The first question you are probably wondering is what is an “enchiridion”? A quick definition is that it means a collection. The next question is why would theologians give a name like that to a book. The answer is that people who are very well educated like to confuse people outside their field with terms that make sense only to them. Humour aside, the Enchiridion of Indulgences is actually a marvelous book containing the Church’s revised collection of indulgenced prayers and acts. The sad thing about this book is that few Catholics have seen it or heard of it and even fewer know how to spell it.
Contrary to popular opinion, Vatican II did not do away with indulgences. This doctrine was reviewed and it was later disregarded as irrelevant by many Catholics. The Enchiridion was released in 1968 under the difficult to pronounce Latin name of “Enchiridion Indulgentiarum” by the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary. Pope Paul VI gave his full approval of the book on June 15th of that year and it then went into mass production (no pun intended) by the Vatican Press.
Indulgences were revised in that only the “most important works of prayer and works of piety, charity, and penance” (Enchiridion, Preliminary Observations, 1) had an indulgence. A greater emphasis was made on works of piety, while the overall number of indulgences have been reduced. It was hoped that this would inspire Catholics to do more works of charity and become closer to God. The Enchiridion states that “the main concern has been to attach greater importance to a Christian way of life and to lead souls to cultivate the spirit of prayer and penance and to practice the theological virtues, rather than merely to repeat certain formulas and acts.” It makes sense. St. Thomas of Aquinas preferred to give alms (a free gift given to help relieve the poor) before fasting and penance. He said that “alms giving possesses more completely the virtue of satisfaction than prayer.” St. James also placed a great deal of emphasis on action by saying how a person can be “justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Prayer is a wonderful thing, but we also need to get our hands dirty and perform acts of charity for God as well.
So, there you have it. The Enchiridion of Indulgences, one of the best kept secrets of the Catholic Church. If you would like to learn which prayers and works have indulgences, get a copy of this book. It is also available for free on Internet at various web sites, do a search for it and you’ll find it. A book like this can only bring you closer to God.