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Indulgence available to those who March for Life

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Mount Notre Dame Students preparing for March for Life in Washington. (Courtesy Photo)
Mount Notre Dame Students preparing for the 2017 March for Life in Washington. (Courtesy Photo)

By Gail Finke

The bishops of Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Va., announced that participants in the annual March for Life can obtain a plenary indulgence this year.

In a letter sent to the bishops of the United States, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, and Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge said that the indulgence is available to Catholics who “take part in the sacred celebrations, along with the great assembly of people, throughout the whole course of the annual event that is called ‘March for Life.’”

The letter later stipulates that to obtain the indulgence, Catholics must participate in the Masses, rallies, or prayer events that are scheduled for the March, which include a massive Youth Rally and Mass at Capital One Arena, an adult and family rally at St. Matthews Cathedral, and the overnight National Prayer Vigil for Life at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

As is the case with all indulgences, to obtain this one Catholics must also go to Confession, receive Holy Communion pray for the intentions of the pope, and be free from attachment to sin.

The 45th annual March for Life is Jan. 19. This year’s theme is ““Love Saves Lives.” The annual march attracts hundreds of thousands of participants, including thousands from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, who walk from the National Mall to the Supreme Court and the U.S. Capitol on or near the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. While people of many Christian denominations and other religions participate, the majority of marchers are Catholic.

People who cannot attend the March because of age, illness, or other “grave reasons” can also obtain the indulgence by meeting the other conditions and “having offered prayers and their sufferings or the ailments of their own life to the merciful God,” the bishops said.


What is an indulgence?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 1471), an indulgence is “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven” through Confession. Indulgences can be granted by bishops to Catholics saying certain prayers, visiting shrines, participating in a pilgrimage, and similar acts, just as a priest assigns prayers or actions to express penance after Confession. The so-called “usual conditions” for obtaining one are going to Confession and receiving Holy Communion within a certain number of days before or after performing the act, and praying for the intentions of the pope. They also include a condition much harder to achieve: The person must be free from all attachment to sin.

A “plenary” indulgence remits the temporal punishment for all a person’s sins, while a “partial” indulgence remits only some. During the late Middle Ages, bishops and popes offered indulgences for large contributions to build cathedrals and other projects. Although making such donations is generally a charitable and pious act, this practice led to the idea that people could buy forgiveness. Because of this, the Church stopped the practice of assigning indulgences to any financial transaction in 1572. However, misunderstandings about indulgences remained and remain.

For a good introduction to indulgences, see “Myths About Indulgences” at Catholic Answers.

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