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Indulgences on Sold Items

ROME, JULY 19, 2006 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Reading the "Handbook of Indulgences" I learned that an indulgence attached to an object, such as a crucifix blessed by a bishop, is lost when the object is sold. I was at a convention and a vendor had St. Benedict medal crucifixes blessed by Pope Benedict XVI at World Youth Day 2005 for which she asked a $10 donation, which I paid. Is a donation simply a disguised sale, meaning no indulgence now applies? -- D.G., Santa Barbara, California

A: Our reader refers to norm 19.2. This norm simply states that the indulgence attached to the use of devotional object ceases only when the object is destroyed or sold.

The interpretation of this norm may be guided in part by general canonical norms such as canons 1171 and 1212, although these canons treat more precisely of sacred places and objects such as churches and blessed liturgical items rather than devotional items.

When dealing with the loss of blessing, the aforementioned canons mention that a sacred place or object loses its blessing when either destroyed in large part or when turned over to profane use.

These canons are only partially of use regarding the question of devotional objects such as rosaries and medals, which are far more common than churches and chalices. It is also reasonably certain that the mind of the legislator is to avoid all hint of commerce in indulgenced objects, which would result in a broader restriction than that of the canons.

However, the canonical notion of reduction to profane use can enlighten our problem.

The sale of a blessed object for personal gain, for all intents and purposes, reduces the object to the realm of the profane as an object of commerce, even if the buyer obtains it for a religious purpose. In such a case the indulgence would be lost.

On the other hand, if the object is exchanged for a set donation, offered for some religious or charitable purpose then, strictly speaking, we would not be speaking of a sale and the indulgence would be conserved.

Thus the question hinges on the intent of the distributor. If the purpose is personal gain, then it makes no difference whether it is called a price or a donation: We are dealing with a sale. If the intention is charity, then we are dealing with a donation.

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