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Obviously this Question is strictly for Catholics.

When all conditions are met from those being granted an indulgence, particularly a plenary indulgence for the souls in Purgatory. Is it necessary that the individual be named or can the indulgence be offered by mode of suffrage to an unknown soul suffering the punishments of forgiven sins?

I have been unable to find a source for this, so by default have assumed that the indulgence can be issued to the unknown soul.

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A soul in purgatory is a soul in purgatory. No where does the Church define that an indulgence for particular soul in purgatory has to be named in order to receive an indulgence when we meet the requirements on their behalf. Thus the faithful may apply an indulgence to a particular member of their family, any soul in purgatory or even for the poorest soul in purgatory.

There are more ways to relieve the sufferings of the souls in purgatory than obtaining an indulgence in order to release them from their pains. Obtaining an indulgence for them is very common, especially during November. I was taught in the seminary that when we pray for a particular soul in purgatory and that that soul is no longer in need of our prayers that God will apply the merits to another soul in need. Prayer is never in vain.

Visit a Cemetery

An indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, is granted to the faithful, who devoutly visit a cemetery and pray for the departed. The indulgence is plenary each day from the 1st to the 8th of November; on other days of the year it is partial. Besides benefiting the Holy Souls, visiting a cemetery is a healthy reminder of our own mortality, realizing that we too will pass from this life to the next. - 5 Ways to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory

If the faithful can only gain one plenary indulgence for themselves once a day, it stands to reasons that a plenary indulgence for the faithful departed be applied to one soul also. The Church has a long standing tradition of offering Gregorian Masses for the souls in purgatory. These Masses are said for a particular soul (one) in purgatory which at the conclusion of the last Gregorian Mass that soul would be released from their sufferings in purgatory.

Gregorian Masses

During the 6th century, a deceased monk from St. Andrew’s Monastery in Rome (founded by St. Gregory) reportedly appeared to a friend and requested that 30 Masses be said to release his soul from purgatory. After the Masses were completed, the monk appeared again to declare he had entered heaven. Since that time, Catholics have continued the tradition of celebrating 30 consecutive Masses for one person to free his or her soul from purgatory. - Gregorian Masses

How can we obtain in indulgence?

What is a plenary indulgence? It is the remission before God of all the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven. It can be obtained by those properly disposed under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church. The indulgence may be applied to the living or the dead.

The plenary indulgence can be gained according to the following norms:

1) A plenary indulgence can be gained only once a day.

2) After worthily celebrating sacramental confession, each member of the faithful can receive the gift of the plenary indulgence during a suitable time, even daily.

3) The sacrament of penance and the Eucharist must be accompanied by prayer for the intentions of the Roman Pontiff and also by acts of charity and penance.

4) Participation in the Eucharist should take place on the same day as the prescribed works are performed. - How to Gain the Jubilee Indulgence

  • These are good answers, but no sources. Can you add them please – Marc Apr 9 '17 at 1:38
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    @Marc There are two links in the answer. Do you find the sources unsatisfactory? – KorvinStarmast Apr 9 '17 at 2:30
  • "No where does the Church define that an indulgence for particular soul in purgatory has to be named in order to receive an indulgence when we meet the requirements on their behalf." Is there no official explanation other than the must be in purgatory as far as directing the Grace? – Marc Apr 9 '17 at 11:35
  • @Marc The Church sees no need to further this explanation at the moment. However, I am sure some theologians have written on the subject. Fr. John Hardon SJ would be a good bet. – Ken Graham Apr 9 '17 at 11:47
  • I came up with similar results. This will stand for now. – Marc Apr 10 '17 at 23:39
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The Church documents on this refer to the dead (the souls in purgatory) in general terms. For example:

Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution on Indulgences says:

n.3—Partial as well as plenary indulgences can always be applied to the dead by way of suffrage.

cf. Fr. Hardon's Catholic Dictionary entry for "indulgence."

There is no reason why one cannot expiate for the sins of a specific soul (named or unnamed).


There are several examples of saints applying their sufferings to specific people. For example, from ch. 11 ¶15 of St. Vincent Ferrer: Angel of the Judgment by Fr. Andrew Pradel, O.P.:

[Saints] are not content with sharing the sufferings of their brethren, but joyfully take the whole on themselves. Thus the Seraphic Virgin of Siena [St. Catherine of Siena] took entirely on herself the pains of Purgatory which her father ought to have suffered; thus also did St. Michael-des-Saints of the Order of the Trinity, with God’s permission, undertake a malignant fever from which a friend of his was suffering. The Great Model of Saints gave the first example of this. “Surely He hath borne our infirmities,” says the prophet, “and carried our sorrows.” (Isaias 53:4).

Examples of this from the life of St. Vincent Ferrer are given in ibid. ch. 11.

  • Indeed, but where is it stated that the intercession can be applied to a individual or that they can be applied at the discretion of God randomly or that in any way, that they can be applied to groups or victims. – Marc Apr 8 '17 at 13:58
  • @Marc What I added to my answer, below the horizontal line, are examples of saints applying their suffrages to specific souls, either to a soul in purgatory or to one still on earth. – Geremia Apr 9 '17 at 2:27
  • I believe that "saints applying their sufferings to specific people" in purgatory is related to the subject of Victim Souls, more than to that of indulgences! – Ken Graham Apr 9 '17 at 11:56

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