Indulgentiarum Doctrina

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Indulgentiarum doctrina, so called from its incipit, is an apostolic constitution about indulgences, dated 1 January 1967.[1] By this document Pope Paul VI, responding to suggestions made at the Second Vatican Council, substantially revised the practical application of the traditional doctrine relating to indulgences.[2]


The document stressed that the Church's aim was not merely to help the faithful make due satisfaction for their sins, but chiefly to bring them to greater fervour of charity. For this purpose Paul VI decreed that partial indulgences, previously granted as the equivalent of a certain number of days, months, "quarantines"[3] (Lent-like forty-day periods) or years of canonical penance, simply supplement, and to the same degree, the remission that those performing the indulgenced action already gain by the charity and contrition with which they do it.[4]

The abolition of the classification by years and days made it clearer than before that repentance and faith are required not only for remission of eternal punishment for mortal sin but also for remission of temporal punishment for sin, "Indulgences cannot be gained without a sincere conversion of outlook and unity with God".[5]

Enchiridion Indulgentiarum[edit]

The apostolic constitution ordered a revision of the official list of indulgenced prayers and good works, which had been called the Raccolta, "with a view to attaching indulgences only to the most important prayers and works of piety, charity and penance".[6] This removed from the list of indulgenced prayers and good works, now called the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum,[7] many prayers for which various religious institutes, confraternities and similar groups had succeeded in the course of centuries in obtaining grants of indulgences, but which could not be classified as among "the most important". Religious institutes and the like, to which grants of plenary indulgences, for instance for visiting a particular church or shrine, had been previously made, were given a year from the date of promulgation of Indulgentiarum doctrina to have them confirmed, and any that were not confirmed (mostly in a more limited way than before)[8] within two years became null and void.[9]

The Enchiridion Indulgentiarum reached its fourth edition in Latin in 2009,[10] and is available on the Holy See's website.[11] An English translation of the second edition (when the general grants were three, not four) is available online.[12]

The Enchiridion Indulgentiarum differs from the Raccolta in that it lists "only the most important prayers and works of piety, charity and penance". On the other hand, it includes new general grants of partial indulgences that apply to a wide range of prayerful actions, and it indicates that the prayers that it does list as deserving veneration on account of divine inspiration or antiquity or as being in widespread use are only examples[13] of those to which the first these general grants applies: "Raising the mind to God with humble trust while performing one's duties and bearing life's difficulties, and adding, at least mentally, some pious invocation".[14] In this way, the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum, in spite of its smaller size, classifies as indulgenced an immensely greater number of prayers than were treated as such in the Raccolta.

Actions for which indulgences are granted[edit]

Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas bestows the Easter Mass Plenary Indulgence in 2012, St John the Evangelist Metropolitan Cathedral, Dagupan City.

There are four general grants of indulgence, which are meant to encourage the faithful to infuse a Christian spirit into the actions of their daily lives and to strive for perfection of charity. These indulgences are partial, and their worth therefore depends on the fervour with which the person performs the recommended actions:

  1. Raising the mind to God with humble trust while performing one's duties and bearing life's difficulties, and adding, at least mentally, some pious invocation.
  2. Devoting oneself or one's goods compassionately in a spirit of faith to the service of one's brothers and sisters in need.
  3. Freely abstaining in a spirit of penance from something licit and pleasant.
  4. Freely giving open witness to one's faith before others in particular circumstances of everyday life.[15]

Among the particular grants, which, on closer inspection, will be seen to be included in one or more of the four general grants, especially the first, the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum draws special attention[16] to four activities for which a plenary indulgence can be gained on any day, though only once a day:

  1. Piously reading or listening to Sacred Scripture for at least half an hour.[17]
  2. Adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist for at least half an hour.[18]
  3. The pious exercise of the Stations of the Cross.[19]
  4. Recitation of the Rosary or the Akathist in a church or oratory, or in a family, a religious community, an association of the faithful and, in general, when several people come together for an honourable purpose.[20]

A plenary indulgence may also be gained on some occasions, which are not everyday occurrences. They include:

The prayers specifically mentioned in the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum are not of the Latin Rite tradition alone, but also from the traditions of the Eastern Catholic Churches, such as the Akathistos, Paraklesis, Evening Prayer, and Prayer for the Faithful Departed (Byzantine), Prayer of Thanksgiving (Armenian), Prayer of the Shrine and the Lakhu Mara (Chaldean), Prayer of Incense and Prayer to Glorify Mary the Mother of God (Coptic), Prayer for the Remission of Sins and Prayer to Follow Christ (Ethiopian), Prayer for the Church, and Prayer of Leave-taking from the Altar (Maronite), and Intercessions for the Faithful Departed (Syrian).

Apart from the recurrences listed in the Enchiridion, special indulgences are granted on occasions of special spiritual significance such as a jubilee year[27] or the centenary or similar anniversary of an event such as the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes[28] or the celebration of a World Youth Day.

Of particular significance is the plenary indulgence attached to the Apostolic Blessing that a priest is to impart when giving the sacraments to a person in danger of death, and which, if no priest is available, the Church grants to any rightly disposed Christian at the moment of death, on condition that that person was accustomed to say some prayers during life. In this case the Church itself makes up for the three conditions normally required for a plenary indulgence: sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion, and prayer for the Pope's intentions.[29]


  1. ^ Indulgentiarum Doctrina text
  2. ^ The encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 2 by Erwin Fahlbusch 2001 ISBN 90-04-11695-8 page 695
  3. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: Quarantines
  4. ^ Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005, article indulgences
  5. ^ Indulgentiarum doctrina, art. 11
  6. ^ Indulgentiarum doctrina, norm 13
  7. ^ Enchiridion Indulgentiarum
  8. ^ Indulgentiarum doctrina, norms 14 and 15
  9. ^ Indulgentiarum doctrina, Transitional Norms
  10. ^ [Enchiridon Indulgentiarum. Normae et Concessiones (editio quarta, Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2009 ISBN 88-209-2785-3)
  11. ^ Enchiridion indulgentiarum
  12. ^ Translation by William T. Barry C.SS.R.
  13. ^ Enchiridion Indulgentiarum, Aliae Concessiones, Proœmium, 2
  14. ^ Enchiridion Indulgentiarum, Concessiones, I
  15. ^ Normae de Indulgentiis, Quattuor Concessiones Generaliores
  16. ^ Aliae Concessiones, Proœmium, 7
  17. ^ Concessiones 30
  18. ^ Concessiones 7 §1, 1º
  19. ^ Concessiones 13, 2º
  20. ^ Concessiones 17 §1, 1º and 23 §1
  21. ^ Concessiones 4
  22. ^ Concessiones 5
  23. ^ World Youth Day Archives
  24. ^ Australian Catholic WYD 2008
  25. ^ Concessiones 10
  26. ^ Concessiones 11
  27. ^ The Great Jubilee Indulgence
  28. ^ Grant of indulgence on the occasion of the 150th apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes
  29. ^ Concessiones 12