Q. What exactly is an indulgence and could you provide some examples of how to obtain one?
A. The Compendium of the Current Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Indulgences are the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven. The faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains the indulgence under prescribed conditions for either himself or the departed. Indulgences are granted through the ministry of the Church which, as the dispenser of the grace of redemption, distributes the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints.” (No. 312). An indulgence can be either partial, which remits only some of the temporal punishment due to sin, or plenary, which remits all temporal punishment due to sin. The usual conditions for obtaining a partial indulgence are: (1) be in a state of grace (free of mortal sin); (2) intend to receive the indulgence; (3) perform the prescribed action of the indulgence. The usual conditions for obtaining a plenary indulgence are: (1) have the intention of gaining the indulgence; (2) be free from all attachment to venial sin; The following must be completed within a few days before or after the prescribed action of the indulgence, though the same day is best, if possible: (1) Receive the Sacrament of Penance; (2) Receive the Eucharist; (3) Pray for the intentions of the Holy Father.
The Norms guiding the obtaining of indulgences can be found in the Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum doctrina.
Some examples of partial indulgences are: recitation of certain prayers, saying the Creed, praying the rosary in private, teaching or studying Christian doctrine, the praying of litanies, the Magnificat, reading of Sacred Scripture, among others.
Some examples of plenary indulgences are: Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for at least one hour. Making the Way of the Cross or, if unable to get to a church, the pious meditation and reading on the Passion and Death of Our Lord for a half an hour. Public recitation of five decades of the Rosary (this must be done vocally, continuously, and with the Mysteries announced out loud and meditated on). A plenary indulgence is granted on each Friday of Lent to the faithful who after Communion piously recite before an image of Christ crucified the prayer: “Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus,” (on the other days of the year the indulgence is partial). A plenary indulgence is gained when an Act of Consecration is publicly recited on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A plenary indulgence is received by those who publicly make the Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart on the Feast of Christ the King (last Sunday in October per the traditional calendar). A pious visit to a church, a public or chapel on All Souls' Day (November 2) with the prayers of one Our Father and the Creed; this indulgence is applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory. A devout visit to a cemetery with a prayer, even if only mental, for the departed souls, from the first to the eighth day of November.