Friday, June 17, 2016


As I have said before, I am not religious, and that is in part due to having grown up a Catholic, but one with enough intelligence to question what I was taught and expected to believe without question. Of course, I do blame the nuns as that is where my religious instruction started and ended. Even at the tender age of 7, I could not believe some of the incredibly ridiculous teachings. And I just knew for certain that they were telling lies when they said my mother would burn in hell because she did not go to mass every Sunday.

Having grown up a Catholic, I feel I probably have a leg to stand on when I question some of the more ridiculous things I was expected to believe. All you have to do is read the bible from start to finish and you will get remission from punishment for sins - that is, early parole from purgatory? I mean seriously? That is what we were taught by the nuns, who clearly had not read the manual.

There are rules governing indulgences - of which there are two types, partial and plenary. Partial needs no explanation.

Remissions were counted in days, weeks, years, yet we were also taught that time has no meaning in purgatory; after all if you are there then you are dead and time is a living concept. But there was no conversion scale for this 'time' off, no 1 year indulgence = [n] units of purgatory.

There was, and probably still is, a long list of acts that earned this time off. But what we were not told was that before we could actually qualify for the benefits, we had to have fulfilled three conditions: Have been to confession and confessed all of our previous sins. Previous sins are the only sins you can earn indulgences for - something else we were not told - we thought we could earn credits and plan future sins to be chalked up against those credits - not so. Anyway, confession as I said, then receive communion, and pray for the Pope's intentions, in other words, pray that he got whatever it was he was praying for, a thin line there with some of our past Popes. Naturally you also have to be truly sorry for all those confessed sins, and be absolutely determined to never, ever commit them again. That immediately voids the idea of amassing credits. Also, another rule was that you could only earn one plenary indulgence per day; there was no limit to the number of partial indulgences you could earn, but no matter how many partial indulgences you got - they never equaled a plenary indulgence. I guess they were each applied to a separate sin, leaving you still exposed to the rest of the punishment allotted to that particular sin.

If that was not enough - you have to have intention to earn the indulgence - sort of like premeditation applies to a crime. If you do these various acts, in the requisite state of grace, totally by accident, you get nothing. There is no equivalent to manslaughter in the world of indulgences.

Among the acts that qualified you for this remission were carrying holy pictures around with you, that is little cards with pictures of saints and Jesus and other holy people. When I was a child just about everyone had a prayer book, and just about everyone went to Mass on Sunday and brought along their prayer book, which was usually stuffed with these holy pictures. If you were unfortunate enough to drop your prayer book, the cards were scattered among the pews and it took a lot of people to help you gather them back up, and probably the rest of the mass to insert them back into your prayer book - given that mass entailed a constant variation of standing, sitting, kneeling and standing again, this task should in itself have merited some indulgences.

Wearing crosses or holy medals around your neck also carried indulgences, but only if they had previously been blessed by a priest - and of course, if the pope had blessed them you were really getting some credits.

Scapulars - now there is something worth explaining.

Rules for wearing a Scapular
A small scapular must consist of two wool squares of cloth, connected by two strings (of any material), so that one segment rests on your chest and the other on your back. If you would like, you can wear more than one scapular at a time, so long as each scapular is complete. Once you have your scapular it is important to have it blessed by a priest and if necessary to become invested with the confraternity associated with it (a further blessing that can be granted by an authorized priest). Once you have your scapular blessed it must be worn at all times in order to share in the indulgences and privileges of the particular scapular. Should you remove the scapular for any period of time you are no longer eligible for its associated blessings, however, as soon as you resume wearing the scapular you are reinvested in its indulgences.  Should your scapular wear out, you may replace it with an unblessed scapular, as the indulgences are invested in the devotion of the wearer, not the object.
It sounds a bit like a cloaking device. And, what is more bizarre, a scapular was like a small pocket, and if you put a relic inside that really increased your odds. What is a relic you ask?
  • a part of a deceased holy person's body or belongings kept as an object of reverence.
That is right, old bits of rag someone claims came of some holy person's clothing, or worse, a tooth or bit of bone from their decaying body.

Going to confession carried an indulgence which seemed counter intuitive, if you have to go to confession in order to be in a state of grace sufficient that you earn the indulgence, does that mean you must go to confession twice in succession? You see, that is another thing the nuns didn't tell us. We thought going to confession and saying the requisite number of prayers afterwards, left us free and clear of the sins confessed, apparently it did not.  It gave us forgiveness NOT remission, we were still liable for the punishment. That is where indulgences came in, the remission was how you reduced the punishment debt.

Then the church dropped the idea of indulgences, so all those people who had carefully whittled away at their time in purgatory (we were taught that no one except the Pope completely escaped purgatory as we were all basically bad), saw that hard work wasted and the minor pain they were promised after death, prior to enjoying the wonders of heaven, was all back in the account. For some, those who lived long enough, the credit was returned when the church changed its holy mind and indulgences again came back into favor, however they were not nearly so easy to achieve. And it is not clear if the reinstatement also reinstated those indulgences that had been voided by the abolition. If so, what a nice surprise for those who had already passed away and were struggling through their purgatory - sudden early parole!

At least you could no longer buy indulgences. Back in the 15th century quite a few Bishops and Cardinals (the holy guy, not the bird nor any of the sports teams of that name) were selling indulgences to wealthy (but clearly stupid) people.

To be fair, this practice was not church approved, though I seem to remember that donating to the church did carry some indulgences.

And, while nothing to do with indulgences, I have one big question still hanging over me. Limbo. Another big reason why I turned my back on the catholic church. How on earth can a new born baby be blamed for the sins of Adam and Eve - OK, lets assume Adam and Eve really existed, and all the stuff about apples and snakes was true; no one, most especially spiteful, vindictive women dressed in black robes with giant rosary beads around their necks, could convince me that a tiny newborn baby is to be held responsible for those spectacular sins; and should that baby die before it has been baptized, a ceremony that officially cleanses the baby of that sin, then they will go to Limbo, sort of like the baby care version of Purgatory, but they never get out, and there are no adults there to take care of them! That bothered the hell out of me.

Then limbo gets abolished in April 2007. What happened to all of those babies? Here is what the church says, washing its hands of responsibility once again:
"The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation. There are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible (to baptize them)."
I am sorry, that is just not good enough for me. Of course we do have the loophole - baptism of desire - which, we were taught, can be inflicted on a baby by proxy. Yet another reason to question the entire system.

But, on a lighter note, the Vatican has brought indulgences into the modern world of social media - you can now earn indulgences on twitter according to this article in the Guardian.  Naturally, here again, there are rules:
"That includes following Twitter," said a source at the penitentiary, referring to Pope Francis' Twitter account, which has gathered seven million followers. "But you must be following the events live. It is not as if you can get an indulgence by chatting on the internet."

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