1. The publication of this Handbook fulfills the directive found in norm 13 of the apostolic constitution, Indulgentiarum doctrina: “The Enchiridion indulgentiarum is to be revised with a view to attaching indulgences only to major prayers and devotional, penitential, and charitable works.”

  2. With appreciation for both tradition and the changes of recent times, what principle should be used in judging certain prayers and works to be outstanding ones? Particularly appropriate would be those prayers and works which not only help the faithful satisfy for punishment due their sins but also and especially urge them on to a more fervent charity. This is the principle upon which this revision is based. 1 

  3. Participation in the sacrifice of the Mass and in the sacraments is not enriched with any indulgences. The reason is that tradition teaches that they far outstrip any other activity as regards their efficacy in “sanctifying and purifying.” 2 

    But the reception of first holy communion, the celebration of a first Mass by a newly ordained priest, the celebration of the Mass which closes a eucharistic congress, etc., are special occasions. Such occasions warrant the granting of an indulgence. But the latter is not so much attached to the participation in the Mass or the sacraments as it is to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding such participation. In this way an indulgence is employed to promote and, as it were, to reward the devotional zeal which characterizes such celebrations, which provides good example to others, and which honors the sublime Eucharist and the priesthood.

    Tradition also teaches, however, that an indulgence can be attached to various works of private and public devotion. Therefore such works of charity and repentance which ought to be given greater emphasis in our times can be enriched with an indulgence. But all such works endowed with indulgences should never in any way be set aside or apart from the Mass and the sacraments. The Mass and the sacraments remain the outstanding sources of sanctification and purification 3  — no matter how good any such indulgenced works and patiently endured sufferings may be. Such good works and sufferings become the faithful’s offering which is joined to Christ’s offering in the eucharistic sacrifice. 4  In this matter it is the Mass and the sacraments themselves which lead the faithful to carry out the responsibilities placed on them so that “they put into action in their lives what they have received in faith.” 5  And, conversely, it is by carefully carrying out their responsibilities that they become better disposed day by day to participate fruitfully in the Mass and the sacraments. 6 

  4. In light of the changed conditions of our times this Handbook puts more emphasis on the action of the Christian faithful (the opus operantis) than on the devotional works themselves (the opus operatum). For that reason you will not find here any long list of such works, as if they could be separated from the everyday life of the Christian faithful. You will find given, however, a short list of indulgenced works. 7  That list contains those works considered more effective in urging the Christian faithful to lead more useful and holier lives so that no longer will there exist “that pernicious opposition between professional and social activity on the one hand, and religious life on the other ... but there will exist an integration of human, domestic, professional, scientific, and technical enterprises with religious values, under whose supreme direction all things are ordered to the glory of God.” 8 

    Great care has been taken to put more emphasis on Christian living and on the formation of a spiritual attitude toward prayer and repentance as well as toward the practice of the theological virtues. And less emphasis has been put on the repetition of prayer formulas and actions.

  5. This Handbook first lists the norms for indulgences before listing the different grants of indulgences. These norms are taken either from the apostolic constitution, Indulgentiarum doctrina, or from the Code of Canon Law.

    It seemed useful for this Handbook to give a comprehensive and orderly exposition of all the directives that exist at present concerning indulgences. This was thought especially useful in order to prevent any doubts that may arise in the future concerning this matter.

  6. This Handbook then first lists three rather broad types of indulgenced grants. These come first to underscore the importance of leading a Christian life day in and day out.

    Each of these broader types of grant is followed by some quotations from the scriptures and from the Second Vatican Council. This was done for the benefit and instruction of the faithful to show that each such grant is in harmony with the spirit of the Gospel and with the renewal called forth by the Council.

  7. There then follows a listing of grants that concern various specific religious works. The works listed here are indeed few in number since many such works are already included under the broader types of grant mentioned above. In listing specific prayers, it was decided to mention only those prayers that had a somewhat universal appeal and character. Competent church authorities can establish norms for other prayers customarily used in the different rites and places.


 1  Cf. the Allocution of Pope Paul VI to the College of Cardinals and to the Roman Curia, 23 December 1966 (AAS, 59 [1967]: 57).

 2  Cf. Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum doctrina, 1 January 1967, no. 11.

 3  Cf. Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum doctrina, no. 11.

 4  Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium, no. 34.

 5  Roman Missal, Oration, Monday within the octave of Easter.

 6  Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 9-13.

 7  Cf. below, especially nos. I-III, pp. 16-23.

 8  Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et spes, no. 43 (Flannery translation).