by Brandon Duncan
It was on Feb. 24, 1208, when St. Francis of Assisi received the command from God to rebuild his church. Though not quite the “church” God had asked St. Francis to rebuild at the time, the little chapel of the Portiuncula (or “little portion of land”) as it was known, was presented to St. Francis by the Benedictines in 1211. It was in this little chapel where St. Francis lived and later died on October 3, 1226.
Legend has it that the little chapel was erected under Pope Liberius (352-366 A.D.) by hermits from the Valley of Josaphat and was later given the title of Our Lady of the Angels. To this day, under the choir loft resting against the columns of the cupola is preserved the cell in which St. Francis died. However, in a little spot behind the sacristy is the place where the saint, during a temptation, is said to have rolled in a briar-bush, which later blossomed thornless roses. It was during that same event that St. Francis received what is referred to today as the Portiuncula Indulgence. The image of the reception of this indulgence by the saint, which was painted in 1829, graces the façade of the Portiuncula chapel today.
For centuries the Portiuncula Indulgence could only be gained in the actual Portiuncula chapel or in other papal appointed Franciscan chapels. It was in 1909, under the reign of Pope St. Pius X that the privilege was granted to bishops to appoint a local church for gaining the Portiuncula Indulgence on August 2. This privilege was extended indefinitely by a decree from the Holy See on March 26, 1911. The Indulgence is considered toties-quoties, which is another way of saying that it may be obtained as often as one visits the appointed church; one may also apply it to the souls in purgatory.
Though there has been some controversy over the authenticity of the indulgence throughout the centuries, it was Pope Paul VI who confirmed the Portiuncula Indulgence after the Second Vatican Council in his Apostolic Constitution, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, published in 1967.
To gain the indulgence on August 2 the faithful must adhere to the usual circumstances (sacramental confession, holy Communion and offering prayers for the pope), visit the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine, and recite at least the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed. Further, to gain the plenary indulgence the faithful must be free from any attachment to sin, including venial sin. If the detachment to sin is lacking, the indulgence becomes partial.