Archbishop: Pope’s plenary indulgence means ‘happy death’ still possible, even without a priest

| March 27, 2020 | 0 Comments

Coffins of people who have died from the coronavirus disease are seen in Alessandria, Italy, March 23. CNS

How could a death ever be happy?

Archbishop Bernard Hebda remembers having that question as a young boy, when the religious sisters at his school taught him and his classmates to pray daily for a “happy death.” When he made his first Communion, he received a prayer book that included a prayer to St. Joseph asking for the same thing.

“In time, I would come to learn that a ‘happy death’ is a death where the priest is present, where the priest is able to extend absolution and forgive me of my sins and to make sure that I would be able to enter into the gates of heaven,” he said in a video recorded following the Holy See’s March 20 announcement of the plenary indulgence.

Pope Francis has recognized that in “these difficult days” caused by the rapid spread of COVID-19, that people may die without the comfort of having a priest present, Archbishop Hebda said. And that’s why he’s granted a plenary indulgence for people who are quarantined from the novel coronavirus, “to give us the same kind of comfort at the moment of our death.”

“All that’s necessary for us is to make sure we’re united to some active prayer, perhaps by watching Mass on television on television … or online, or perhaps devoutly praying the Stations of the Cross or praying the rosary, or, at a minimum, praying the Our Father, Hail Mary and the Creed and offering a prayer for the pope’s intentions,” he said.

“If we’re willing to engage in that type of a practice, then the Holy Father has extended this plenary indulgence to us,” he said.

It’s important that people who want to receive this grace be truly sorry for their sins “and have that desire to leave those sins behind,” and make a commitment to go to sacramental confession and receive the Eucharist at the next opportunity.

The Holy Father has also extended the indulgence to health care workers and family members caring for people who are quarantined, as well as Catholics who are praying for relief of those affected by the pandemic. People who are able to do so could pray in eucharistic adoration or the Stations of the Cross, prayerfully recite the rosary, or engage in a half-hour of personal Scripture study, Archbishop Hebda said.

“If we’re able to pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, and if we make that commitment to, whenever we’re able, to receive holy Communion and to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, we too can receive that great plenary indulgence,” Archbishop Hebda said.

The Holy See has extended this indulgence to anyone who’s in their last moments of life and has prayed at any point in their life, Archbishop Hebda said.

“So we’re certainly grateful to the Holy Father for this great gift,” Archbishop Hebda said. “We’re certainly hope that our zealous priests will be able to be with us in those moments of need, but in the event that they’re not able to be with us, that they’re prevented in any way, that situations creep up upon us in a way that doesn’t allow us to plan, that the Holy Father has already blessed us in this way with an incredible source of God’s grace.”

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