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Plenary Indulgence at Death?
Q. I found this online: “‘My Lord God, even now resignedly and willingly, I accept at Thy hand, with all its anxieties, pains and sufferings, whatever kind of death it shall please Thee to be mine.’ By a decree of the Congregation of Indulgences of 9 March 1904, His Holiness Pope Pius X has granted a plenary indulgence at the moment of death to all the faithful who, on any day they may choose, will receive the sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist and make this act for the love of God.”
A plenary indulgence at the moment of death! Is this true? I can't seem to verify this anywhere. If this is true, isn’t this one of the best-kept secrets in the Catholic Church?
B.S., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
It’s not supposed to be a secret! But the way you state it is not quite accurate. Allow me to explain. The law currently in force regulating indulgences is found in the fourth edition of the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum, published by the Apostolic Penitentiary (a department of the Vatican) in 1999. So the specific decree of Pope St. Pius X in 1904, which you cite, no longer applies.
Regarding a plenary indulgence at the moment of death, the Enchiridion states that a priest should not omit the Apostolic Pardon with the attached plenary indulgence when they attend to a dying Catholic (no. 12.1). But the Enchiridion goes on to state that, if a dying Catholic cannot be assisted by a priest: “2. Quodsi haberi nequit sacerdos pia Mater Ecclesia eidem christifideli rite disposito benigne indulgentiam plenariam in articulo mortis acquirendam concedit dummodo ipse durante vita habitualiter aliquas preces fuderit; quo in casa Ecclesia supplet tres condiciones ad indulgentiam plenariam de more requisites.”
Got that? No, I didn’t think so. But that’s the only version (a Latin one) I could find.
Roughly translated, it means: “Holy Mother Church will grant a plenary indulgence at the moment of death to any of the faithful properly disposed who, not assisted by a priest at that moment, have habitually prayed during their lifetime; in such a case the Church will supply the three conditions normally required for a plenary indulgence” — namely, confession, Communion and prayer for the pope.
In other words, you do not have to pray that specific prayer; you could say any prayer. But I highly recommend that prayer, and it would be good to pray it on a regular basis. Many pray it at the conclusion of the Stations of the Cross.
In the “Handbook of Prayers” (see above), it is called “Prayer for the Moment of Death,” and reads this way: “O Lord, my God, from this moment on I accept with a good will, as something coming from Your hand, whatever kind of death You want to send me, with all its anguish, pain and sorrow.”
Humans Becoming Angels?
Q. Can human beings become angels after they die? Can angels come to earth and become human?
L.L., via email
A. The answer to both questions is no. Angels and human beings were created by God as different species; in fact, St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that each angel is its own species!
An angel (even a fallen angel) remains an angel for eternity. A human being remains a human being for eternity as well — though, if he dies in friendship with God, his humanity will be joined to Christ’s divinity in such a way that he’ll be not only human, but much more as well.
In popular culture such as cartoons and films, people are often depicted as becoming angels. Think of the character named “Clarence” in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, who once lived as a human on earth but now must “earn his wings” to become an angel fully in heaven. Such notions may be whimsical and charming, but they are mistaken.
Human beings who go to heaven to live with God aren’t angels; they are saints. They have become perfected and are enjoying glorious eternal fellowship with God, His angels and His other saints.
Dinosaurs in the Bible?
Q. Why doesn’t the Bible talk about dinosaurs? Are there are biblical passages that refer indirectly to dinosaurs?
E.K., via email
A. There are many things in the natural world that the Bible doesn’t talk about — not just the dinosaur, but also the kangaroo, the turkey, the duck-billed platypus and a host of other animals, many of which are still with us.
Why not? First, because a book attempting to speak of every creature on earth, and especially every creature that has ever been on earth, would run to countless volumes. More importantly, because knowledge of these things is not necessary for our salvation.
Keep in mind that the word “dinosaur” was coined in 1842. So if any biblical passage, written in ancient times, does in fact refer to a dinosaur, it would do so with a different term used by ancient people.
Some have speculated that “the great sea monsters” cited in several biblical passages (for example, Gn 1:21) might have included aquatic dinosaurs. Scripture also speaks of a great sea monster it calls “Leviathan”; see, for example, Psalm 74:14.
Others have speculated that biblical references to “dragons” should be understood as dinosaurs (for example, Ps 74:13; 91:13; Is 27:1).
In any case, we can note that when the Book of Genesis tells us God created “all kinds of living creatures,” the dinosaurs are no doubt included (Gn 1:24; also verse 20). The human author of the text may not have known about the prehistoric existence of dinosaurs, but the Divine Author certainly did.
Was Abraham’s Free Will Compromised?
Q. Scripture tells us about times when God intervened directly in someone’s life, such as His call to Abraham or His appearance to Moses in the burning bush. Doesn’t that seem to be a compromise of the free will of the people He interacted with this way? Could they really have refused to obey Him?
E.E., via email
A. I don’t think we can say that God’s interventions in these situations compromised the free will of those to whom He spoke. They could still have disobeyed Him or refused to answer His call if they chose to do so. Even St. Paul, whose encounter with the risen Christ caused him to fall to the ground, could still have refused to accept what Our Lord said to Him, if he had been foolish enough or stubborn enough to do so.
Remember that even some of the angels, who encountered God much more “directly” than we usually do on earth now, nevertheless refused to serve Him, exercising their free will to their everlasting misery.
God has in fact appeared to certain people in remarkable ways, seeking their obedience, yet they refused. Think, for example, of the Israelites wandering through the wilderness after the Lord freed them from slavery in Egypt and miraculously threw Pharaoh’s chariots into the sea. God appeared to them in a spectacular form day after day (as a great pillar of cloud) and night after night (as a great pillar of fire) to guide them. Yet nearly all of them still chose to disobey Him and died before they could enter the Promised Land.
The “King” Who Becomes a “Commoner”?
Q. Can you help me? A friend was looking for a story that he thought was in the Bible. I don’t recall ever seeing it there and I realized that maybe it’s in the Catholic Bible. It’s a story about a king who becomes a commoner in order to win the love of a woman. He didn’t want her to [feel compelled] to marry him because she could not refuse a king. Thank you for any help you can give me.
P.T., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
The story you speak of is not in the Bible. It is a well-known parable. I do not know the origin of it, but I have read a moving version of it in Soren Kierkegaard’s “Philosophical Fragments.”
Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was a famous and very influential Danish Lutheran philosopher and theologian. He is often spoken of as the father of modern existentialism.
In his long version of the parable, Kierkegaard discusses various ways in which the king might be happily married to the maiden who was a commoner. His conclusion is that they could have a truly happy marriage only if the king himself became a commoner. Kierkegaard used the hypothetical situation as a parable of the Incarnation.
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