Fr. Leonard Feeney, M.I.C.M. used to say that it is good to view as scandalous the trafficking in indulgences that took place during the middle ages, but he would continue, “what should concern us even more is that, due to the present almost universal lack of the fear of God, an unscrupulous cleric could not sell indulgences today even if he were to spend all of his energy trying!”
If Fr. Feeney was himself a controversial figure, his admonition should not be. What has become of indulgences, those salutary remedies for temporal punishment due to sin?
A cursory glance at how Catholics who lived before Vatican II viewed Purgatory would help us understand why indulgences used to be so sought after. The common opinion of the Fathers of the Church is that the fire of Purgatory is the same as that of Hell. St. Augustine wrote the following on the torments of the life to come, “Purify me in such manner in this life that I need not to be purified by fire in the next. Yes, I fear that fire which has been enkindled for those who will be saved, it is true, but yet so as by fire. (1 Cor. 3:15). They will be saved, no doubt, after the trial of fire, but that trial will be terrible, that torment will be more intolerable than all the most excruciating sufferings in this world.”