Category Archives: Canon Law

Indulgences: Five Centuries After Martin Luther

In 1511, Martin Luther ascended the Scala Sancta in Rome. These are the most holy marble steps on which Pontius Pilate presented the scourged Jesus Christ at the praetorium, washed his hands, and sentenced him to die. They were moved to Rome in the 4th Century and have since been made available for the faithful to climb on his or her knees. An indulgence is granted to those who make this journey.

In 1511, Martin Luther paid for his right to this indulgence, a word which has become a center of great controversy over the centuries.

What is an indulgence? Take this definition step by step. An indulgence is a great act of charity and mercy administered by the Church to faithful Christians. It grants partial or full remission of his or her due time in purgatory upon completing a prayerful action as prescribed by the Church. Purgatory(which is not hell, and not limbo) is the place in which someone who has passed away will go to heaven but is not yet entirely free of his or her venial faults. These souls must be purified of his or her past sins before fully obtaining the beatific vision of heaven(living in the presence of God, seeing God’s face).

An indulgence is not a sacrament or a substitute for confession, nor is it permission to sin in the future. An indulgence is only given to the faithful who have already been reconciled with Christ for his or her sins but look to further unite themselves with Christ and be granted the most charitable gift of remission of time in purgatory.

An indulgence is intentional, in which the faithful prayerfully conducts the act in order to more fully unite him or herself with Christ. According to canon law:

Can. 996 §1 To be capable of gaining indulgences a person must be baptized, not excommunicated, and in the state of grace at least on the completion of the prescribed work.

§2 To gain them, however, the person who is capable must have at least the intention of gaining them, and must fulfil the prescribed works at the time and in the manner determined by the terms of the grant.

This goes back to the ministry of reconciliation that St. Paul tells us about. Christ gave the Church the authority to forgive sins immediately after giving Peter the keys to the Church. In Matthew 18:18, we read, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Martin Luther’s Protest Martin Luther rightfully protested the selling of invalid indulgences many centuries ago. The men of the Church, who in these actions made themselves distinct from the Divine faith of the Church, were greedy and took advantage of those wishing to buy a spot in heaven. Of course by those very merits the “indulgences” were not done prayerfully and were not acts of uniting one’s self with Christ.  They defeated their own purpose.

A Charity Which Belongs to All An indulgence, when done prayerfully by one who is free of mortal sin, is valid. A gift of such great charity administered by the authority of the Church, whom derives its authority from Jesus Christ, is by nature something that belongs to anyone who rightfully asks for it. Therefore, it is impossible for it to be sold or given in advance. No parchment or certificate is needed. The Sacraments and ministry of redemption belong to all of the faithful.

Thankfully, the leaders of the Church today are those who more fully unite themselves with the charity of Christ. Remember that our very first Pope, the great St. Peter, was one who first denied knowing Christ three times. The men of the Church, as all Christians, are not perfect. Luckily, the faith is perfect as it was given to us by the Divine Jesus Christ.



Finding Jesus in the Simplest of Places, even in Rome

Several in the congregation remain after Mass to pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.

The previous post lauds the great art collections of the Catholic Church as items that help us remember our Catholic identity. This post explores the joys of growing in a personal relationship with God through simplicity.

Located just 69 meters away from Vatican City is a church in stark contrast to the art and glory of St. Peter’s Basilica. This church, San Lorenzo, serves as the youth mission of Rome. To really enjoy this church, you must truly desire a personal relationship with Jesus Christ because there are no stained glass windows or precious attractions to sustain the wandering mind.

Here are a few ways to grow in your relationship with Christ through simple means.

Silence St. Benedict, a 5th century Saint from what is now Italy, said that silence is one of the best ways to develop a spiritual atmosphere for listening to God’s will rather than inserting our own will into our prayer.

True presence of Jesus Christ All Christians are called to remember that the Eucharist is the true glory of the Liturgy. This is why Canon Law explicitly states that sacred images must not be placed as to dominate the attention of the faithful. Sacred images must be charitably placed to help the congregation understand the sacredness of the Mass rather than distract from it.

Be an Early Christian The early Christians had a zeal for Christian life just as we should have. In fact, many were persecuted and martyred. There is something very real about this faith.


Where the Solemnity of the Ascension Fits on the Catholic Calendar

If you live in the red, today is the Solemnity of the Ascension and a holy day of obligation.

40 days after Easter, He ascended into heaven in His glorified body. Jesus did not leave us alone; rather, he promised us an Advocate who arrived on that first Pentecost Sunday. 

Calendar and Canon Law Yes, there are a few occasions in which the Catholic Calendar proves to be a bit confusing, but what else can you expect from an organization with such a rich 2,000 year history! Today is the very holy and joyful Solemnity of the Ascension in most parts of the world; however, with good pastoral reasons, the bishops in any particular ecclesiastical province or country can transfer this feast to the subsequent Sunday, replacing the 7th Sunday of Easter. Such is the case in most of the United States.

This authority can be found in Canon Law 1246

§1. Sunday, on which by apostolic tradition the paschal mystery is celebrated, must be observed in the universal Church as the primordial holy day of obligation. The following days must also be observed: the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension, the Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary the Mother of God, her Immaculate Conception, her Assumption, Saint Joseph, Saint Peter and Saint Paul the Apostles, and All Saints.

§2. With the prior approval of the Apostolic See, however, the conference of bishops can suppress some of the holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday.


Three Things We Learn from Resting on Sundays

2011 Easter Sunday at Holy Rosary in Washington, DC as celebrated by Vatican diplomat, Monsignor Marco Sprizzi

My bishop, Cardinal Wuerl, recently published this article in the Catholic Standard on keeping Sunday a holy day.

“Perhaps the next time we are tempted to reduce Sunday to just one more day, when we are urged to use it as a regular grocery shopping day, to crowd into it that extra bit of work left over from the rest of the week, we might wish to recall the Third Commandment, a commandment for our good – our rest – and God’s glory.” – His Eminence, Cardinal Donald Wuerl

That was a major wake-up call for me. Every Sunday, I fulfill my obligations and say a few extra prayers – but it never occurred to me that by catching up on all of my work, that I was violating God’s invitation and command for us to rest.

Canon Law agrees, stating that we are to refrain from works “which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body” -Canon Law 1247

By resting on Sunday’s we recognize three things:

1) God asks us to be joyful, and experience an infinitesimally small taste of the very real joy that we proclaim we look forward to at Mass every Sunday. The last words of the Creed are, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.” Continue reading

Lent: The deeper meaning of our obligations

Ash Wednesday is only a few days away. Know that you are invited to use this Lenten season to go to Confession, practice self-denial, and ultimately free yourself of the past and look forward to the resurrection of Christ that we celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Catholics should take great pride in the fact that we are called to make sacrifices in unity to bring ourselves closer to Christ as a community. The Holy Season of Lent is not a time to complete our New Years Resolutions, nor is it a time to cut a bad habit. But Lent is also joyful in the sense that we are seeking freedom, and not seeking guilt. 

50 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, this was the grand Palace of Caesar. When you receive ashes on Wednesday, remember that "you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gen 3:19), but the Kingdom of God is eternal.

Deep Rooted History The very first Christians fasted. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus instructs His disciples to fast after the bridegroom departs(USCCB, Lk 5:35). According to the Didache, a first century Christian manual written in Greek, the fast is on the “fourth day and the Preparation day”, which would be Wednesday and Friday. (A good online translation to English can be found here). And Bishop St. Irenaeus, a 2nd century bishop of what is now the Archdiocese of Lyon in France, wrote Pope St. Victor of Africa to discuss the already established 40 day preparation for Easter (  Continue reading