Guest Columnists

A Year of Plenary Indulgence

By Father Nicholas M. Colalella, SSL

In early December, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Letter entitled “Patris Corde” (With a Father’s Heart), dedicating an entire year (from Dec. 8, 2020-Dec. 8, 2021) to St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church.

In his Apostolic Letter, the Holy Father highlights the virtues practiced by St. Joseph, which make him a model for all Christian disciples.

While not much is known about St. Joseph beyond what the Gospels tell us in the infancy narratives, his vocation to be the husband of Mary and the legal father of Jesus reveals how important of a figure Joseph is for our faith.

Pope Francis speaks to this fact by stating: “St. Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”

To highlight the unique nature of the occasion, the Holy See has granted that a plenary indulgence be available during this year of St. Joseph.

According to Catechism, an “indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven … ” (CCC 1471).

In other words, while a soul in a state of grace has been saved from eternal punishment by forgiving sins, a temporal punishment remains as the residue of sin.

Normally, after one receives the sacrament of Reconciliation, a penance is imposed by the priest. This penance is meant to make satisfaction for the sins committed and to mitigate the temporal punishment that remains as a result.

In addition to the penance practiced after confession, there are extraordinary opportunities in which the temporal punishment can be either fully or partially remitted.

These opportunities are called “indulgences.” A partial indulgence removes the temporal punishment in part, whereas the plenary indulgence removes it all.

An indulgence, therefore, is not absolution or the forgiveness of sins. Instead, it addresses the issue of the temporal punishment, which remains after the forgiveness of sins.

Indulgences are obtained through special acts of prayer or charity prescribed by the Church.

The usual conditions under which the Church grants an indulgence include the following: Sacramental Confession, reception of Holy Communion, and praying for the intentions of the Holy Father.

In this year of St. Joseph, the Church is granting a plenary indulgence to those who, in addition to meeting the usual conditions, practice one of the following devotions or acts of charity:

  • Meditate on the “Our Father” prayer for 30 minutes
  • Participate in a spiritual retreat of at least one day that includes a meditation on St. Joseph
  • Perform a corporal or spiritual work of mercy
  • Recite the Rosary as a family or as a married couple
  • Entrust daily work to the protection of St. Joseph
  • Pray the Litany of St. Joseph or some other prayer to St. Joseph for the persecuted Church and the relief of persecuted Christians

Pray any approved prayer or act of piety in honor of St. Joseph, especially on:

  • March 19 (Solemnity of St. Joseph)
  • May 1 (Feast of St. Joseph the Worker)
  • December 26 (Feast of the Holy Family)
  • The 19th of each month
  • Every Wednesday (a day traditionally dedicated to St. Joseph)

It is important to note that indulgences are not something earned by our actions alone.

Indulgences tap into the great treasury of grace made available to us by the merits of Christ and by the prayers and works of all the saints in heaven. As Pope St. Paul VI explained in the Apostolic Constitution “Indulgentiarum Doctrina”: “In an indulgence in fact, the Church, making use of its power as minister of the Redemption of Christ, not only prays but by an authoritative intervention dispenses to the faithful suitably disposed the treasury of satisfaction which Christ and the saints won for the remission of temporal punishment” (8).

While this plenary indulgence is made available to all the faithful, the Apostolic Penitentiary specifically noted that, in this time of pandemic, the indulgence is extended in a particular way to the elderly, the suffering, the sick, and the homebound.

These individuals may also receive the plenary indulgence by fulfilling the conditions as much as they are able and by reciting a prayer in honor of St. Joseph as an offering to God for their sufferings.

This year of St. Joseph offers all of us the opportunity to reflect on the simple yet extraordinary life of the carpenter from Nazareth who showed himself docile to the will of God, especially in trying times.

By turning to St. Joseph this year in a particular way and by taking advantage of the gift of the special plenary indulgence, we may imitate the heroic virtue of St. Joseph who did not focus on his own desires but willfully dedicated himself to cooperate with God’s plan for our salvation.

Embracing Mary as his wife without fear and naming the child “Jesus” at the prompting of the angel, St. Joseph placed God at the center of his life.

May we go and do likewise during this year of St. Joseph.


Father Colalella is parochial vicar of St. Luke, Whitestone. He teaches as an adjunct professor of biblical theology for St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, and also assists with the Italian apostolate of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

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