By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
DEWITT — Each year, eighth-graders from St. Joseph Catholic School in DeWitt travel to Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport to experience the Chrism Mass.
This year, though, the students came away from the March 14 Mass with something extra – the experience of walking through the Year of Mercy Holy Doors and a start on obtaining a plenary indulgence.
It wasn’t part of the original plan, but when St. Joseph Pastor Father Paul Connolly and religion teacher Lola Blaser saw other Chrism Mass participants walking through the Holy Doors, they wanted the students to have that experience. Fr. Connolly recalls thinking, “We’re all here anyway, so why not?”
Blaser noted the look of wonder on the students’ faces as they walked through the Holy Doors. “For them, it’s a once in a lifetime experience, and to walk through the Holy Doors and start their indulgence was pretty special.”
Later that week, Fr. Connolly came to Blaser’s class and taught the eighth-graders more about receiving a plenary indulgence for the Year of Mercy. He aimed to explain it in a relatable way. He told the students that they were already two-thirds of the way there, having walked through the Holy Doors and having received Communion during Mass. They also prayer together after Mass. All that was left was to receive the sacrament of penance, which the students did the week before Easter break.
Fr. Connolly assured the students that they could still gain the plenary indulgence for themselves or a deceased loved one even if they didn’t fully comprehend the theology.
Purgatory is necessary “because our sinfulness does not allow us to be able to fully see the power and grace of God. The intercession of the church (through the plenary indulgence) helps you to come into the light and presence of God in heaven even though you’re imperfect. God still loves you.”
He also addressed the common misunderstanding that indulgences must be bought. While the purchase of indulgences did, unfortunately, occur at times in church history, the plenary indulgence is a gift from God and a sign of his mercy.
The eighth-graders said they appreciated having the opportunity to walk through the Holy Doors and receive the plenary indulgence. “Going through the Holy Doors, I felt renewed, and I think everyone else did too,” said Carleigh Jefford.
Student Blake Lindsly appreciated that the class got to do something unique to his eight-grade class. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be there with your class walking through the Year of Mercy Holy Doors.”
For many students, the fact that they got to earn the plenary indulgence as a group was a highlight of the experience. Tucker Kinney said, “There are a lot of things you have to do to get an indulgence, and we did it as a class. That was cool.” Crystal Burke added, “I like how we all did it together.”
With the Year of Mercy being a topic of education and service projects throughout the school year at St. Joseph’s, eight-grader Ethan Pierce said the indulgence helped to tie it all together. “It made the Year of Mercy even more meaningful.”