Catholic Traditions

I’d like some explanations of some things I don’t understand fully. I hope I am asking in the right section.

What are the following and how do they work (nutshell answers please, no links to 30 page documents)?

Indulgences? Do we still have them? What are they? Do we still use a “time-off” system? Is there a site that compares them, and also, can you get them for a deceased person?

“Saying Mass for”/" Offering Mass for"/ “Masses are being said for”? Are these the same thing? What do they mean? Why do we offer money to the priest for it? What does it mean if someone says they’ll offer Mass for you?

How do sacramentals work? What is a list of them?

Many thanks, these things and some others seem really esoterically Catholic, and being a Convert, I still feel on the outer when these expressions are used.

Many thanks.

Indulgences - absolutely we still have them! Google “Enchiridion of Indulgences” for a comprehensive list of indulgenced prayers and acts (it is a significantly more than 30 page document though, but if you’re interested I’ll give you a couple of very easy-to remember plenary indulgences).

Time measurements (‘x days or years indulgence’) are no longer used. By the way this never referred to ‘time off ’ purgatory, rather to the number of days’ equivalent in terms of old-style penances. Used to be that a person would do ‘x days’ penance for their sins - which might mean they had to do something such as fasting for that length of time. The prayer was seen as the equivalent of a certain amount of time doing such things.

The terms used now, though, are ‘partial’ indulgences and ‘plenary’ (complete) indulgences, though some older publications stick to the old system.

An indulgence, in a nutshell, is a lessening of the temporal (not spiritual) penalty due to sin, which is always paid either on earth or in purgatory.

Every sin has both temporal and spiritual consequences or penalties. The spiritual penalties of sin are fully paid when the sin is confessed and absolved, the temporal penalties still remain afterwards, to be paid off either on earth or in purgatory.

The common analogy is a child who breaks a window. If they sincerely apologise to the person whose window is broken they are forgiven, no problem. But that’s not all that needs to be done - the window still needs to be replaced, and those repairs have to be paid for somehow.

So even after we are forgiven in the confessional we still have to pay a penalty. Indulgences are effectively a way of paying off our ‘window repairs’ while on earth so as not to have to pay them off in purgatory.

Yes, you can gain indulgences on behalf of deceased persons, and it is commendable to do so since those in purgatory can’t do anything to lessen their own punishment.

As for masses - yes, all those expressions mean the same thing.

The Mass is a prayer remember, like other prayers, albeit immeasurably the greatest of them. So Masses can be offered for an intention or a person like any other prayer. This can either be done by the priest or the person attending can themselves offer it, since we all pray along with the priest although not out loud as he does.

So when someone ways “I’m offering a Mass for you” it means they’re praying the prayers of that Mass on your behalf, just like they might pray a Rosary or some other prayer for you.

Paying the priest is optional, it is certainly not a requirement. And the money is just a thankyou, after all the priest is offering his time for your benefit when he says mass for your intention.

Sacramentals I’m not all that clear on - do a search and you should be able to find some past threads about 'em.

Sacramentals are blessed objects that aid us in our devotions.

For example, holy water that we bless ourselves with reminds us of our baptismal promises (to turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel).

Rosary beads help us in our Rosary prayers; devotional candles in asking for the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary or other saints; the Bible for our reading, meditating, and studying; holy cards for reminding us of saints we attempt to imitate; a crucifix to remind us of the sacrifice of Christ; a statue of Mary or a saint that reminds us of the honor due to them for their devoted service to Christ; ashes on Ash Wednesday remind us of our mortality and humility before God, etc.

Sacramentals themselves do not bring us grace, as sacraments do, but sacramentals are aids that help us in our efforts to live holy lives of grace.

BTW, these items are not sacramentals until they’ve been blessed by a priest.

As jpjd mentioned, Sacramentals aid us in devotion. Yet many miracles DO occur through sacramentals. I wrote this for someone else recently. I hope it helps you! :smiley:

Does God work through matter? Of course. The combination of Matter and Spirit are found all throughout the Bible. We humans are matter (body) and spirit (soul). The Church as the Mystical Body of Christ is also matter (visible) and spirit (invisible). The same goes for the Sacraments. For example in baptism we have matter (water) and spirit (the Holy Spirit - a person of the Trinity Himself).

Here are some more explicit mentions of God using matter in ways as a sacramental (or comperable):

Exodus 17:5-6 - God works through Moses’ staff to give the people water. Yes, God could have provided them with water in some other way, but chose to do it through Moses’ staff.

2 Kings 2:8 - Elijah could have prayed to God, and the waters would have parted, but instead God worked through Elijah’s mantle (coat).

Acts 19:11-12 - Paul blesses handkerchiefs that aid people in need of deliverance.

Easiest indulgence: read your Bible! :smiley: Mine has an indulgence notice printed on the title page. (Gee, I thought Catholics weren’t supposed to do that? Haha.)

Plus, you can always offer up any suffering for those in Purgatory or those being tempted in their lives. I find that a poweful reminder of how we’re all embraced within the Church, even in our suffering and failings.

There is a book of sacramentals that lists each one, how/who established it, how it’s done, etc. I’m afraid I don’t remember the name. You might check with a Catholic publisher.

We offer masses for the dead as the ultimate prayer of the church. Normally, people will make a donation to the parish that says the masses; it isn’t technically a payment. I guess it’s more of a custom, possibly dating back to a time when that was part of the priest’s pay. Although it is actually forbidden for a priest to demand payment for a sacrament, we gave a donation to the priests at each of our children’s baptisms.

You could also see the donation for the mass as a charitable work done in honor/for the good of the deceased. It is a sacrifice of sorts. You could fast or do a novena or some other sacrifice of prayer for the soul of the deceased, or you could make a monetary sacrifice to a parish or charitable organization.

Without a doubt. I have witnessed many examples. I will share a simple one.

My wife and I were in an verbal argument. During the “discussion” my wife, in her great wisdom, sprinkled holy water around the house. The instant she did this the argument stop in mid- sentence and peace was restored in the house.

God is good.

Novena is another example of a word I don’t understand.

How do I offer my sufferings to God? IS there a prayer I can pray?

Can we affect the status of someone’s salvation (for instance unbelieving relative) after their death through fervent prayer/ indulgences, etc? Or does it only “speed” someone through purgatory.

LilyM, so if I wanted to offer a Mass for someone, I would turn up and say the prayers of Mass with that person in mind? Or approach the Priest? Is it selfish to do this for my own intention (eg healing)?

Novena simply comes from the Latin word for nine. You’ll remember that the Apostles and Mary spent nine days between the Ascension and Pentecost in fervent prayer in the upper room - the following day their prayers were indeed answered with the coming of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus.

So a novena is a prayer to be said, usually daily for nine consecutive days, for a specific intention. There are others for more or lesser amounts of time, but the principle is the same - sustained fervent prayer over a particular intention.

There’s not a specific prayer, although you can each day pray a Morning Offering which offers ALL the days joys, sufferings, thoughts, words and deeds to God.

And at times of suffering you can say a simple prayer such as ‘Jesus, I offer this to you in union with your sufferings on the Cross’. Again you can offer it for a specific intention, perhaps for the conversion of sinners or the souls in Purgatory.

As for aiding others by our prayers - remember that God exists outside of time. For him there’s no ‘before’ or ‘after’ but a single eternal present.

St Padre Pio for many years after his father’s death prayed for the grace of a happy death for him for this reason, that God who is outside of time could apply the prayers in any way he wished.

In any event, no sincere prayer is wasted, since prayer is for our own spiritual benefit as well as that of those we pray for. This applies even if the object of it is possibly not attained.

And the masses? You could do it either way. It may be more helpful to you to approach the priest and know you have a ‘prayer buddy’ who has your intentions in mind. And no, it’s not selfish to pray for oneself or have prayers offered for oneself. Hesus taught us to ask for our ‘daily bread’ (daily needs) in the Our Father.

I am a fairly new Catholic also and have a lot of the same questions as Dave.

I have a question about this statement. From reading it, it seems that once you are in purgatory, unless someone living is gaining indulgences on your behalf, you are stuck there? :confused: This doesn’t sound right to me and I am sure I am misinterpreting what you are saying. Can you please elaborate on this for me. Thanks.

Not stuck in the sense that you’ll be there forever - everyone in Purgatory will sooner or later be admitted to Heaven.

Stuck in the sense that you are now deceased - your opportunity to earn merits or pray effectively on your own behalf is gone. That’s why sinners go straight to Hell and are stuck there for eternity with no time off for good behaviour - the difference being that even the prayers of the righteous cannot help them.

Purgatory is a passive purification of all imperfections prior to entering heaven, which means the soul undergoing it can’t do anything of their own to speed up the process. For them it can only take as long as it takes. Rather like going into an automated carwash - once it starts up, you as the one having the car washed can’t determine what happens or how long it takes to complete.

The only way to lessen it is indeed if the living are gaining indulgences on their behalf. The best thing of all, of course, is to gain indulgences for yourself while on earth (at least every so often) as well as for the souls, since you may well be one of 'em!

This is a common misperception about indulgences and praying for the dead. As stated above, our prayers can NOT move someone out of hell and into purgatory; their choices put them in heaven, hell, or purgatory and nobody can change that. (Remember Jesus story in the Gospels about the rich man and the poor beggar? The rich man asks Abraham to allow the poor man he had ignored in life to bring him some water, but Abraham says, “There is a chasm fixed between you and us, such that none may pass, even if they wanted to…”)

I never quite got this whole idea about praying for the dead (I’m a cradle Catholic, although my religious education before college was more than a little lacking…) until I read Dante. (and before you scoff, I would note that the Pope has quoted Dante’s Divine Comedy several times in official speeches and letters)

Anyways, the souls that Dante encounters in hell are all miserable, nasty brutes. They have lost all humanity. They don’t want their names remembered. There is nothing in hell but despair and self-centeredness and pointless punishment. Souls are eager to step out of their torments for a moment to talk to Dante.

Purgatory is very different. I think Dante even asks his guide at one point why it is different (in case you missed the point). The souls seem to be driven much like the souls in hell, but the punishments here have a positive goal. I specifically remember a group of souls who had lacked perseverance in life; they are running, carrying heavy weights, unable to look up because of the weight. However, under their feet, are carved marble scenes of Biblical and historical figures who exhibited perseverance. And, so, even when Dante wants to talk to them, he has to run to keep up, so eager are they to continue this lesson and be purified of their lack of virtue. Several souls at different levels of purgatory ask Dante to remind their living relatives to pray for them so that they may fulfill their purification more quickly and proceed to Heaven.

Dante isn’t official doctrine, but his poetic expression of reality shed some light on it for me.

Interstingly, since nobody knows how long purgation will last, some say it coul be instant. That we could be changed, “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor 15:52).

I think the poor man and Abraham parable is great for supporting praying to Saints, since it implies that those in Heaven can hear the pleas of those below.

By the way this never referred to ‘time off ’ purgatory, rather to the number of days’ equivalent in terms of old-style penances.

Are you sure? If I don’t pay the temporal punishment for the consequences of sin on Earth, then I have to do more in Purgatory. So it is logical to say that an indulgence, in removing the consequence, even if on Earth, shortens the “time in Purgatory.” Pay now or pay later. Do you see where I am coming from.

I am sure Luther was well enough Catechised as a monk to know the theology of it when he said, “A coin in the coffer rings, a soul to Heaven zings.” That is not a criticism in any way, but it is logical.

Gardening Mommy, I’d love to read the Divine Comedy, but I found it a bit hard. I’d like to hear Dante’s take on Heaven. I think a couple of Popes were floating upside down in lava in Hell or something weren’t they? (Interesting).

I’d like to talk more about the topic of offering things to God.

Are there “official prayers” to do this during the day? Do I pray, “God I am feeling terrible because of the cold prickly comments I get at work and I offer them up to you for the salvation of souls” ? Did I read that correctly? A prayer like this would give great meaning to emotional pain.

Is such an offering a sacrifice? Like Cain and Abel’s sacrifices? Is that what we mean when we offer our sufferings to God?

You’re right, of course, that IS the idea behind indulgences. It’s a question of the fact that most people would read ‘300 days’ indulgence’ or ‘7 years’ indulgence’ and think that it meant they’d spend 300 days less or 7 years less in purgatory. Which is wrong.

What it DOES mean is that the prayer has the same VALUE as if you fasted or did the other old-school penitential practices for 300 days or 7 years here on Earth. How exactly that translates to Purgatory we can’t say - or even whether time exists there. Which is doubtful - what would happen to those who at the day of the Last Judgement still have debts left if such debts required a certain amount of time to pay off?

I am sure Luther was well enough Catechised as a monk to know the theology of it when he said, “A coin in the coffer rings, a soul to Heaven zings.” That is not a criticism in any way, but it is logical.

It IS wrong to think you can ‘buy’ someone out of Purgatory. Indulgences can ONLY be attached to meritorious acts that we perform - prayer, works of mercy or charity and so on. Not to the mere buying of time off Purgatory from a Church official - any supposed indulgence based on mere monetary purchase is invalid.

Luther didn’t say this because he agreed with it, and it wasn’t his saying originally, rather that of the notorious indulgence-seller Tetzel. He rather repeated this saying of Tetzel’s because he was critical of the corrupt officials who did indeed purport to ‘sell’ indulgences. Rightly so, mind you - the Council of Trent cracked down heavily on priests who claimed to be able to sell indulgences.

I’d like to talk more about the topic of offering things to God.

Are there “official prayers” to do this during the day? Do I pray, “God I am feeling terrible because of the cold prickly comments I get at work and I offer them up to you for the salvation of souls” ? Did I read that correctly? A prayer like this would give great meaning to emotional pain.

Is such an offering a sacrifice? Like Cain and Abel’s sacrifices? Is that what we mean when we offer our sufferings to God?

No there’s no formal prayer. I tend to do as you’ve said, as things come up (my current rather nasty cold for example). I think absolutely it’s a sacrifice to do so - for example to pray as you’ve said instead of making a smart retort to those prickly comments.

OK, next concept then. Mortification. What is it? How do we do it. Why do we do it?

Mortification is usually depriving yourself of some licit pleasure - refraining from dessert with your dinner, your favourite tv show or what have you.

Or it can be inflicting some discomfort on yourself - hence the discipline (whip) or cilice which some religious orders use. But this should never be done except under spiritual direction and supervision, and perhaps with medical consultation too, since they can be physically dangerous if pursued to extremes.

One reason for mortification is to rid ourselves of reliance on or attachment to our little and large physical comforts - and most people are far more attached than they’d be willing to admit - and to put them in their proper place in our lives. Since they can distract us from focusing on God as we should.

It works best if you put the time or money you save to a worthier use - spend it in prayer, charitable work, spiritual reading or whatever.

Yes and no in relation to moving someone out of hell. There is a teaching within the church that someone can be potentially saved at the last moment due to prayers which were said long after he died (future prayers applied to the present). Why because God is outside of time and knows the prayers of the future and can take the prayers in the future and apply in the present to someones salvation.

I just wanted to add that the doctrine of indulgences is firmly rooted in the truth that the Church is one Body. We can all share in the merits and sufferings of the other members–and of course, of the Head, Jesus Christ :slight_smile:

As for sacramentals, this section of the CCC is helpful:

I read it on deployment with the Navy; I’d only brought so many books, so quitting wasn’t an option! Plus, I have an old copy with lots of footnotes; many of the figures offered as examples are contemporaries of Dante or figures from Greek and Latin classics. If you don’t recognize the person, it can be very hard reading, because Dante sometimes assumes that you know the story and therefore understand why the person is being punished in that way.

The one thing I remember about Dante’s expression of Heaven is when he asks a soul if he is jealous that he wasn’t given a higher place (Heaven, like Hell and Purgatory in Dante, is ordered into different levels). The soul smiles at him and gently explains what should have been obvious: yes, there are those who were greater or lesser in God’s service, and there is some kind of hierarchy, but everyone in Heaven is deeply content in the presence of God. Jealousy is impossible; God’s judgment is perfect and everyone is in their proper place and they know it. They are happy for those who acheived greater holiness on Earth and are now honored in Heaven. (The top level of Heaven is occupied by Mary. Interesting similarities in thought to The Pearl from medieval literature; I think I read that shorter reflection on Heaven in a Tolkein-related medieval reader.)

I don’t specifically remember any Popes in Dante, but I do know Michelangelo put the face of the Pope’s secretary (who apparently annoyed him quite a bit) on someone going down to Hell in the Sistine Chapel. :stuck_out_tongue:

ok, no more Dante; I don’t want to derail a good thread too badly!

All great posts guys, thanks :thumbsup:

LilyM, that is the best explanation of Mortification I have heard. It is logical, because I remember from experience the sense of closeness to God I had when I lived with the Priests and had very few possessions (just my clothes, some books and a 2nd hand guitar). There is a freedom that comes with lack of attachment to earthly possessions and comforts. A gratitude when you have nothing but a room and a heater on a winter’s night.

BUt what of the idea of Mortification (eg the celice, self-flagellation, etc) as a cleansing from sin?

The idea that I was exposed to is that if you remove all distractions like possessions, TV, marriage, sometimes even company, that it enables God to get our attention and we can become closer to God. There’s some truth in that in my experience, and I believe is that basis of the monastic life.

Gardening Mommy, the Dante stuff is interesting.

Michael G, I have lots of experience in praying after an event. Say if you are a student who forgot to pray before an exam, you can pray after it and God can take it as though you prayed before. It’s quite amazing and it works! I’ve never heard that in Catholic circles though. So what you say makes sense unless people are saying the judgement happens immediately after death.