I was shopping in Oxford and noticed a long queue outside the Catholic Church on Woodstock Road. It turns out Holy relics are being displayed over two days, and Catholics are going to venerate them and also to gain a Plenary Indulgence.
The Church's website says:
"The Apostolic Penitentiary has granted a Plenary Indulgence to all who venerate the relics of St Thérèse in our church. To gain the Indulgence:
1. Make a good sacramental Confession
2. Receive Holy Communion (within a few days)
3. Pray for the Holy Father's Intentions
4. Take part in a service or devotion in honour of St Thérèse, or spend some time in prayer, concluding with the Our Father, Creed and invocations to Our Lady and St Thérèse."
I had no idea what a Plenary Indulgence is. This explanation is from the Catholic Encyclopedia.
"An indulgence that may be gained in any part of the world is universal, while one that can be gained only in a specified place (Rome, Jerusalem, etc.) is local. A further distinction is that between perpetual indulgences, which may be gained at any time, and temporary, which are available on certain days only, or within certain periods. Real indulgences are attached to the use of certain objects (crucifix, rosary, medal); personal are those which do not require the use of any such material thing, or which are granted only to a certain class of individuals, e.g. members of an order or confraternity. The most important distinction, however, is that between plenary indulgences and partial. By a plenary indulgence is meant the remission of the entire temporal punishment due to sin so that no further expiation is required in Purgatory. A partial indulgence commutes only a certain portion of the penalty; and this portion is determined in accordance with the penitential discipline of the early Church. To say that an indulgence of so many days or years is granted means that it cancels an amount of purgatorial punishment equivalent to that which would have been remitted, in the sight of God, by the performance of so many days or years of the ancient canonical penance. Here, evidently, the reckoning makes no claim to absolute exactness; it has only a relative value."
It appears that, by following the above 4-part instruction, Heaven-bound Catholics can go directly to Heaven without having to spend any intervening time in Purgatory during which their sins would be fully cleansed prior to their encountering God. Almost every Heaven-bound soul ends up being punished - and purged of sin - in Purgatory for a period; how long depends on how big a sinner you were [See here and scroll down to Purgatory for more info].
The offer, if you like, is a get-out-of-Purgatory card (POST SCRIPT 11TH NOVEMBER - My use of this phrase is intended to put into a nutshell, for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the idea, what such an indulgence essentially is. It was NOT chosen deliberately to cause offence to Catholics, as one commentator, appears to think! However, I guess the breezy tone probably implicitly communicates that I don't take the idea terribly seriously). That partly explains the length of the queue outside the church, I suppose.
Anyway, the reason I mention the relics and the Indulgence is: I wonder what Karen Armstrong would say about it all (see three posts earlier)? All sounds very literal to me!
Image - souls in Purgatory.