Indulgences for Others?

Q. Could you tell me, first, what exactly is an indulgence, and, second, can you earn them for others? I know there are partial and plenary indulgences.

M.H., Butler, Pa.

A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:

Here's a brief definition from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

"Indulgences are the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven. The faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains the indulgence under prescribed conditions for either himself or the departed. Indulgences are granted through the ministry of the Church which, as the dispenser of the grace of re-demption, distributes the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints" (No. 312).

You may earn indulgences for other people, but you can apply them only to the souls in purgatory. You may also earn the indulgence for yourself. But you cannot apply an indulgence to another living person; that person (unlike someone in purgatory) can still earn one for himself.