Last month Pope Benedict XVI authorized a "plenary indulgence" for Catholics who participate in public or private devotions to Our Lady of Lourdes.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an indulgence is "the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sin whose guilt has already been forgiven." A resurgence in the popularity of indulgences occurred several hundred years ago, when Catholics sought to substitute the often-severe public penances of the time with something less onerous, explained Father John Colacino, CPPS, professor of religious studies at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford.
A partial indulgence removes part of the temporal — or temporary as opposed to eternal — punishment for sin, while a plenary indulgence removes all punishment, the catechism notes. Indulgences may be attached to prayers, devotional practices and acceptance of one’s daily sufferings, noted Father Colacino, who added that individuals may perform these works on their own behalf or on behalf of the souls in purgatory.
Catholics also can assist the souls in purgatory — as well as those on earth — by requesting that priests offer Masses in their memory.
"When you make a donation to the priest offering the Mass to remember (someone) … it’s a form of intercession," he said.