In typical dogmatic obfuscation: "the remission before God of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned"

This is a strange area of Catholic dogma where in addition to being forgiven for your sins by confessing, you are "cleansed" of the damage that the sin has done to you. They never covered this during my indoctrination, but apprently there are some earthly punishments imposed by God when you sin in addition to the eternal punishment that supposedly awaits you after death. It's kind of a way to short circuit the idea that what goes around comes around.

To recieve one, you must perform one of a series of eligible acts, confess, take communion, and pray for the pope.

Partial list of eligible acts:
Reading of Sacred Scripture (at least a half hour)
Recitation of the Marian Rosary (in a group for full indulgence)
Exercise of the Way of the Cross (aka , Stations of the Cross)
Receiving a Papal Blessing (including by tv & radio)

Sources
http://www.tomlinson.org/plenary.htm
http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/PRIMINDU.HTM

It's not that confusing; the idea is that although you've been forgiven, you still have not been washed.

You have the guarantee after a good confession that you won't burn in hell for sins you have committed (provided you confess all mortal ones), but it doesn't mean that you've been shot by a magic bullet that makes everything hunky-dory. If you ever see movies where one guy cheats on his wife and she finds out, you'll notice that she may forgive him, but that doesn't mean he's innocent all over again. As far as she's concerned, he has to make up for some of the stuff he's done. And sometimes that means doing something major.

Enter purgatory.

Alternatively, enter the plenary indulgence; it is not possible to obtain one of these lightly; you don't follow the directions and be pardoned, because then you've only a partial indulgence. A plenary indulgence must be obtained much in the way a mortal sin is committed. You must:
  1. Follow instructions on obtaining a plenary indulgence; substituting a partial doesn't work here.
  2. Know fully that what you're doing will result in the acquisition of a plenary indulgence
  3. Execute all steps with full consent of the will to the best of your ability. This means not thinking "I've been reading for 29:14, only 46 seconds left...
And for the record, I've not heard of the "blessing from the pope" requirement, although it's a distinct possibility. The usual requirements are to meet the special requirements, confess your sins and receive Holy Communion within a week, pray for the pope's intentions, pray for the souls in purgatory, and I may be forgetting one. In any case, the plenary indulgence is not simply a project for the afternoon; with the wrong disposition, you are awarded only a partial indulgence. And any indulgence received in the state of mortal sin is without any merit whatever; it remits no temporal punishment, and cannot remit eternal punishment. That's why confession is still around.

Why so strict? Well, because if you give it less than your very best, you can't be all that serious about it, now, can you?

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