Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – The Consecration of the Church of Portiuncula

PortiunculaArticle

Today is the anniversary of the consecration of a small church in Italy, not far from Assisi. The church is called Portiuncula or Our Lady of the Angels, on account of its being built in honor of the Blessed Virgin, and also because heavenly harmonies were often heard to fill this sacred edifice. The great Founder, Saint Francis, rebuilt it and frequently said his prayers there. In 1223, he went, guided by Divine inspiration or led by an angel, to this church, and there saw Christ, Our Lord, on a kingly throne, with the Blessed Mother at His right, and surrounded by innumerable angels. After the holy man had worshiped his Saviour, he was told to beg some grace. Love of men made him forgetful of himself, and he requested that a plenary indulgence should be granted to all who, having sincerely confessed and repented of their sins, should make a devout visit to the church of Portiuncula. Christ granted the noble wish and told the saint to go to the Pope as His Vicar on earth and ask him to confirm it. Pope Honorius, after a careful investigation, gave the desired confirmation, had the church solemnly consecrated and the plenary indulgence, conferred by Christ, publicly proclaimed. Many of the later Popes have bestowed this indulgence upon other churches of the Seraphic Order, so that all the faithful, making a good confession and communion, may, by paying a devout visit to a church of the Franciscans, gain the plenary indulgence on the appointed day, as well as those who go to the church of Portiuncula.

On account of the indulgence given by Christ to this Church of Portiuncula and by the Popes to other Churches, there have arisen, since the days of Calvin and Luther, many enemies of indulgences. Conspicuous among this class was Chemnitz, a Lutheran, who declared that the above was only a pious invention, a devout fable; that the common people were deceived by being told that the indulgence of Portiuncula was the greatest; that Christ himself had instituted it and that the guilt and punishment of sin were remitted by this and by no other indulgences. But those who speak thus, know not or will not know what the Catholic Church teaches about indulgences. We un- derstand by an indulgence only the remission of the temporal punishment which still remains due after the forgiveness of our sins. A plenary indulgence is the remission of all this temporal punishment; a partial indulgence is the remission of part of this temporal punishment. No Catholic believes that an indulgence remits a sin, but only the temporal punishment, which remains to be suffered after the sin is forgiven. The guilt of mortal sin and its eternal punishment, can, if we are baptized, be remitted and forgiven only by the holy Sacrament of Penance, or, if this should be impossible, by perfect contrition; the guilt of a venial sin, however, is remitted by the sacrament, or, without it, by perfect or even imperfect contrition, which we call attrition. This remission of the guilt and of temporal and eternal punishment, is obtained by the merits of Our Saviour; therefore, what Luther and Calvin shamelessly taught, and what their disciples arc still teaching, that indulgences arc an insult offered to the merits of Christ, or that we wrong Him by ascribing any value or effect to indulgences, is false. Neither do we teach that one plenary indulgence is greater than another in itself; for as each is a remission of all temporal punishment, how can one remit more than another? Notice what has just been said, that one indulgence, in itself, is not greater than another; but on account of exterior circumstances, such as, for instance, the greatness of the person who grants it, or the cause for which it is granted, or the number of persons who desire to gain it, it may be said that one is greater than another. Taken in this sense, we may consider today’s indulgence as the great indulgence. Moreover, we do not deceive the people by pretending that Christ bestowed it upon all churches; but once again, emphatically say that it was given by Christ only to those who visit the Church of Portiuncula; but the Popes, as Vicars of Christ, have granted a plenary indulgence to those who visit, on this day, other Franciscan churches, and there reverently perform the prescribed devotions. In regard to the truth of the origin of this indulgence, it is great presumption to doubt or to reject it; for, although the Catholic Church has not adopted it as a matter of faith, it has been carefully investigated and found well authenticated.

The doctrine of the Catholic Church in regard to indulgences consists chiefly of two parts, First: that the true church has power to grant indulgences; and secondly: that indulgences are beneficial to the spiritual welfare of the Christian people. This will suffice to instruct Catholics, and to refute the assertions of those who oppose and calumniate the holy indulgences.

Practical Considerations

• Esteem indulgences highly; for they are a sign of the great mercy of Christ to us and an inestimable fruit of His merits. Endeavor most earnestly to gain them. Non-Catholics are very wrong in rejecting and calumniating them, but those Catholics are not less wrong who do not value them or strive to gain them. No less wrong are they who think they have gained them by simply going to confession and communion, or by saying, without special devotion, the ordained prayers. We must be very zealous if we desire to gain an indulgence; the conscience must be purified and the prayers said with great devotion. We must not flatter ourselves that when we have gained an indulgence – of which we can never be sure – our obligation to do penance and good works ceases. For, God demands that you also should contribute to the expiation of your sins and the obtaining of eternal life. It is written: “Do penance. Bring forth, therefore, fruits worthy of penance.” (Matthew 3) God has mercy on us, but He also says: “Give you also something: not because I have need of thee, but because it is my will that you should contribute something towards thy welfare,” says Saint Chrysostom. Saint Cyprian admonishes us, thus: “The Lord must be implored. He must also be conciliated by our atonement. We must practice good works.”

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “The Consecration of the Church of Portiuncula”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 25 March 2018. Web. 21 November 2018. <>