The Last Rites and Absolution during the Covid-19 crisis: Pope Francis grants Plenary Indulgences
Usually when someone is sick or dying, they can ask a priest to come and anoint them or administer the Last Rites. Or, if they are too ill to do this themselves, a family member or friend who knows this is what they would want, can call the priest on their behalf. But what happens now, when health regulations due to risk of contagion from Covid-19 mean that a priest may not be able to attend the sick person?
Thanks to new provisions brought in during this crisis for the sick and the dying by Pope Francis, with the right disposition, they can still be assured of God’s love and mercy, and families need not worry that their loved ones were unprovided for at their hour of death.
Not only that, but the new provisions also include health-care workers, family members, and all those putting themselves at risk of contagion, who at this time cannot themselves access sacramental absolution because they are caring for the sick.
Finally, the faithful in general, who in the ordinary course of their faith lives would be accessing the sacraments of healing and reconciliation at this time, but who cannot do so because of the lock- down, are also given a means of receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness.
The provisions have come in the form of a 19 March 2020 Apostolic Penitentiary Decree from the Vatican “ex auctoritate Summi Pontificis” - in other words, from the authority of the Supreme Pontiff. However, the Holy Father had spoken about these provisions and the disposition necessary to receive them several times before and after the issuing of this document.
Pope Francis said in one of his little homilies recently that people should act on what is said in the Catechism. They will read there the nature of an indulgence (see CCC 1471).
Sins for which a person is contrite are already forgiven. So, people who cannot at this time celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, if they sincerely turn to God in their hearts and tell God that they are truly sorry for all their sins, are forgiven in that moment and the plenary indulgence frees them from all the temporal punishment.
In the new Decree, the following Plenary Indulgences have been granted:
For the faithful suffering from Covid-19 who are in enforced quarantine either at home or in hospital; and for health-care workers, family members and all those following the example of the Good Samaritan in exposing themselves to the risk of contagion to care for those sick with coronavirus, a Plenary Indulgence is granted as follows:
Subject to doing one of the following, in a spirit detached from any sin, and with the willingness to go to confession, receive Holy Communion, and pray for the Holy Father’s intentions as soon as this becomes possible for them at a later date:
joining spiritually in the Mass via the media (e.g. via internet/radio etc.)
reciting the Holy Rosary
praying the Stations of the Cross
some other form of devotion
reciting the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and invoking the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary, faithfully offering up their suffering in charity towards others.
To all the rest of the faithful, if they will implore Almighty God for an end to the Coronavirus crisis, relief to those who are afflicted and eternal salvation to those who have died, a Plenary Indulgence is also granted as follows:
Subject to doing one of the following, again, in a spirit detached from any sin, and with the willingness to go to confession, receive Holy Communion, and pray for the Pope’s intentions as soon as this may become possible for them at a later date:
Visit the Blessed Sacrament (obviously this applies only in those few parts of the world not in lock- down)
Adore the Blessed Sacrament (again only applies where there is no lock-down)
read the Holy Scriptures for at least half an hour
recite of the Holy Rosary
Pray the Stations of the Cross
recite the Chaplet of Divine Mercy
For all the sick amongst the faithful, unable to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick or the Viaticum (Last Rites) during this crisis - whether they should be suffering from Covid-19 or not - a Plenary Indulgence is granted on the point of death:
Provided that they are duly disposed, and have recited a few prayers during their lifetime (the Church herself ‘makes up’ for the other usual conditions). For the attainment of this indulgence, the use of the crucifix is recommended (e.g. placing it near the sick person, provided health regulations can be followed) but this is not essential.
At a time when the suffering of so many seems so senseless, the Holy Father reminds us that, in the words of St John Paul II, the value of human suffering is twofold: “it is supernatural because it is rooted in the divine mystery of the Redemption of the world, and it is likewise deeply human because in it, the person discovers themselves, their own humanity, their own dignity and their own mission.”
As so many work so tirelessly for the relief of suffering, let us rediscover our humanity, our dignity and our mission as we join in praying and working ceaselessly for an end to this pandemic. And let us rejoice that no one need go unprovided for in their hour of need, our Lord Jesus Christ has done everything for us: “He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!”
Charles Randall CSsR