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Deacon-structing: Urbi et Orbi and Plenary Indulgences

Deacon Pedro

Friday, March 27, 2020

Pope Francis delivers a blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) on Christmas Day, 2017. This blessing, which is the one he will give on today, carries with it a plenary indulgence. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
Last Sunday, Pope Francis said that, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, on Friday, March 27, he will give an extraordinary "urbi et orbi" blessing at 6 p.m. Rome time.
(We will be airing that moment of prayer and blessing LIVE at 1 pm ET / 10 am PT. Hope you can join us!)
The formal blessing, “to the city and the world” is usually given only on Christmas and Easter and after the election of a new pope. It also carries with it a plenary indulgence for all who follow by television, internet or radio.
Indeed, this is not something that is usual!
Many people have been asking about this blessing and the indulgence, so let's look at it in more detail.

What is an Indulgence?

An indulgence is a “remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven”. The indulgence is granted if certain conditions are met.

Types of Indulgences

There are two types of indulgences: partial and plenary. Partial indulgences take care of some of the temporal punishment, while a plenary indulgence pays the entire debt of temporal punishment. Plenary indulgences are more difficult to attain, and unlike a partial indulgence only one may be gained per day.
The one offered on Friday is a plenary indulgence.
Many have been making a big deal about this offer of a plenary indulgence. Without going too deep, what is significant about Friday’s indulgence?
First, every time the pope offers an “urbi et orbi” blessing, it comes with a plenary indulgence.
It used to be that the indulgence would only be granted to those who were physically present to receive the pope’s blessing. But in 1985, Saint John Paul II made it possible for someone to receive the indulgence by watching or listening to the blessing on TV or radio as well. Pope Francis made the same change in 2013 for those following the blessing on the internet.
On March 20, the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican department responsible for issues relating to the forgiveness of sins in the Catholic Church, issued a Decree granting special plenary indulgences for those suffering from the coronavirus pandemic if specific conditions are met. So a plenary indulgence has already been made available to those who are sick with the virus and those who are caring for someone who is sick (see the statement from the Vatican below).
This granting of special plenary indulgences by the Apostolic Penitentiary happens every year on the World Day of the Sick for those who pray for the sick, work with the sick or are united to them spiritually, and for those who are sick and offer up their suffering, while meeting the usual conditions for a plenary indulgence.
This one on Friday is no different, but this blessing that Pope Francis is giving is for every single person who watches the blessing and meets the conditions.


The Catechism outlines the "usual conditions" that are necessary in order to receive a plenary indulgence. One of these is that one must receive Communion and go to Confession within a certain number of days of performing the prescribed acts (CCC 1471-1484).  It used to be that one had to satisfy this condition as early as noon prior to performing the act and up to eight days following. However, current Church discipline allows either twenty days before or after the specified act.
This is what’s unique about the plenary indulgence that is being offered on Friday, as well as the one from the Apostolic Penitentiary: In order to receive this plenary indulgence, you have to be following the blessing on TV, internet, or radio; the indulgence is granted for all who are sorry for their sins and who recite certain prescribed prayers. But the usual requirement to go to Communion and Confession within 20 days has been lifted.
In some ways, what’s really different about the March 27 event is not the indulgence, but that the pope is offering an “urbi et orbi” blessing at a time that is not Christmas or Easter. It’s also unique in that people are not required to go to Communion or Confession within the 20 days. This is simply because for many people in the world this is not physically possible because of the suspension of public Masses and the celebration of many of the Sacraments.
But they still need to go as soon as it becomes possible.
We have received so many messages and calls from people all over, asking if we are airing the blessing this Friday. Yes we are! In these uncertain times, it is comforting to have the leadership of a great shepherd, our pope, who understands that people long for God's mercy and forgiveness. People long for health and wholeness. People long for Heaven. Indulgences are but one tool to help us get there. And not only will there be a plenary indulgence granted, but we will have the opportunity to pray with our Holy Father, to listen to Scripture, and to adore the Blessed Sacrament before receiving this most special papal blessing. Not only is it unique, but it is what we need right now.
Be sure to tune in at 1 pm ET today.
Indulgences have been around for a long time, and yes, they are still a thing. It's not hard to gain an indulgence and that is what's so beautiful about the Church's teaching on it.
I think it’s safe to say that indulgences are one of the most misunderstood things in the Catholic Church, and there is a lot more to deacon-struct. Why don’t you come back next time in order to find out more about indulgences.

**Plenary Indulgence Granted to those Suffering from Coronavirus
The Plenary Indulgence is granted to the faithful suffering from Coronavirus, who are subject to quarantine by order of the health authority in hospitals or in their own homes if, with a spirit detached from any sin, they unite spiritually through the media to the celebration of Holy Mass, the recitation of the Holy Rosary, to the pious practice of the Way of the Cross or other forms of devotion, or if at least they will recite the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and a pious invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, offering this trial in a spirit of faith in God and charity towards their brothers and sisters, with the will to fulfill the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer according to the Holy Father's intentions), as soon as possible.”
This Apostolic Penitentiary also willingly grants a Plenary Indulgence under the same conditions on the occasion of the current world epidemic, also to those faithful who offer a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, or Eucharistic adoration, or reading the Holy Scriptures for at least half an hour, or the recitation of the Holy Rosary, or the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross, or the recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, to implore from Almighty God the end of the epidemic, relief for those who are afflicted and eternal salvation for those whom the Lord has called to Himself.
The Church prays for those who find themselves unable to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and of the Viaticum, entrusting each and every one to divine Mercy by virtue of the communion of saints and granting the faithful a Plenary Indulgence on the point of death, provided that they are duly disposed and have recited a few prayers during their lifetime (in this case the Church makes up for the three usual conditions required). For the attainment of this indulgence the use of the crucifix or the cross is recommended (cf. Enchiridion indulgentiarum, no.12).

Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: [email protected]

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