The Truth will Set You Free Some Questions About Penance

FAITH Magazine September – October 2012


Christopher Keefe from West Harrow has posed us the following questions. He seems to be requesting a little development of some traditional answers. As such his queries are very apposite to the charism of Faith movement and this pastorally oriented column in particular.

1. What are the effects of personal mortal sin? Does it cut me off from God, and run the risk of my going to hell if not confessed?

Yes. Mortal sin, the committing of a gravely wrong act, deliberately and with full knowledge of its seriously wrong character, incurs the loss of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

2. If a priest absolves the mortal sin why should I have to do penance as the sin has been forgiven? I understand that through confession my sin is forgiven, and that I have to make reparation to God for my sin, but why do I need to make this reparation as God is all loving?

Because we have to cooperate with this loving work of God. Sin breaks, or at least wounds, relationships with God and each other. Forgiveness restarts and strengthens these friendships. It is the base and beginning of healing. Penance enacts our sincere sorrow and bases our cooperation with God's healing, loving work.

3. If I have a mortal sin and it has been pardoned in confession why would one need to go to purgatory to be made perfect in preparation for heaven as one has had one's sins forgiven? I know I need to make the reparation as per 2 above, but why?

Because, as mentioned in the previous answer, healing still has to happen.

4. How do indulgences work? I understand that they remit temporal punishment due to my forgiven sins, if I die without performing the acts of penance a priest has imposed. But again why does a loving God need this reparation? I understand that nothing unclean can go to heaven, and that, like a dry dock, we need the barnacles chipped off.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "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." (CCC 1471)

Through indulgences the Church makes a close link between "the merits" of the saints and the needs of a particular repentant sinner. The healing work of Christ, which, building upon his forgiveness, is the necessary preparation for heaven, is enabled through his sacrificial life, death and resurrection. Suffering, when it is linked with Christ and his suffering shares the latter's redemptive effects.

The sufferings of the martyrs and saints are the most obvious and powerful examples of this fruitful solidarity with Christ in the Church. Through the Church we all therefore benefit from them. Indulgences, where we do particular acts of devotion and charity as set by the Church, focus and personalise a little bit more these saving effects.

Furthermore the loving offerings and sufferings of holy men and women across the ages can, through the Church, bear fruit in particular ways and can be applied for particular needs that may not have been explicitly known about by those who actually made those Christocentric sacrifices. The "gaining" of an indulgence by particular people can bring them special healing, to the extent that they are open to this.

Faith Magazine