The Portiuncula indulgence, which we can gain every year on the first Sunday of August, we owe to the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. Portiuncula or Portiuncula (in Latin) simply means small portion in Italian and refers to the wonderful Little Church of the Benedictines right outside of Assisi, Italy.
The Benedictines wanted to give Francis the church but in order to remain faithful to Lady Poverty, Francis rented it from them with the annual compensation of a basket of fish from the Tescio river. Of all the many beautiful devotions that he gave to us or helped restore to the Church—his commendation of this place to his brothers was paramount.
During the night in July, 1216, Francis was praying in the little church of the Portiuncula devoured by love for God and a thirst to save souls. He prayed for the forgiveness of sins of mankind. Suddenly a brilliant light shone all around. In great splendor Jesus and Mary appeared in the midst of a dazzling cloud surrounded by a multitude of radiant angels. Out of fear and reverence, St. Francis adored Our Lord prostrate upon the ground. Then Jesus said to him: “Francis you are very zealous for the good of souls. Ask me what you want for their salvation.” St. Francis was rapt in ecstasy before Jesus.
When he regained his courage he said:"Lord, I a miserable sinner beg You to concede an indulgence to all those who enter this church, who are truly contrite and have confessed their sins. And I beg Blessed Mary, your Mother, intercessor of man that she intercedes on behalf of this grace." Our Lady at once began to beseech her son on behalf of Francis.”
"It is a very great thing that which you ask Me; but you are worthy of even greater things, Friar Francis, and greater things you will have. So I accept your request, but I want you to go to my Vicar, to whom I have given the power to bind and loose in Heaven and on earth, to ask him on my behalf for this indulgence."
With one of his companions, Francis hastened to Pope Honorius III and prostrate implored him to proclaim that every one visiting the church and confessing their sins with a contrite heart would be as pure from all sin and punishments as he was immediately after baptism. Honorius was astonished at this strange petition, and hesitated to grant it. But Francis said: "What I ask, I do not ask of myself; our Lord Jesus Christ sends me to you and commands me to make this request." The Pope having been convinced of the truth of his speech granted his petition and ordered that the little church should be solemnly consecrated and the indulgence proclaimed for the second day of August.
The date was set from vespers of the first of August until sundown on the second of August, the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels. It is said that St. Francis was given this day by Our Lord because the Feast of the Chains of St. Peter celebrated on August first is the day Peter was released from prison and his chains removed. This is an extraordinary demonstration of God’s mercy in removing the chains of sin from those who devoutly and faithfully seek to gain the indulgence by completing its requirements.
The conditions to obtain the Plenary Indulgence of the Forgiveness of Assisi is (for oneself or for a departed soul) as follows:
-- Sacramental Confession to be in God’s grace (during eight days before or after.)
-- Participation in the Holy Mass and Eucharist
-- Recitation of The Apostles Creed, Our Father and a prayer for the Pope’s Intention.
The Portiuncula Indulgence is a grace not to miss not only for yourself but for the many suffering souls in Purgatory.
Mark your calendar for the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels beginning on the First of August to August 2. Tell everyone of the magnitude of this gift. Once again, we see the unfathomable Divine Mercy of God. In the words of St. Francis: O my Brothers and Sisters, I want you all to go to Heaven!
“The Catholic faithful may gain a plenary indulgence on 2 August (the Portiuncula) or on such other day as designated by the local ordinary for the advantage of the faithful, under the usual conditions (sacramental Confession, Holy Communion, and prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff), by devoutly visiting the parish church, and there reciting at least the Lord's Prayer and the Creed. The Indulgence applies to the cathedral church of the diocese, and to the co-cathedral church (if there is one), even if they are not parochial, and also to quasi-parochial churches. To gain this, as any plenary indulgence, the faithful must be free from any attachment to sin, even venial sin. Where this entire detachment is wanting, the indulgence is partial.”
The Portiuncula indulgence is the first plenary indulgence that was ever granted in the Church. There were indeed indulgences at all times, but they were only partial, and only a partial remission of the temporal punishments could be obtained by them. But, as already remarked, he who gains the Portiuncula indulgence is freed from all temporal punishments and becomes as pure as after holy baptism. This was also the reason why Pope Honorius was astonished when St. Francis petitioned for the confirmation of this indulgence, for such an indulgence, up to that time, had been entirely unknown. It was only after he had come to the conviction that Jesus Christ himself wished it, that he granted the petition of the saint and confirmed the indulgence.
This indulgence is granted for all time to come, i. e., until the consummation of the world. In the primitive ages of Christianity it was not customary to grant indulgences for ever, they could be gained only during a certain period. It was with them as it is with our jubilee indulgences, which are limited to a certain time, and which, after the lapse of that space of time, cannot be gained. When St. Francis preached in the Portiuncula church in the presence of several bishops, and solemnly announced to the assembled people the indulgence granted by Christ and confirmed by his vicar on earth, the Pope, and added that this indulgence could be gained on the second day of August for all time to come, the bishops were shocked at this addition and would have it only for ten years. They therefore raised their voice and were going to say, only for ten years, but miraculously guided by God, they unanimously cried out, for all time to come! The Portiuncula, indulgence, which has already continued for more than six hundred years, will continue till the end of the world, and even shortly before the coming of Christ to judgment this indulgence could still be gained.
Finally, what distinguishes the Portiuncula, indulgence especially from all others is, that on the day on which it is granted, it can be gained not only once, but oftener. You can gain other indulgences only once on the same day, but the Portiuncula indulgence you can gain on the first Sunday of August, and that, too, as often as on that day you visit a church of the Franciscans, or the parish church, and there pray for some time according to the intention of the Holy Father. The Congregation of the Council has twice so decided, on the 17th of July, 1700, and again on the 4th of December, 1723. In fact, when doubts were submitted to the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences as to whether the faithful who visit a church of the Franciscans on the second Sunday of August can obtain the indulgence as often as the visit is repeated, the answer was in the affirmative, February 22nd, 1847, and it was declared at the same time that it is not necessary to receive Communion in any of the churches of the Franciscans. Pope Pius IX. confirmed these decisions by a decree of the same Congregation, dated July 12th, 1849.
It is indeed true that on one day we can gain a plenary indulgence for ourselves only once, but this does not interfere with the doctrine that the Portiuncula indulgence can be gained more than once on the same day, for we may apply it to the souls in purgatory, if we gain it the second and the third time, etc.
The Portiuncula indulgence then is a great grace of which we should avail ourselves every year. Try to gain it. See above all, that you make a humble, contrite and sincere confession, for a good confession is the first and most necessary requisite for the forgiveness of sins and the gaining of the indulgence.
Receive Holy Communion with the most profound humility and adoration.
Say the prayers for an indulgence with devotion and sentiments of repentance, according to the intention of the Holy Father, and relying on the merits of Jesus Christ, on the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis, and the other saints, beseech God with confidence to impart to you the indulgence and to deliver you from all temporal punishments.
Promise to be thankful to him for this grace all the days of your life by carefully keeping your conscience free from even small faults.
Visit the church several times and after repeating the prayers for an indulgence apply it to the poor souls that they may partake of the grace thereof. Thus the Portiuncula indulgence will be to you a key with which you will open heaven, both for yourselves and for many poor souls. Amen.
You and yours remain in my heart and in my prayers as we enter this lovely month of August.