entering the grace of the Year for Priests

On April 25th of this year, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, the recently-retired head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, released a decree announcing that there will be special indulgences available to both priests and the rest of the faithful during the Year for Priests (which begins tomorrow).

Since there are certain indulgences attached to tomorrow’s celebrations, I’m dedicating a blog post to the topic today, in the hope that at least some of you will be able to take advantage of this special opportunity.

Here’s the introduction to the decree, which provides some context:

During the Year for Priests established by the Holy Father on the occasion of the anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, the gift of special indulgences is granted.

Shortly the day will come on which will be commemorated the 150th anniversary of the pious departure to Heaven of St John Mary Vianney, the Curé d’Ars. This Saint was a wonderful model here on earth of a true Pastor at the service of Christ’s flock.

Since his example is used to encourage the faithful, and especially priests, to imitate his virtues, the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI has established that for this occasion a special Year for Priests will be celebrated, from 19 June 2009 to 19 June 2010, in which all priests may be increasingly strengthened in fidelity to Christ with devout meditation, spiritual exercises and other appropriate actions.

This holy period will begin with the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a day of priestly sanctification on which the Supreme Pontiff will celebrate Vespers in the presence of the holy relics of St John Mary Vianney, brought to Rome by the Bishop of Belley-Ars, France.

The Most Holy Father will likewise preside at the conclusion of the Year for Priests in St Peter’s Square, in the presence of priests from across the world who will renew their fidelity to Christ and the bond of brotherhood.

May priests commit themselves, with prayer and good works, to obtaining from Christ the Eternal High Priest, the grace to shine with Faith, Hope, Charity and the other virtues, and show by their way of life, but also with their external conduct, that they are dedicated without reserve to the spiritual good of the people, something that the Church has always had at heart.

The gift of Sacred Indulgences which the Apostolic Penitentiary, with this Decree issued in conformity with the wishes of the August Pontiff, graciously grants during the Year for Priests will be of great help in achieving the desired purpose in the best possible way.

Before describing the particular requirements for the indulgences, I should acknowledge that there are many people who either are not familiar with the Church’s teaching on indulgences, think the Church has abandoned the practice of granting them, or have objections to what they think the Church teaches about them. To all such people, I recommend the following two articles: Indulgences: the treasures of the Catholic Church and Myths about Indulgences. I also cover the topic briefly at the beginning of an RCIA Hollywood podcast on a Catholic vision of the moral life.

The decree continues by spelling out the particulars, which I’ll summarize here:

  • For priests:

    A plenary indulgence is available on any day of this Year for Priests.

    The conditions are:

    • praying Morning or Evening Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament (either exposed or reposed);
    • offering themselves with ready and generous hearts to celebrating the sacraments, especially Confession; and
    • observing the normal conditions for an indulgence: being truly repentant for sin; going to confession, participating in the Eucharist, and praying for the Pope’s intentions.

    A partial indulgence is available to priests “every time that they devoutly recite the prayers duly approved so as to lead a holy life and to carry out in a holy manner the offices entrusted to them.”

  • For all of the faithful:

    A plenary indulgence is available:

    • on the days which open and close the Year for Priests;
    • on the 150th anniversary of the death of St John Vianney (August 4);
    • on the first Thursday of each month; and
    • on any other days established by the local bishop.

    The conditions are:

    • attending Mass;
    • offering prayers and good works to Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, on behalf of the Church’s priests; and
    • observing the other normal conditions for an indulgence: being truly repentant for sin; going to confession and praying for the Pope’s intentions.

    On the same days, the elderly, sick, and homebound can obtain the indulgence by:

    • reciting prayers for the sanctification of priests;
    • offering their sufferings to God through Mary, Queen of Apostles; and
    • fulfilling the conditions prescribed for all of the faithful as soon as they are able.

    A partial indulgence is available to all the faithful whenever they devoutly recite five Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glorias (or another expressly approved prayer) in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with the intention that priests be preserved in purity and holiness.

During this Year for Priests, may the first sign of our solidarity with the Church — and with priests, in particular — be our prayers and offerings to God, along with the witness of a holy life.

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