When Pope Francis launched the Holy Year of Mercy, he promised that Christians could gain a special indulgence during this year.

That left a lot of present-day Catholics, and even more Protestants and Evangelicals, scratching their heads and asking some hard questions.

Is Catholicism still dealing in indulgences? Didn’t we learn anything from Luther and the Reformation? Do we really believe that certain ritual practices, like passing through designated church doors, will ease our way into heaven? These are valid questions that need to be asked.

What, indeed, is an indulgence? Pope Francis, in his decree Misericordiae Vultus (“The Face of Mercy”), says this about indulgences:

A Jubilee also entails the granting of indulgences. This practice will acquire an even more important meaning in the Holy Year of Mercy. God’s forgiveness knows no bounds. In the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, God makes even more evident his love and its power to destroy all human sin. Reconciliation with God is made possible through the Paschal Mystery and the mediation of the Church.

Thus God is always ready to forgive, and He never tires of forgiving in ways that are continually new and surprising.

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