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Mercy Sunday's Special Graces, Plenary Indulgence: Are They the Same?

Robert Stackpole Answers Your Divine Mercy Questions

By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Apr 6, 2012)
A Mr. Dwyer asked: What is the difference between that special graces promised by Jesus for devout communicants on Mercy Sunday, and the plenary indulgence for Mercy Sunday devotions that was instituted several years ago by Pope John Paul II? Are they the same thing? Or are they different?

Simply put: They are NOT the same thing!

The main difference, of course, is that an "indulgence" is something offered to the faithful by the Church, as the keeper of the keys of the kingdom, with authority to "bind and loose" (see Mt 16:17-19). The special graces of Mercy Sunday, on the other hand, were promised directly by our Lord, through a prophetic revelation given to St. Faustina (see Diary of St. Faustina, 699). The Church has not officially ruled that this particular promise was an authentic supernatural revelation (and no Catholic is required to believe it as a matter of faith), but the Church has discerned, in various ways, that there is nothing that violates Catholic doctrine in this promise.

Briefly, here are the other main differences between the "special graces" promised by Jesus for Divine Mercy Sunday, and the plenary indulgence offered by the Church for special devotions to The Divine Mercy on Mercy Sunday:

1) The special graces that our Lord promised for Mercy Sunday come solely through the reception of Holy Communion on that day, in a state of grace, with trust in The Divine Mercy. Any plenary indulgence granted by the Church, on the other hand, involves the fulfilment of a number of conditions, including prayer for the pope's intentions, confession and Holy Eucharist, and the carrying out of the special indulgenced work (in this case: participating in public devotions to The Divine Mercy on Mercy Sunday itself).

2) The special graces promised by our Lord for Mercy Sunday can be received by a soul in a state of grace, but with imperfect love for God, and imperfect contrition for sin—as long as the soul merely trusts in the Mercy of God, and clings to Him because of His promised benefits. A plenary indulgence, however, can only be obtained through the performance of an indulgenced work as an expression of pure love for God. If the intentions of one's indulgenced work are not pure (say, the work is done in part out of fear of hell or purgatory, and loathing for oneself — or the desire to impress one's friends and relatives! — rather than purely out of love for God) then the indulgence obtained will be only partial, not plenary.

3) The special graces that our Lord promised for Mercy Sunday can only be received for oneself, through the devout reception of Holy Communion on Mercy Sunday (as stated in #1 above). A plenary indulgence, however, can be offered for oneself, or for souls suffering in purgatory.

4) The most special grace promised by our Lord for Mercy Sunday is nothing less than the equivalent of a complete renewal of baptismal grace in the soul: "complete forgiveness (remission) of sins and punishment." Such a measure of grace can only be received otherwise through baptism itself, or through making a sacramental confession as an act of perfect contrition for sin, out of pure love for God.

As you can see, this is no easy topic. However, you can find a more in-depth treatment of this same subject in the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy section of this same website, in the document entitled "Understanding Divine Mercy Sunday."

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at





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Bea — Apr 9, 2012 - 14:13 EDT

Very interesting. I was wondering about this subject too. Thanks.

Siobhan — Apr 11, 2012 - 19:38 EDT

Thank you so much for explaining this - I think I was mixed up between the two. Now I know that the graces promised by Our Lord regarding the full remission of sins and punishment due is applied to the penitent, and that an indulgence can also be gained for the souls in Purgatory. Truly, the Lord IS compassion and love! May He be praised, blessed, loved, adored and thanked forever. :-)

obie 1 — Apr 12, 2012 - 20:56 EDT

Is there any difference in the equivalent of a complete renewal of baptismal grace in the soul: "complete forgiveness (remission) of sins and punishment" and any other plenary indulgence?

We have learned that Mercy Sunday is like a "new Baptism." Isn't the forgiveness of sin and remission of temporal punishment due there of equivalent?

Robert Stackpole — Apr 12, 2012 - 23:44 EDT

There is this difference: a plenary indulgence can only be attained if one carries out the conditions for it "without any attachment to sin whatsoever, even a venial sin" as the Church has often said. The extraordinary grace of Holy Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday, however, can be attained solely by receiving Holy Communion in a state of grace, with trust in Divine Mercy, on Divine Mercy Sunday. One might say that a plenary indulgence requires acts of perfect contrition or pure love of God in a way that the extraordinary grace does not. Ordinarily, only Baptism bestows grace in this way on the soul, and that is why the extraordinary grace of DM Sunday has been called by theologians a "complete renewal of baptismal grace." So the degree of grace obtained in the end would be equivalent, but the manner of attaining it is quite different.

obie 1 — Apr 13, 2012 - 11:14 EDT

Thanks Robert,

You have clarified this most important issue for me and possibly others.

Brother's Keeper — Apr 14, 2012 - 16:40 EDT

I have a question. I say the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day for the souls in Purgatory and I have studied the Enchiridion of Indulgences. I try to obtain an Plenary Indulgence every day that I receive Communion for the souls in Purgatory. It is my understanding that you can't obtain a Plenary Indulgence for the living, but the Divine Mercy information often refers to the "sick and dying". My brother is dying of cancer and may have a month to live. I have offered the Novena this week and intend to offer all tomorrow for him. Can I obtain for him a Plenary Indulgence tomorrow or not until he dies?

Pat — Apr 15, 2012 - 17:22 EDT

I certainly learned much from this. I thought I knew what was necessary to receive the graces today, but I was obviously confused and didn't even know I was confused. May God reward you for setting me straight. I will share this clarification with my friends.

marie — Dec 9, 2012 - 8:04 EST

sorry if this is a little off subject, but a few years back i was visiting cracow cathedral and was told by a tourguide that if you visited and prayed at 12 altars in cracow, 4 of which were in the cathedral, that you could gain plenary indulgences. now that i am going back, i was trying to find information on this and could not. was this just for a particular jubilee or maybe for the occasion of Bl. John Paul's beatification?

Bill — Apr 7, 2013 - 20:38 EDT

In order to receive the full plenary indulgence, when does one need to receive the sacrament of reconciliation by? Most people receive it at least once during lent, does that count? Is an additiional one required during the Divine Mercy Novena? I was told by someone today that confession needs to be heard again between Divine Mercy Sunday and next Sunday even though my last confession was heard during the weekend of Palm Sunday. Can someone please clarify, thank you.

mary-louise — Jul 23, 2013 - 18:35 EDT

The Church has us so wrapped up in technicalities and details, it's a wonder we have any time for anything else. Discouraging

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