VANCOUVER—The relic of St. Francis Xavier now touring Canada is pulling in tremendous crowds wherever it appears, and also presenting a chance for Catholics to get closer to a saint they know and love. But it also presents another opportunity, and one with eternal consequences.
A letter from the Holy See accompanying the relic says Pope Francis, “in order to foster the devotion of the faithful and the salvation of their souls,” has allowed those venerating the relic to receive a plenary indulgence.
There are a few requirements, including going to confession, receiving Communion, and praying for the intentions of the Pope.
An indulgence is "a remission of temporal punishment due to sin,’ explained Father Rodney Nootebos, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Vancouver.
“When we die, if we still have sins we haven’t made up for, we make up for them in purgatory. That’s where the punishment is cleansed. But with an indulgence, that (punishment) is taken away.”
There are two types of indulgences: plenary and partial. Plenary indulgences remove punishment for all sins, while partial indulgences only do so, well, “partially.”
Father Nootebos insisted that it’s not a free ticket into heaven, since no one this side of heaven can know for sure if they actually received a plenary indulgence. Besides, indulgences only remove the punishment of sin; they do not forgive the sins themselves.
“Our sins must have already been forgiven,” he said. “You can’t get an indulgence and think: ‘I’m going to be forgiven of those sins.’ You need to go to confession.”
Those who see the relic while it’s in Canada Dec. 26 to Feb. 4 can be eligible for a plenary indulgence by fulfilling the right requirements (see infographic below) and having the right disposition.
There is also a plenary indulgence available for those who are sick, elderly, or have other serious reasons preventing them from being physically present to see St. Francis Xavier’s arm. According to the Church's Apostolic Penitentiary, they must hate their sins, unite themselves spiritually with those who are attending the events, intend to go to Confession and Communion, and pray for the intentions of the Pope as soon as they can.
“How can the Church actually give that? It all comes from the grace that Christ won for us by his death and resurrection,” said Father Nootebos.
“It’s kind of like this: Jesus won for us these graces. They’re infinite, because it’s Christ’s passion and death. The Church, in a certain sense, is a dispenser of these things. It can take the graces and say: ‘here you go,’ but only through the keys that Christ gave to the Church. It all comes from Jesus Christ. It’s not a free ride. It’s not bypassing Jesus Christ.”
He added there are plenty of other everyday ways to receive an indulgence, plenary or partial. They include praying the Stations of the Cross publicly, praying the Rosary with a group, or reading Scripture for a length of time.
Indulgences “are supposed to inspire us to do good, to pray, to love God and so on.” Father Nootebos hopes the visit of St. Francis Xavier’s arm to Canada will deepen the faith of all Catholics near enough to see it.