Faith & Life

BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (148) | How does one obtain a partial or a plenary indulgence?

October 14, 2021

Rev José Mario O Mandía 

The person who wishes to obtain an indulgence must perform a good work to which an indulgence is attached. The Church has compiled the list of indulgences in the Apostolic Penitentiary’s Enchiridion indulgentiarum (Manual of Indulgences, 4th edition, 1999. English online edition).


A necessary condition for receiving any indulgence, whether plenary or partial, is to be in the state of grace  (i.e., he is not conscious of being in mortal sin). One may obtain a partial indulgence in many ways. Among those actions by which one can do so are the following (summarized in the article “Indulgence” in Wikipedia): 

1. SHORT ASPIRATIONS. Raising the mind to God with humble trust while performing one’s duties and bearing life’s difficulties, and adding, at least mentally, some pious invocation.

2. SPIRITUAL AND CORPORAL WORKS OF MERCY. Devoting oneself or one’s goods compassionately in a spirit of faith to the service of one’s brothers and sisters in need.

3. MORTIFICATION. Freely abstaining in a spirit of penance from something licit and pleasant.

4. APOSTOLATE. Freely giving open witness to one’s faith before others in particular circumstances of everyday life.


The Enchiridion indulgentiarum, no 20, lists the basic requirements for obtaining a plenary indulgence.

“N20. §1. To gain a plenary indulgence, in addition to excluding all attachment to sin, even venial sin, it is necessary to perform the indulgenced work and fulfill the following three conditions: [1] sacramental confession, [2] Eucharistic Communion, and [3] prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff.

Ҥ2. A single sacramental confession suffices for gaining several plenary indulgences; but Holy Communion must be received and prayer for the intention of the Holy Father must be recited for the gaining of each plenary indulgence.

Ҥ3. The three conditions may be fulfilled several days before or after the performance of the prescribed work; it is, however, fitting that Communion be received and the prayer for the intention of the Holy Father be said on the same day the work is performed.

“§4. If the full disposition is lacking, or if the work and the three prescribed conditions are not fulfilled, saving the provisions given in Norm 24 and in Norm 25 regarding those who are “impeded,” the indulgence will only be partial.

“§5. The condition of praying for the intention of the Holy Father is fully satisfied by reciting one Our Father and one Hail Mary; nevertheless, one has the option of reciting any other prayer according to individual piety and devotion, if recited for this intention.”

Among the list of actions that can be done, there are four for which a plenary indulgence can be gained on any day, though only once a day:

(1) READING THE BIBLE. Piously reading or listening to Sacred Scripture for at least half an hour.

(2) EUCHARISTIC ADORATION. Adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist for at least half an hour.

(3) WAY OF THE CROSS. The pious exercise of the Stations of the Cross.

(4) HOLY ROSARY OR AKATHIST. Recitation of the Rosary or the Akathist (a hymn praising our Lady, used in the Eastern Rites) in a church or oratory, or in a family, a religious community, an association of the faithful and, in general, when several people come together for an honourable purpose.


Indulgences are one proof that Jesus, through His Church, is ready to help each one of us make reparation for our sins every single day of our life. It means that each day, we can prepare ourselves to skip purgatory and head straight for heaven in case the Lord calls at that moment: death will not catch us unprepared. We will be like the wise maidens who, when the bridegroom arrived, were immediately admitted to the banquet (cf Matthew 25:1-10).