Indulgences on Sold Items

And More on Anointing of the Sick

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ROME, JULY 18, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.



Q: Reading the "Handbook of Indulgences" I learned that an indulgence attached to an object, such as a crucifix blessed by a bishop, is lost when the object is sold. I was at a convention and a vendor had St. Benedict medal crucifixes blessed by Pope Benedict XVI at World Youth Day 2005 for which she asked a $10 donation, which I paid. Is a donation simply a disguised sale, meaning no indulgence now applies? -- D.G., Santa Barbara, California

A: Our reader refers to norm 19.2. This norm simply states that the indulgence attached to the use of devotional object ceases only when the object is destroyed or sold.

The interpretation of this norm may be guided in part by general canonical norms such as canons 1171 and 1212, although these canons treat more precisely of sacred places and objects such as churches and blessed liturgical items rather than devotional items.

When dealing with the loss of blessing, the aforementioned canons mention that a sacred place or object loses its blessing when either destroyed in large part or when turned over to profane use.

These canons are only partially of use regarding the question of devotional objects such as rosaries and medals, which are far more common than churches and chalices. It is also reasonably certain that the mind of the legislator is to avoid all hint of commerce in indulgenced objects, which would result in a broader restriction than that of the canons.

However, the canonical notion of reduction to profane use can enlighten our problem.

The sale of a blessed object for personal gain, for all intents and purposes, reduces the object to the realm of the profane as an object of commerce, even if the buyer obtains it for a religious purpose. In such a case the indulgence would be lost.

On the other hand, if the object is exchanged for a set donation, offered for some religious or charitable purpose then, strictly speaking, we would not be speaking of a sale and the indulgence would be conserved.

Thus the question hinges on the intent of the distributor. If the purpose is personal gain, then it makes no difference whether it is called a price or a donation: We are dealing with a sale. If the intention is charity, then we are dealing with a donation.

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Follow-up: Anointing of the Sick

Our piece on the anointing of the sick July 4 brought to mind a couple of related questions. A California reader asked:

"As my father was dying a year ago, the priest came to the house for the last rites. My father was prepared and expected to go to confession but the priest said it was not necessary. I pointed out to the priest that it had been at least 40 years since my father's last confession, but the priest still declared it unnecessary and proceeded to anoint my father and give him holy Communion.

"Is anointing of the sick a sacrament of the living -- where one needs to be in the state of sanctifying grace to receive it -- or of the dead -- such as baptism and penance, where one need not be in the state of grace to receive it?"

Although many sacramental theologians have moved away from the distinction between sacraments of the living and of the dead, this distinction does express a reality regarding the necessity of being in the state of grace in order to fruitfully receive most sacraments.

The, sacrament of anointing of the sick does forgive sins but this is not its principal effect. The Catechism, summarizing the effects of this sacrament, says in No. 1532:

"The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects:

"-- the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church;

"-- the strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age;

"-- the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of Penance;

"-- the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul;

"-- the preparation for passing over to eternal life."

Thus, a person who is able and willing, should always be offered the opportunity to confess before receiving the anointing of the sick as this usually provides an added consolation and grace in the face of the difficulties of illness. The sacrament's power to forgive sins is usually tied to the person's being unable to go to confession.

In the precise case at hand, the priest, perhaps because of an erroneous idea regarding the effects of the sacrament, did not act according to the mind of the Church when he refused to hear the person's confession.

This ignorance, coupled with the fact that the person was prepared and repentant, certainly meant that in this case he was "unable to receive forgiveness through the sacrament of penance" and so the anointing supplied the effect of forgiveness and the dying man received viaticum in the state of grace.

Another Californian asks: "Is the sacrament of the anointing of the sick reserved solely for those suffering a terminal illness or for those preparing to undergo surgery? May persons suffering from chronic illness, mental illness, spiritual illness and drug addiction receive this sacrament?"

As mentioned in our previous column the sacrament is for grave (but not necessarily terminal) physical illness. The sacrament may thus be given to people who have a grave chronic illness if this malady somehow places them in danger of death.

At least up till now, Catholic doctrine has not seen this sacrament as necessary for non life-threatening chronic illnesses, mental illnesses and conditions such as drug addiction and alcoholism. It could be given however, in the case of a dangerous situation that results from such conditions as a drug overdose.

For these ailments the usual means of grace are more often than not sufficient in helping us to overcome these burdens or at least bear patiently the trials permitted by God.

Among these means are frequent recourse to the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist, closeness to the Blessed Mother, as well as prayer and seeking spiritual guidance.

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