O God, your mercy knows no bounds and the treasure of your goodness is infinite…” This excerpt from the ancient Te Deum hymn was chosen by St. John Paul II as his introduction to establishing a special plenary indulgence for Divine Mercy Sunday.
What is a plenary indulgence? Well, first, we must ask what is an indulgence. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”
Basically, what it says is that, every sin has two consequences. One consequence is the damage our sin does in our relationship to God. That damage is healed and forgiven by the Blood of Jesus Christ and we experience it especially through Baptism and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The second consequence is the damage our sin causes in the world. If I steal ten dollars from a poor man. I have committed a sin, for which I need God’s forgiveness. But, even when I have been forgiven, that poor man is still suffering from his missing ten dollars.
If I lie about someone in a way that she loses her job. I may be forgiven my sin, but she is still without a job. Or if I gossip, of if I cheat, or if I attack with words, or any other sin, there is always some negative consequence, some damage that is caused in this life, independent of our relationship with God.
God is just. Therefore, He requires that every debt be paid, just like a good father. If a dad know his child stole from a store. He requires, not only that the child go apologize, but also that the child return that which was stolen. So too, God requires that we make amends for the evils we have committed in this life.
We cannot make amends for the damages we have caused in our relationship to God, because he is infinite and, therefore, the damage is infinite. Therefore, since the damage we have caused in our relationship with God is beyond our ability to repay, he allowed his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to pay it for us. However, for the damage we have done in this world, we can make amends, and, therefore, He requires it in justice.
In paying this debt, though, we are not alone. Just as, by giving us a ride to return what we had stolen, our parents might help us make amends with a store owner, so, too, the members of our family of faith can help us make amends. Therefore, the Catechism refers to the “treasury of the satisfaction of Christ and the saints.” The prayer, fasting, acts of mercy and love of Christ and the saints outweigh all the evil consequences of our actions. The fruits of these acts of love can be given away to those who seek them. When we receive these fruits, it is called an indulgence. And if the fruits we receive completely equal all the damage we have caused through our sins, then the indulgence is called plenary, which literally means ‘complete.’
This Divine Mercy Sunday, we are given the opportunity to experience these fruits, to receive a plenary indulgence. The indulgence is offered to any who, “in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, take part in the prayers and devotions held in honor of Divine Mercy.” This Sunday at 2:30pm at St. Patrick, we will be gathering to do just that and, in a special way, to experience the boundless mercy of God.
Praised be Jesus Christ, Fount of Mercy, now and forever!