Monday, September 11, 2023

Armenian Bishops Request Papal Infallibility at Vatican I



(during Vatican I)

In our Armenian Church there never has arisen a doubt concerning the irreformability of the judgments which are pronounced by the Roman Pontiff as supreme Teacher and Doctor of the Catholic Church on matters of Faith and Morals; as very many ancient testimonies of our Fathers and historic documents of our Church clearly show, and as the Sacred and Orthodox Bishops of the same Church have ever proved in their teaching up to this present day. But since we have heard that certain persons call the infallibility in question, we, fearing the great evils which might arise from this new doctrine to the Universal Church, but especially to the Orientals, since it has never been doubted that the above-mentioned irreformability most closely and inseparably adheres to the Supreme Primacy of the Roman Pontiff, we think it necessary that the same be declared definitely by the Ecumenical Council, and therefore we petition that the matter be treated in the Council as early as possible.

--Signed by the Patriarch and 11 Armenian Bishops

Friday, February 17, 2023

LENT 2023

LENT 2023

** Let no one flatter himself that he is exempt from fasting & penance **

As we approach the Solemn and Universal Season of Penance, the Church calls us all, in the Name of the Redeemer, to do penance and to fast. In all ages since creation, “Do Penance” was the great theme of the servants of God. Even before the deluge (when all flesh had corrupted), Noah exhorted mankind to do penance; Moses inculcated the same important duty to the children of Israel; John the Baptist made the banks of the Jordan and the deserts of Judea resound with the precept of doing penance; and it was with this precept that Our Divine Redeemer began His public preaching.

The Church guarantees us that God will hear those who, with compunction of heart, invoke His mercy. Let us be mindful, then, that this Holy Season of Lent should help us achieve the purification of our souls for the worthy celebration of the greatest of all Christian Festivals – the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.

The principal object of the Lenten Fast is the destruction of sin and the purification of the heart. To fast on other days may be a remedy, an atonement, and a preventative of sin, but not to fast in Lent would be a crime, which would deserve the severest punishment. While diminishing the consumption of temporal foods, may we even more so abstain from the iniquities of the world and from carnal desires that bring destruction to the soul. In this manner, the flesh will be obedient unto the soul and the soul unto grace.

The Church compels us to atone for our former negligences, to repair the consequences of our past sins, to crucify our flesh with all its vices and concupiscences, and, in that mortified and guilty flesh, to fill up those things which are wanting of the Passion of Christ. Let us, then, rend our hearts and not just our garments in profound compunction, humbling ourselves before the throne of forgiveness. The fast the Lord has chosen and which alone will be acceptable to Him is “to loose the bands of wickedness.”

Fasting is the best guardian of the soul, the secure companion of the body, and the armor and support of the strong in the struggle for salvation. May we redouble our fervor and supplications this Lent with holy retirement, self-examination, and true compunction in order to obtain the pardon of the Gracious God.

This is the great and perfect Fast that will find favor in Heaven, heal all disease, banish all demons, expel evil thoughts, and create a clean heart. Fasting in the right spirit of the Church (with deep sorrow for our sins) will make pride cede place to humility, do away with greed, and inspire in us charity to all instead of anger, hatred, or revenge towards any. Should this be neglected, God will then ask us, “Is this the fast which I have chosen?” Let us then profess a solemn renunciation of sin, avoid its dangerous occasions, and repair its destructive effects.

It would be a grave mistake to suppose that by the mere exterior act of fasting alone we fulfill our obligations to Almighty God or really practice the solemn observance of this holy season. We must remember that the Jews fasted according to the letter of the Law, yet God reproached them, through His prophets, because in the day of their fasts their own will was found.

Let us fast, therefore, because we have sinned; let us fast, even more, so that we may not sin again; let us fast so that our petitions may be heard before the throne of mercy. Let us no longer sleep in the arms of perdition; let us no longer remain in the deplorable state of sin; let us tear asunder all attachments to sin; let us remove all criminal habits and detestable vices that are a scandal to religion, a disgrace to the Church, and a reproach to Christianity.

The great and general fast of every Christian is to fast from sin, from drunkenness, from thievery, from cursing, swearing and blaspheming, from pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, sloth, slander, and detraction. This fast admits of no dispensation and is absolutely necessary at all times, in all places, and for all persons.

The Church, always solicitous for the salvation of Her children, incessantly exhorts sinners to true repentance and sincere penance. It was the full conviction of the indispensable necessity of penance that peopled the deserts with crowds of austere recluses and religious hermits in the primitive ages of Christianity. Penance has always been considered the only means to effect a reconciliation with the offended Deity, the only gate by which to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

May we unite our fasts and penances with the forty days of fast of Our Blessed Savior, and let us lament all the sins and offences of our lives in the bitterness of our souls. Let us confess our sins, and may our confession be simple, humble, plain, true, faithful, full, entire, and accompanied with an inward grief of the heart, a hatred of sin, and a firm purpose of amendment, which is the very soul and essence of repentance.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

R.I.P. Monsignor Joseph Ambrosio




It was with extreme sadness that we learned of the passing of the Rev. Monsignor Joseph Ambrosio on the morning of Sunday, October 4th, 2020 -- an inimitable Monsignor if there ever was one. There were so many qualities that made him an excellent person, a great friend, a faithful Christian, and an exemplary Priest. It can be safely said that, in these days of liturgical chaos, no one outdid him in his zealous dedication for the beauty of the House of God and that it was a great joy to serve Mass when he was the Celebrant.

Not only did he try to rescue liturgical items from closed churches in order to put them to good liturgical use in his own church, but he washed, starched, pressed, and repaired the sacred linens himself, as he believed it was his duty to take care of the Sanctuary and the Tabernacle of which he was made the custodian. Everyone who ever visited his church and attended his Masses will testify that he always wanted the best for the Liturgy: vestments, music, sacred vessels, Relics, ceremonies, all types of liturgical items, etc. Additionally, he very graciously donated many of these things to other communities that did not have what was needed for the reverent and beautiful celebration of the Liturgy.

A truly humble priest, he would most often refer to himself simply as “Fr. Ambrosio,” despite his title of Monsignor as a Chaplain to His Holiness. He would also frequently pray the beautiful Litany of Humility, which he seems to have known from memory and of which he would frequently remind people whenever certain things did not go as planned: “these things make us humble,” he would say.

In addition to his humility, he knew how to provide undeniably generous hospitality: servers, parishioners, priests, Bishops, and Cardinals were witnesses of his great level of generosity whenever they would visit his rectory. In particular, he was well-known for his famous invitations to dinner, which made everybody realize what an excellent cook he was, and he always made sure to provide full entertainment, since he would also sing and play the piano, as well as tell unforgettable stories in a way that he alone knew how – no one ever experienced a dull evening in Msgr. Ambrosio’s rectory! Ite ad Joseph had a different meaning in Newark, N.J.

His love for the Liturgy became much stronger when he began to celebrate the traditional Liturgy of the Roman Church, so much so that he eventually had all the Masses at Mt. Carmel celebrated ad orientem. He would also graciously accept invitations to celebrate the Old Mass in many different places and in particular in New York City at the Church of the Holy Innocents. Many of the parishioners and servers there grew to love and admire him. He frequently said that he loved going to Holy Innocents to celebrate the Old Mass, which for many years he did on his days off (Fridays), and several times he was heard saying: “Whenever I go to Holy Innocents, I feel young.” Once he said this at a dinner table full of servers, priests, and a couple of Bishops.

His passing from this world certainly leaves a tremendous void because people like the good old Monsignor are impossible to replace. May he rest in the eternal Peace of Christ.


Súscipe, Dómine, servum tuum in locum sperándæ sibi salvatiónis a misericórdia tua. Amen.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Feast of St. Pius V - "The Cardinal of God"

S A I N T    P I U S    V

In 1563, Pope Pius IV, on the anniversary of his Coronation, gave a great banquet to the Cardinals and ambassadors who had come to congratulate him. As they were rising from table the Holy Father declared his intention of raising to the purple Ferdinand de Medici, a boy of thirteen, and Frederic di Gonzaga, a youth of twenty. Taken by surprise, the assembled Cardinals weakly assented. … All but Cardinal Alexandrin [the future Pius V]: “Most Holy Father,” he cried earnestly, “after the Council of Trent has taken such pains to reform abuses, especially among the clergy, and to establish discipline, hitherto so miserably relaxed, what will be thought, if the Vicar of Jesus Christ ignores one of its most important decrees, that of admitting to ecclesiastical dignities only those subjects of suitable age and worth? With all humility I declare to your Holiness that I for one will not wound my conscience by subscribing to this promotion! The Church does not want children in her Councils, she wants strong men. … Let them enter Holy Orders in the usual way, and with their birth and gifts it will surely not be long before they become Cardinals! Your Holiness must also permit me to say that this banquet is not a Consistory, at which alone such claims can be properly decided!

This electrifying speech, no less remarkable for its courage than its sterling common sense, so impressed those present that the Cardinal of St. Angelo said afterwards: “I would have given all I possessed to have had the courage to speak like that!” The Pope, though startled, was not angry, but the negotiations were too far advanced for him to withdraw, and shortly after the two boys were created Cardinals. When the Florentine ambassador came, as was customary, to thank Cardinal Alexandrin [the future Pius V] for having with his fellows opened the Sacred College to his master, the intrepid answered: “Do not thank me! The promotion was absolutely against my desires! On the contrary, I opposed it with all my might, not out of hostility to the Medici family, but because my conscience would not allow me to approve of a child of thirteen becoming a Cardinal.The father of the young Prince, when these words were repeated to him, instead of showing anger, exclaimed: “Cardinal Alexandrin [the future Pius V] is in very truth a Cardinal of God!

Shield given to Juan of Austria by Pius V for the Battle of Lepanto

He exhorted to justice and holiness all grades of magistrates and rulers, and personally supervised their appointment. Numerous were the laws he made for the improvement of public morals —men and women of bad character, and Jewish usurers, being remorselessly banished— and for purity of life. Some of these laws, which sound curious to modern ears, were directed against innkeepers (who were forbidden to sell drink to their fellow citizens at what were houses of entertainment only for travelers and strangers); against brigands, wreckers, and pirates. ... The measures taken against blasphemy in any form were particularly strong.

These laws, at once put into force, were eminently successful. In less than a year the aspect of affairs had changed. Even three months after the Saint’s accession a German nobleman writes of the edifying piety of the whole city of Rome during Lent, and especially in Holy Week, when the churches could not contain the penitents, who slept on the bare ground and fasted rigorously. “As long as I live I shall witness, to the shame of Satan and all his ministers, that I saw in Rome at this time the most marvelous works of penitence and piety. . . . But nothing can astonish me under such-a Pope. His fasts, his humility, his innocence, his holiness, his zeal for the faith, shine so brilliantly that he seems a second St. Leo, or St. Gregory the Great. . . . I do not hesitate to say that had Calvin himself been raised from the tomb on Easter Day, and seen the holy Pope . . . blessing his kneeling people . . . in spite of himself he would have recognized and venerated the true representative of Jesus Christ!

The Pope’s measures for the reform of the Church were drastic. All bishops were bidden on pain of deprivation to return to their sees within one month; to live there, and to become true Fathers of their people. Seminaries were everywhere established, and at Fribourg a great college. The Decrees of the Council of Trent were to be rigorously observed by all grades of clergy. The most severe laws were passed against the detestable practice of simony. In France, great benefices and even bishoprics were actually held by women, who received all revenues, and paid an ecclesiastic to perform all necessary functions. This terrible state of things was sternly swept away. Strict regulations were made for all religious houses; perpetual enclosure being enjoined upon all convents of nuns, “except in cases of fire, leprosy, or pestilence.” The recital of the Divine Office was strictly enforced in every church, and the strongest measures were taken against irreverence in church. Conversations of any kind, whispering, jokes and laughter were sternly prohibited, as offending Almighty God in the Blessed Sacrament, and most severely punished, in the first instance by a heavy fine; in the second, by prison or exile. Priests, sacristans and officials were charged to enforce this decree. The crowds of beggars which assembled within the churches were no longer allowed to pass beyond the porch, except to pray.


If sinners trembled, the saints were jubilant as they witnessed the edifying example of Pius V and the purifying of civic life in the papal domain. They saw in him the patriarchal majesty of the Hebrew prophets from whose penetrating eyes no sins could be hid. Like the old Biblical seers, he inveighed against wickedness in high places; and men of good will recognized in him the Sword of Saint Michael, his namesake and protector, who should “drive into hell Satan and the other evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.” In him, the Church Militant had once again found a leader. God had raised him up for no other purpose. That he was a saint was evident as he went about doing good, washing the feet of the poor, embracing lepers, and visiting the afflicted.

When he died, he was sixty-six years of age and had filled Peter’s Chair with unfailing trust and patience and rigorous discipline for six years, seven months, and twenty-three days. He had fought the heresy of Luther and all its multitudinous off-shoots, the apostasy of England, the recalcitrance of France, the lethargy of Maximilian II, and the laxity of Sigismund Augustus of Poland. The seeds of missionary labor he planted have never ceased to bring forth abundant harvest for the Church. With holy zeal Pius V had dared to beard the Turk in his own lair on the sea. He broke the power of the Ottoman tyrants. He freed Christian slaves. He had, in fact, accomplished the impossible. For no matter how much acclaim Colonna and Don Juan received for their splendid exploits, nor what glory Venier, Doria, and Barbarigo had justly won, it was the indomitable will of Pius V that, in the face of a mountain of opposition, had made all these brave men’s achievements possible! Truly a great statesman and a mighty pontiff departed this earth when Pius V died!

The great triumph of Lepanto,” says a French writer, “would alone have immortalized St. Pius V.” Its importance will be better realized when it is remembered the Turk had never hitherto been conquered by sea. “The Battle of Lepanto arrested for ever the danger of Mohammedan invasion in the South of Europe.” And Lepanto had been won by prayer! That he was a saint was conceded even by his enemies. It needed only the Church’s official recognition to proclaim his sainthood. … when this valiant soldier of Jesus Christ finally sheathed the sword of Saint Michael which he had wielded so gallantly all his life in defense of Christendom, he might well have uttered the words of the Apostle of the Gentiles: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the Faith.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Holy Season of Lent - 2020

“Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting, in weeping, and in mourning. . . . Blow the trumpet in Sion, sanctify a fast, gather together the people, sanctify the Church” (Joel ii).

May this Holy Season of Lent bring about for you a time of true and salutary penance; may it lead you to forsake the false joys of earth and to be converted to God with all your heart; may your fasting take the place of feasting, your weeping take the place of mirth, and your mourning the place of joy; may your abstinence lead to a great expiation for sin and be practiced in obedience to the spirit of the general law of the Church.

May you follow not only the example of the penitent Ninevites, who, by a penitential fast, averted the destruction with which God had threatened them, but follow also that example of the Innocent Lamb of God, Who, prior to His Mission among men, was pleased to undergo a rigorous fast of forty days and forty nights in the wilderness.

May the holy fast be to you a spiritual springtide; may you polish your spiritual armor, may you breast the waves of evil passions, may you set out like a traveler on his journey heavenwards, and may you prepare like an athlete for the combat.

May you enter on the road which leads to heaven, the rugged and narrow road, and travel along it by buffeting the body and bringing it into subjection.

May your penance consist not merely in mortification of the body, but also in that of the soul, for sin is committed by the will, and therefore it is just that the will, as well as the body, should make atonement.

May you repress the waves of foolish passions and repulse the storm of wicked imaginations, so that your deeds may yield good and fruitful results. If you see a poor man have pity on him, if you see an enemy be reconciled, if you see a friend in good reputation, regard him without envy.

May you fast not only by your mouth by forbidding it to utter tales of slander, but also with your eyes by averting them from unlawful sights, and with your hands by restraining them from deeds of violence, and with your feet by not entering places of pernicious amusements, and with your ears by stopping them from listening to gossip and detraction.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas!

“Today the Word of God appeared clothed in flesh, and That which had never been visible to human eyes began to be tangible to our hands as well. Today the shepherds learned from angels’ voices that the Saviour was born in the substance of our flesh and soul; and today the form of the Gospel message was pre-arranged by the leaders of the Lord’s flocks , so that we too may say with the army of the heavenly host: ‘Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace to men of good will.’”
“Our Saviour, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all.
Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life. For the Son of God in the fullness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on Him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered.
And in this conflict undertaken for us, the fight was fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness; for the Almighty Lord enters the lists with His savage foe not in His own majesty but in our humility, opposing him with the same form and the same nature, which shares indeed our mortality, though it is free from all sin.
Truly foreign to this Nativity is that which we read of all others, ‘no one is clean from stain, not even the infant who has lived but one day upon earth’ (Job 19:4). Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into that peerless Nativity, nothing of the law of sin has entered.”
~St. Leo the Great

Monday, November 18, 2019

Pilgrim Fatima Statue at Holy Innocents Church, NYC

This coming Friday, November 22nd, one of the Pilgrim Virgin Statues of Our Lady of Fatima will visit the Shrine and Parish Church of the Holy Innocents.
Please note that there will be two (2) traditional Solemn Masses to celebrate such event.
11:45 a.m. - Arrival of the Statue and Joyful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary
12 noon – 1:30 p.m. - Confessions
12:15 & 1:15 p.m. - Holy Masses in English
2:00 p.m. - Exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Mysteries of Light
3:00 p.m. - Chaplet of Divine Mercy
4:00 p.m. - Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary
5:00 p.m. - Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary
4:45 p.m. – 5:35 p.m. - Confessions
6:00 p.m. - Solemn High Tridentine Votive Mass of the Immaculate Heart of Mary followed by Outdoor Candlelight Procession of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima  
Night Vigil consisting of 20 Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary and prayers of reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary
12 midnight - Solemn High Tridentine Votive Mass of Our Lady on Saturday followed by the singing of the Te Deum and traditional Fatima Farewell (please bring a white handkerchief to wave to Our Lady)
“Coffee Hour” and refreshments in the Parish Hall
A number of statues of Our Lady of Fatima have been carved by the Sanctuary in Portugal to travel throughout the world in order to spread Our Lady’s Peace Plan and Message of Fatima which is one of prayer, especially the prayer of the Holy Rosary, sacrifice and penance in reparation for sin, and Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary through the Brown Scapular. The Archdiocese of New York is privileged to receive the sixth statue carved for this purpose. Having been carved decades ago, the Pilgrim Virgin which will be vising us has traveled the world many times over and has been venerated by countless Faithful.

Thursday, November 14, 2019



The question of Indulgences — their meaning, their value — suffers from a two-fold disadvantage. To those outside the Church probably no Catholic dogma is responsible for so much misunderstanding, the fruitful source of a theological hatred that it would be hard to equal. The very name “indulgence” conjures up to the Protestant imagination dark spectres of the past — Tetzel selling barefaced licenses to commit, absolutions to pardon, every sin; the wealthy salving their consciences by strips of parchment purchased by their gold; the poor handing over their little all, with the credulity of superstition, to the greedy vendors of spiritual wares, in the fond hope that Heaven’s gates will open to their happy possessors; Luther, in “words that are half-battles,” denouncing this hellish traffic in pardons that drowned men’s souls in perdition, as he nailed to the church door at Wittenberg his thesis of defiance against a power that professed to forgive sins without repentance of the sinner or amendment of his life, and damned men’s souls while it promised to save them.

But even among Catholics, who know better than to be led astray by such distorted phantoms of the imagination, there is a tendency to put in the background, at least of thought, if not of devotional life, the whole subject of indulgences as an abstruse and almost esoteric part of the Christian belief, with little practical bearing on the everyday life of the soul. We have before now come across converts who told us that their instructors had assured them that, provided they gave their assent to the teaching of the Church of God on that particular point, they need not trouble their heads further about it. To all intents and purposes, it was relegated to an academic atmosphere, remote from the living circle of the great dogmas that mould the Catholic life from the cradle to the grave. This lack of true perspective can only arise from a want of consideration of what the Church actually teaches as regards indulgences. The difficulties that at first sight seem to enshroud the dogma with an impenetrable gloom, disappear almost imperceptibly when its real meaning and spiritual importance become apparent. For, in truth, no doctrine perhaps is more luminous in its bearing upon Catholic belief and conduct than that which links the Church of the twentieth century with the Church of the third and fourth centuries by an identical formula. 

If it is the proud boast of the Catholic and Roman Church that she is semper eadem — teaching today what she taught at the beginning — an identity of type characterizing her doctrine (all development being from within, like the increase in stature of a growing child); this note of sameness is nowhere more prominent than in the doctrine, so much misunderstood and withal so fiercely attacked, of indulgences. The name itself should be sufficient to prove this; it brings us back to the early days of the Church’s history, when persecution tried the faith of her children, and discipline in reconciling the lapsed was correspondingly severe. Here is a confessor in prison, awaiting death for the love he bore to Christ — a love stronger than the ties of life; here is a poor sinner, perchance one who had been regarded as a light for his holiness, perchance a priest of the altar, who through cowardice had burnt a few grains of incense before a statue of the Emperor, and thereby perjured his soul. Remorse seizes him; he can have no peace until he has been reconciled to God and restored to the communion of the Church, which he had forfeited by his sin. What, then, does he do? He knows that he will have to undergo a lengthy penance before the Church will receive him, and he dreads the probation and the disgrace. So he goes to the holy confessor bound with chains in his dreary dungeon, and prays him to intercede in his stead, giving him a letter to present to the bishop in which to ask him, for the sake of his imprisonment and approaching death — in other words, through the application of his merits — to remove in whole or in part the canonical penalty which was the Church’s equivalent for the temporal punishment due to his sin of apostasy. And the bishop recognized the confessor’s plea, and, as the representative of the whole Christian Society, readmitted the penitent to the privileges of communion, without making him undergo the long months or years of penitential humiliation.

There we have in a nutshell the full doctrine of indulgences. The Communion of Saints; the belief that what one member of the body does is shared by all the other members, or, as St. Paul expresses it, “If one member glory, all the members rejoice with it;”  the application, by virtue of that vital fellowship, of the merits, whether of the Head, Christ Jesus, or of His saints (for the confessor in his dungeon, or the martyr burning in the cruel flame, could have no merit apart from the Lord, to whom they were united by the joints and bands of divine grace), to the penitent sinner for the remission of the temporal punishment due to his sin, represented by the canonical penance, whose only raison d’etre was the Church’s conviction that by it the temporal penalty could be expiated; these three elements of an indulgence were as much present in the days of Tertullian and St. Cyprian in the third century, as in those of Leo XIII in the twentieth. For by an indulgence the Church teaches to-day the identical doctrine that she taught then. She claims now, as in the days of persecution, the power of remitting, in whole or in part, the debt of temporal punishment for sin (or its substitute in the canonical penalty imposed by the Church in satisfaction to God), that survives after its guilt and eternal punishment have been forgiven; — and this by the application of the merits of Christ and His saints. Even at the present day, after some 1600 years, the Catholic Church uses the same language in her indulgences. When we read of 100 days’, 200 days’, 300 days’ indulgence, our memory is perforce recalled to the time when canonical penance, lasting for various lengths of time, was wont to be exacted from the excommunicated seeking reconciliation. The indulgence corresponds to the canonical penance, being substituted for it even in the amount of the temporal chastisement which is remitted by it.

But the doctrine of indulgences is not only a support to faith, in that it is a striking witness to the purity of the Catholic faith, which remains unchanged, in spite of all the fluctuations of time; it has also a distinct place of importance in the spiritual life of conflict against temptation and sin. As defined by theologians, an indulgence is declared to be “the remission of temporal punishment still due from the sinner after the guilt of his sin has been washed away, — which remission is binding at the tribunal of God in heaven, since its force lies in the application of the treasure of the Church made by a lawful superior.” To understand fully the spiritual benefits conferred by an indulgence it is necessary to consider the precise meaning of that “temporal,” or non-eternal, “punishment” which is cancelled by the application of the merits stored in the treasure-house of the Catholic Church.

Every sin committed has a two-fold effect: it stains the soul with guilt, and it leaves behind it a severe penalty of pain. It need scarcely be said that an indulgence is only concerned with the latter consequence. The stain of crime cannot be washed away by anything short of the Blood of Jesus Christ: it needed the death of God to destroy the mark of sin stamped on the sinner’s soul. No indulgence can purge the foulness of the smallest sin. The sinner must find peace through the way of penitence, by the strength of an abiding contrition. An indulgence is valueless unless its recipient is united by grace to Christ, from whom the merits on which it rests flow to every member of His Body. It is only granted to those who are already reconciled to God — the stain of their sin washed away, their souls purified, by the cleansing waters of Baptism, by the fire of perfect contrition, or by the application of the Precious Blood in the Sacrament of Penance. 

It is true that sometimes in ancient forms of indulgences we find reference made to the forgiveness of sins, e.g., “Concedimus indulgentiam omnium peccatorum;” “Relaxamus tertiam partem peccatorum;” “Absolvimus a culpa et a poena,” etc. But in the first place, it must be remembered that we have Scriptural authority for including the punishment due to sin under the general term “sin,” as, e. g., in I Peter 2 : 24, “Who (Himself) bore our sins in His body upon the tree;” — so that the true meaning of the words in question is, “We relax or grant indulgence for the whole temporal punishment still to be expiated for sins committed and pardoned ... or for its third part.” In the second place, if, as we have seen, sacramental confession is the usual prerequisite condition for an indulgence to be gained, it is plain that both the culpa and the poena — the guilt and the pain of sin — are remitted by indulgences: the one indirectly by previous confession and absolution (or by an act of contrition), the other directly by the bestowal of the indulgence. 

But apart altogether from the blot of guilt that stains the immaculate purity of the soul, each sin entails a penalty, rivets a fetter of pain upon the sinner, which he has to bear in order to satisfy the just demands of the outraged majesty of God. The guilt, the crime, the culpa of sin is not touched by the grant of any indulgence, however great; but the punishment, the temporal effect of sin still remaining to be expiated, after the sin itself has been forgiven and its eternal punishment escaped, — this secondary consequence can be remitted wholly or partially by the officers of Christ’s Church — the Supreme Pontiff (the successor of him to whom the promise was made, “Whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth shall be loosed also in heaven”) and the bishops throughout the world in communion with him who can echo the words of St. Paul, “What we have pardoned for your sakes we have done it in the person of Christ.”

This temporal punishment which survives the forgiveness of the actual sin is manifold. It comprises such effects of transgression as loss of money, of friends, of one’s good name; disease of body, failure of mental power, remorse of soul, destroying, like a canker worm, all happiness and peace. It enters even into the sphere of the after-life. Punishment unexpiated here has to be undergone in purgatory, where the “penal waters” finally obliterate the last traces of sinful rebellion. But more terrible, because spiritual in their consequences, than these obvious results of sin, are the evil habits contracted, the links of the long chain of evil influences, that weigh down and hold back the penitent, as he tries painfully to rise after his sad and disgraceful fall. Each separate act of sin tends to make resistance to the temptation more difficult. The habit formed does not vanish with the forgiven sin; it abides with us as a reminder of our ingratitude, a mute witness to the awful sanctity of God whose law we have so lightly set at naught. 

This branch of temporal punishment is often lost sight of, although its bearing on the spiritual profit of indulgences makes it of the utmost importance. An indulgence is too often regarded as a mechanical balancing of the books, so that the credit side of the soul's account with God may equal the debit, whereas it positively aids us in our struggle against sin. It only needs for us to look into ourselves to realize the fact of the advantage to be gained by a greater or less freedom from the thralldom of evil memories, evil propensities, which sinful actions inevitably bear in their train as by a natural law. The guilt of our sin has been destroyed; the absolving words said over us, and we have felt to the centre of our being that we have been truly forgiven by God. And yet in spite of this, we are sadly conscious that our life is different from what it was before we sinned. Sin has thrown its bewitching glamor around us, and once having yielded to its fatal charm we find it hard to resist when it allures us a second time. 

Experience corroborates this truth. Can the sensualist who has for years given over his body to every lustful disordered passion, turn over a new leaf at once in spite of his weakened body, enfeebled mind, perverted will, and live in innocent purity as in the far-off days of his happy childhood? Can the besotted drunkard, who has tasted the delights of wild confused pleasure, be the same man after he has signed the pledge as he was before he first yielded to the temptation, and drank to his ruin the fruit of the grape? 

We know that such is not the case. As we have sown, so do we reap. Each sin bears its fruit as surely as the tree its blossoms. The evil habits contracted in youth, of carelessness, sloth, self-indulgence, undisciplined speech, unbridled desire — habits that increase in our riper years — are hardly broken. Our sins may be blotted out, but their chastisement remains. We carry ever about with us a diseased imagination, a knowledge of evil, penetrating our every thought, from which we cannot shake ourselves free. The weight of the heavy chains of evil habit and inclination, forged by us so tightly when we sinned, bows us down to this lower earth, keeping us back from spiritual progress. 

It is to destroy this secondary effect of sin, this accumulation of evil habits, this temporal penalty in its many ramifications, that indulgences are granted us by the Church. The sinner must pay the debt of punishment, or another must pay it in his stead. In the Catholic Church, as in some palace of kings, there is a treasury wherein is contained wealth, infinite, inexhaustible — even the satisfactions of Christ and the super-abounding merits of His saints. This boundless sea of satisfaction can be applied to individual members of the Body of Christ, because they are His members — bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh — and the power and virtue flowing from the Head reaches to each least part of the organism vitally united to Him. And this application of indulgences cancels the debt, unloosens the bands of the sinner’s pain, and sets him free from the captivity of evil. The evil habit that cloaks the soul, driving out the air and sunshine of every holy impulse; the heavy chain that clanks drearily as the sinner tries to enter the house of peace; the searching punishment that falls with heavy weight upon his shoulders; the temporal misfortunes that God’s sanctity demands in reparation for repeated acts of rebellion — all are set aside by the gracious act of the Redeemer Who from the Cross granted the first indulgence to the penitent thief: “Today shalt thou, freed by My royal word from every bond of sin, today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.” 

Thus, an indulgence is of real advantage to the soul. If it is no relic of a far-distant past, possessing only an antiquarian interest, but an important witness to the identity of the Catholic Faith of the twentieth century with that of the primitive age, it is doubly true that besides its evidential value, it is of solid profit to us in the spiritual life of toil and battle. Each indulgence that we gain releases us from the effects of sin — effects that hinder us in our struggles against evil —, strengthens our resolutions, and brings us nearer to God. We cannot see here the full extent of the benefits thereby conferred upon us. We can only know from inward experience how the seductions of sin become less powerful, the influence of evil habit decreases, the sad memories of past falls fade away, presaging the glad day when, through the virtue of indulgences powerful even beyond the veil, we enter the gates of the City of everlasting peace.

W. R. Carson.
Shefford, England

 Taken from The Dolphin, Vol. 1, 1902