“I’ve got your six” is a military phrase that means “I’ve got your back.” It comes from the old pilot system in which directions correspond to hours on the clock, where 12 o’clock is forward and 6 o’clock is behind. Thus anyone behind you is “at your six.”
Blessed Peter Favre said,
“I felt great desires that the saints might pray for us, they who have so much power in their state of glory, and that the souls in purgatory might offer prayers for us amidst those remorseful lamentations of theirs … these souls can do much for us (more than we can tell).” St. John Vianney said, “Oh! If all of us but knew how great is the power of the good souls in purgatory with the heart of God, and if we knew all the graces we can attain through their intercession, they would not be so much forgotten! We must pray much for them, so that they may pray much for us.”
We are not meant to advance unaided. In His great wisdom, God has set up a Holy Alliance that, once united, is designed to defeat any and all forces of darkness in the heavenly realm, rescue souls, and build up the kingdom of God. This alliance is the Communion of Saints. It is the exchange of the Sancta Sanctis! (“God’s holy gifts for God’s holy people!”) Those on earth (Church Militant) invoke the saints in Heaven and pray for the souls in Purgatory (we can gain indulgences for them). When called upon, those in Heaven pray for the Church Militant and the Church Suffering (those in Purgatory); they obtain graces for us on earth and an alleviation of suffering for the poor souls in Purgatory. Those in Purgatory can, when called upon, invoke the saints on high and pray for us struggling with the world, the flesh, and the evil spirit.
A plenary indulgence heals all of the effects of one person’s sins. A partial indulgence heals part of the effects. One can win indulgences only for oneself or those in purgatory who have need of assistance because they currently lack bodies. Indulgences cannot be applied towards other living persons. Every living person is supposed to do his own acts of obedience to help heal the worldly effects of his own sinfulness
Requirements for obtaining a plenary indulgence:
- Do the work (required to obtain the indulgence) while in a state of grace
- Receive sacramental confession within 20 days of the work (several plenary indulgences may be earned per reception)
- Receive Eucharistic communion (one plenary indulgence may be earned per reception of Eucharist)
- Pray for the pope’s intentions (an Our Father and Hail Mary, or other appropriate prayer, is sufficient)
- Have no attachment to sin (even venial) — i.e., the Christian makes an act of the will to love God and despise sin
Requirements for a partial indulgence:
- Do the work while in a state of grace
- Have the general intention of earning an indulgence
Like athletes or soldiers dedicated to their training, these “conditions” are our way of maintaining sound spiritual strength conditioning, empowering us to be the qualified contenders God can trust for His missions to battle dark forces and rescue souls. Apart from these basic “conditions,” we are weak and vulnerable and God is unlikely to choose us for His missions or bless our endeavors. We are, in essence, sidelined (benched) until we desire to choose His fundamental conditions to get in good spiritual shape.
By elevating certain prayers and good works to the level of gaining an indulgence, Mother Church is identifying which of these she most highly values and, therefore, which ones she urges us to prioritize. This is the best way for us to practice sincere obedience. These indulgenced prayers and good works are all listed in the Manual of Indulgences (and easily accessible online).
Remarkably, Holy Mother Church has elevated only four activities for which a plenary indulgence can be gained on any day (though, as we said, only once a day). Highlighting these four reveals the great esteem in which Mother Church holds them, and, therefore, she urges us to rank these as highest among our daily devotions. The “Big Four” are:
- Adoring the Blessed Sacrament for at least one half hour
- Devoutly reading Sacred Scripture for at least one half hour
- Devoutly performing the Stations of the Cross
- Reciting the Rosary with members of the family, or in a church, oratory, religious community, or pious association
The great significance of the “Big Four” is that Mother Church has provided a way for us to gain that one plenary indulgence every day for ourselves or for a poor soul in purgatory. This then raises the question: Why would we squander this incredibly generous gift? Why wouldn’t we accept Mother Church’s gracious provision and seek this plenary indulgence every day?
“As we enter Heaven we will see them,” Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “so many of them coming towards us and thanking us. We will ask who they are, and they will say, ‘a poor soul you prayed for in purgatory.’”
Fr. Richard M. Heilman is a priest of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin State Chaplain for the Knights of Columbus. He is a regular guest host on Relevant Radio’s The Inner Life, and is the founder of the Knights of Divine Mercy, which is an apostolate for Catholic men’s faith formation..
He is also he founder of the Ladies of Divine Mercy, which is an apostolate for Catholic women’s faith formation. He is the author of the Church Militant Field Manual and the Roman Catholic Man website, which are both dedicated to helping Catholics understand and train for their role in the mission of combating evil and rescuing the souls of our loved ones who have lost the precious gift of faith.