn on sundays most probably. I would take a moment to observe your manner to see what was in you then I would most likely say that it was best to keep to the guideline for reasons of humility holiness (ie clearing the space for God) and self discipline. But I wouldn’t have said no unless you were clearly drunk!! In many ways before Mass we are like Moses approaching the burning bush, we have to take our shoes off and this is the equivalent of the hour fast.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike I am not sure but if one commits a mortal sin and receives Holy Communion, Is it right that they can as long as they go to Confession as soon as possible afterwards
      It is OK..

      • Michael Horsnall says:

        Its not a good idea to go to communion if you know you need to go to confession first. I wouldn’t personally. Confession can be organised quite quickly after all. There is a ruling on that somewhere but personally speaking I wouldn’t transgress the holiness of communion through presumption. If it was possible to get to confession over the next few days-which it always is- then I would take those days and penitence-prayer and fasting etc or whatever was appropriate. You often talk of love and closeness to Jesus and to me that is too precious a thing to risk, sin is sin and it ourselves mainly we hurt when we go to the altar in mortal sin unconfessed and thus sear our conscience further. .Don’t do it.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike it was a week day not a Sunday. . I had plenty of moments for self discipline-which I thought more important.If you know what I mean!! That is what I mean by conscience.being too scrupulous. :

      • St.Joseph says:

        Mike seriously. you are not thinking that I am going to do it.
        You are really naive.
        I was asking you a question because I did read somewhere that is what was allowed now.
        There are plenty doing it by using abortifacients – I hope you will teach that to the parishioners you belong to, and have that courage when you are Ordained.
        It is easy to speak your opinion our a blog, If priests were more open about that there would be more NFP users!! and less sin!!.

  48. St.Joseph says:

    Peter D Wilson.
    Thank you.
    However I thought about this afterwards. That I had an opportunity to receive Our Lord as
    someone had called who was going to Mass (ST Joseph’s in Highgate) I seem to think it was a Misson in the evening and it was not something I had done purposefully-that it would have been ok, I now use my own conscience to decide. I think an act of contrition is right, then confess afterwards,if they are serious sins,
    If I had been a priest and know what I know now. that’s what I would have said.
    I don’t believe receiving Our Lord is a serious sin.. unless
    I was sleeping around ,murdering anyone, on contraception etc. Disobedient to rules ‘yes deliberately -maybe so..
    The only thing I did wrong was to ask!!!! But then I was innocent then!!!!!!

  49. I bookmarked this site “to read later” and just now came back.
    Wow! I wish I remembered how I found it, but I am glad
    I did. Keep the info-nuggets coming. You have a new reader.

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