Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

As featured in the November 27th special edition of Catholic Times on the Eucharist, we began our diocesan celebration of the Year of the Eucharist on December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and will continue through December 9th, 2023. In anticipation of this Year of the Eucharist, I requested and received a decree from the Holy See granting a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions of sacramental Confession, Holy Communion, and prayers for the intention of the Pope, for the Christian faithful who are truly penitent and motivated by love to visit our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield or the Church of Ss. Peter and Paul in Alton between the 8th day of December 2022 and the 9th day of December 2023. Such a visit to a sacred place is known as a pilgrimage, which involves attending a liturgical service celebrating the jubilee or at least spending a suitable period of time devoted to prayers for the faithfulness of the Diocese to the Christian vocation, concluding with reciting the Lord’s Prayer, professing the Symbol of Faith, that is, the Creed, as well as offering invocations to the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and Saints Peter and Paul.

Those coming to our Cathedral in Springfield for the Sacraments of Confirmation and First Holy Communion should be mindful to take advantage of this opportunity for a Plenary Indulgence.

The elderly, the sick, and all those who cannot leave their home for a grave reason are equally able to attain a plenary indulgence, having the disposition of detachment from any kind of sin and the intention of fulfilling, as soon as possible, the three usual conditions, by joining themselves spiritually to the jubilee celebrations and offering prayers to the merciful God for the sufferings or hardships of their own lives. One way for them to do this would be by watching and praying along with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass being livestreamed from our Cathedral on

This plenary indulgence may be offered for one’s own spiritual benefit or may be applied through prayer for the souls of the faithful held in Purgatory. All of this may seem a bit byzantine, so some explanation might be helpful.

First, the Decree comes from the Apostolic Penitentiary in Rome. Here the word “Penitentiary” should not be confused with the secular understanding of a penitentiary as a prison, although even that use of the term is rooted in the sense of a place of penance or repentance. The Apostolic Penitentiary is a dicastery or department of the Holy See at the Vatican that has the responsibility to act on behalf of the Pope for matters dealing with what is called the internal forum, such as the Sacrament of Penance, and indulgences as expressions of divine mercy.

Most people have heard of indulgences, but some people mistakenly think that indulgences were abolished some years ago. That is not true. Indulgences as still very much a part of “the heavenly treasures of the Church,” as the Decree from the Apostolic Penitentiary states. Martin Luther protested against the sinful practice of selling indulgences, which is known as simony. The selling of indulgences is forbidden by the Church for the same reason that it is a sin against simony to sell anything that is blessed, such as a blessed rosary or crucifix. It is certainly advantageous to use religious articles for our spiritual benefit that have been blessed after they were purchased. Having abolished the practice of selling indulgences, we should certainly make use of indulgences for our spiritual benefit as well.

According to the Manual of Indulgences published by the Apostolic Penitentiary in 1999, “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment for sins, whose guilt is forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful obtains under certain and clearly defined conditions through the intervention of the Church, which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies authoritatively the expiatory works of Christ and the saints. An indulgence is partial or plenary according to whether it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin” (nn. 1-2).

At this point some people may wonder: if I have confessed my sins and they were forgiven when they were absolved by the priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, how is it that there is still temporal punishment for my sins? Saint Augustine provides a helpful answer to that question: “Man is obliged to suffer (in this life) even when his sins are forgiven, although it was the first sin that caused him to fall into this misery. For the penalty is of longer duration than the guilt, lest the guilt should be accounted small, were the penalty also to end with it. It is for this reason—either to make manifest the indebtedness of his misery, or to correct his frailty in this life, or to exercise him in necessary patience—that man is held in this life to the penalty, even when he is no longer held to the guilt unto eternal damnation” (Tract n the Gospel of John, 124, 5).

The difference between forgiveness of the guilt and paying the penalty can be seen clearly in the sin of stealing. When a person goes to sacramental Confession and is absolved of the sin of stealing, there is still an obligation in justice to make restitution, that is, to pay back or restore what was stolen. If the rightful owner also discharges the debt, in a sense that is an indulgence, since the rightful owner is being indulgent in pardoning the debt as well as the guilt.

Similarly, a person who confesses to having used pornography is forgiven, but the desire to continue to look at pornography does not automatically go away and must be purged through mortification and penance. Thus, we have the pious practice of “offering up” our pains and sufferings in this life as penance for our sins. If that purgation is not accomplished before we die, it must be completed in Purgatory or be remitted through various partial indulgences or a plenary indulgence. A plenary indulgence can be acquired only once a day, except for those who are on the point of death. If we are able to receive a plenary indulgence on a frequent or even daily basis during our Year of the Eucharist, it would be laudable and charitable to apply some of those indulgences beyond what we need for ourselves for the poor souls still suffering in Purgatory.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). When our sins are forgiven and we are finally purged of all desires other than the desire to see God face-to-face, we will be ready to enter into His Heavenly Kingdom!

May God give us this grace. Amen.