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 | By Father Bryan W. Jerabek, J.C.L.

Diocese granted a Nativity Plenary Indulgence

Those in the pews might be seeing their parish’s Nativity scene on display a little longer than usually this year. On the morning of Jan. 3, which is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, Bishop Raica received a decree from the Apostolic Penitentiary of the Holy See granting a special plenary indulgence for the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama. The indulgence, which will be available through Feb. 2, 2024, is connected to the 800th anniversary of the creation of the Nativity Scene by St. Francis of Assisi.  

A plenary indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin that has already been forgiven. To put it in simpler terms, sin has consequences both in time (temporal) and in eternity. When we repent of our sin by going to confession, the eternal consequences are dealt with, but the effects that our sins cause here in this world of time – such as damaged relationships, a tipping of the scales of justice, wounds in our own hearts, etc. – remain and require time and other actions to be fully dealt with. Through our prayers, penances, and good works, we gradually address these temporal effects and grow towards wholeness in Christ. If we have not fully done so by the moment of our death, then, as long as we died in friendship with God (the state of grace), the time we spend in Purgatory will complete our purification and healing from the temporal effects of our sins.

An indulgence, whether partial (remitting some of the temporal punishment due to sin) or plenary (remitting all of the temporal punishment due to sin), is a gift from the Church. The Bible teaches us that “love covers a multitude of sins,” (1 Peter 4:8) and we grow in love of God and neighbor precisely by the beforementioned prayers, penances, and works of charity. However, we know also from experience that sometimes we grow cold in our love or lax in our pursuit of the growth that we know we need. Just as parents offer incentives to their children so that they will learn to do what is right, so the Church, our Mother, offers the faithful incentives so that we will say the prayers and do the good works that we should. This is an indulgence: an incentive to do the sorts of things we already should be doing as faithful Catholics.

This spiritual incentive from Holy Mother Church is drawn, through the power given to her by Christ, from what we call the “heavenly treasury” made up of the merits of Christ and the saints. The Church is able to distribute these graces as she sees fit, and one of the primary ways that she does so is through the granting of special indulgences.

Remarking on the indulgence, Bishop Raica said, “This indulgence is a special gift from the Church for us in the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama this year … It will no doubt be of benefit to us all, as we strive to draw closer to our Lord Jesus Christ in this new year of Our Lord, 2024!”

Steps required to gain the Nativity Plenary Indulgence (Jan. 3 - Feb. 2, 2024)

  1. Make the intention of receiving the plenary indulgence. Ask God to help you be completely detached from all sin. He wants this for you, and He will help. Have confidence in God and in His grace. Also, recite an Act of Contrition from the heart.
  1. Decide whether you wish to receive the indulgence for yourself or for the souls in Purgatory. Make your decision part of your intention also.
  1. Think about when you last went to confession and consider whether you need to go again soon. To gain a plenary indulgence, one must go to confession within about 20 days before or after.
  1. Visit the Nativity scene at the Cathedral of St. Paul or in another one of the area churches or public chapels.
  1. Pause in prayer for a few minutes before the Nativity, contemplating the birth of Our Lord, and pouring out petitions to God for peace. It is especially fitting to pray for peace in the Holy Land.
  1. Recite an Our Father, Apostles’ Creed, and conclude with the following brief litany (there is no need to remain before the Nativity for this part):

Dearest Jesus, Infant King, Have Mercy on Us.

Most Blessed Mother, Queen of Peace, Pray for Us.

Good St. Joseph, Guardian and Protector of the Church, Pray for Us.

St. Francis of Assisi, Protagonist of Peace, Pray for Us.

  1. Say a Hail Mary “for the intentions of our Holy Father, Pope Francis.” It is not necessary to know what his specific intentions are. Our Lady will know.
  1. Go to Holy Communion (in the state of grace) as soon as possible (within 20 days before or after). One confession can cover multiple indulgences, but one communion is needed for each indulgence. (Therefore, those who go to confession at least once a month, and also go to Mass each day, can theoretically receive one plenary indulgence per day.)
  1. Give thanks to God for these gifts of grace from Holy Mother Church, which help us on our path to eternal life with the Holy Family, St. Francis, and all the saints and angels.

Please note that those who are homebound or in prison can also gain the indulgence by spiritually uniting themselves with the pilgrimages of those who are able to visit a Nativity in a church or chapel and by making the intention to complete the usual requirements as soon as they are able.