By Cian Molloy - 22 March, 2020
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Vatican is granting special plenary indulgences to all those suffering because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Additionally, the decree issued on Friday March 20 by the Apostolic Penitentiary grants a plenary indulgence to all those caring for those suffering from Covid-19, be they professional healthcare workers, family members or volunteers.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an indulgence is “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven”, such as a reduction of the time spent by the soul in Purgatory. A plenary indulgence, is a full remission of that punishment.
Normally, obtaining a plenary indulgence involves obtaining the Sacrament of Reconciliation, receiving the Eucharist and praying for the Pope’s intentions but, because of these extraordinary times, the conditions for this indulgence are different to normal.
With public worship cancelled in most places, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, who signed the decree, says that in this case it is necessary for the faithful to unite themselves spiritually “through the media” to the celebration of the Holy Mass, the recitation of the Holy Rosary, or to the Stations of the Cross or to some other form of devotion. Plus it is necessary that someone obtaining the indulgence has “the will to fulfil the usual conditions [sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer according to the Holy Father’s intentions], as soon as possible”.
Similar conditions apply to healthcare workers and family members who “expose themselves to the risk of contagion”.
Meanwhile, any member of the faithful can obtain a plenary indulgence by visiting the Blessed Sacrament, or by reading Holy Scripture for half an hour, or reciting the Rosary or the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, or by completing the Way of the Cross.
The decree notes that because of “grave necessity” and “imminent danger of death”, it may be necessary for priests to provide members of the faithful with collective absolution.
Normally, the granting of collective absolution is at the discretion of local bishops, but with hundreds of people dying in Italy every day because of Covid-19, the Apostolic Penitentiary recognises that priests may have to impart to several of the faithful at one time. When this happens, priests must inform their bishops, said Cardinal Piacenza.
Separately, the cardinal encouraged local groups to set up voluntary “extraordinary hospital chaplains” to provide spiritual assistance to the sick and dying, subject to agreement and cooperation with health authorities.