Call your grandma, get an indulgence

A Pillar Explainer

You might have missed it, but the Church is less than a month away from celebrating the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly.  

What’s that?

We’re glad you asked.

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World Day for Grandparents? This is really a thing?

Yes. The first one will be celebrated July 25.

Back in January, Pope Francis announced that the Church would celebrate World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly as an annual Catholic celebration on the fourth Sunday in July— July 25 this year.

The pope chose that date because it’s close to the July 26 Feast of St Anne and Joachim — the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the grandparents of Jesus Christ. 

The pope said he decided to launch a World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly because “the Holy Spirit even today stirs up thoughts and words of wisdom in the elderly.” 

Pope Francis has lamented that “grandparents are often forgotten,” and said that after a very difficult year, especially for elderly people, he wanted to offer them a day of encouragement, solidarity, and consolation.

Are there events planned?

The pope is expected to celebrate World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly at the Vatican, and parishes will probably recognize older people at Masses, and in some places with a reception or other event. Some dioceses have sent their priests and deacons homily suggestions and other guidelines.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, who care for indigent elderly people in homes around the world, have said they’re planning “robust celebrations” in their communities.

And there’s a group called the “Catholic Grandparents Association” hosting lectures online, offering suggestions, and just generally trying to be helpful — like grandparents do. 

(The group’s website can be a little tricky to navigate — but again, this is the Catholic Grandparents Association.)

Pope Francis has emphasized that World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly should mostly be about personal and direct connections, rather than large impersonal events.

To encourage that, the Vatican has even declared a plenary indulgence for the day, “to the faithful who devote adequate time to actually or virtually visiting their elderly brothers and sisters in need or in difficulty.”

So again — call your grandma, or someone else’s, and get an indulgence. Not a bad deal.

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An indulgence? Really?

Yeah. You can read the decree right here.

The Apostolic Penitentiary — which is not a jail, but an office at the Vatican which deals with indulgences, among other things — has declared that “grandparents, the elderly,” and all Catholics who participate in World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly can receive a plenary indulgence if they go to confession before, on, or after the day, receive the Eucharist, on or around the day, pray for the pope’s intentions, and if they can renounce their attachment to sin.

The indulgence also extends to the homebound who spiritually unite their sufferings and crosses to the observance of World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly.

And even if you don’t participate in any official World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly events, the penitentiary “also grants the Plenary Indulgence on this same day to the faithful who devote adequate time to actually or virtually visiting their elderly brothers and sisters in need or in difficulty (such as the sick, the abandoned, the disabled and other similar cases).”

That last point is the pope’s strong encouragement to call your grandma, visit a nursing home, help an elderly neighbor with her chores or his lawn, or find some other work of mercy and charity. 

As a reminder, a plenary indulgence is “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.” It is, in other words, freedom from the purgative purification that we need for unity with God because of the effect of our sins, even after they’re forgiven — read more about it here.

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The pope seems to talk about the elderly a lot. Why is that?

You’re right, he does. And it makes sense. The pope himself is 84, and has the litany of health and medical conditions that seems to go along with being an octogenerian.

Here’s what he says about that in his message for the World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly:

The last year has “been a time of trial for everyone, but especially for us elderly persons. Many of us fell ill, others died or experienced the death of spouses or loved ones, while others found themselves isolated and alone for long periods.”

“The Lord is aware of all that we have been through in this time. He is close to those who felt isolated and alone, feelings that became more acute during the pandemic…

Even at the darkest moments, as in these months of pandemic, the Lord continues to send angels to console our loneliness and to remind us: ‘I am with you always.’ He says this to you, and he says it to me. That is the meaning of this Day, which I wanted to celebrate for the first time in this particular year, as a long period of isolation ends and social life slowly resumes. May every grandfather, every grandmother, every older person, especially those among us who are most alone, receive the visit of an angel!”

Read the whole message. It aims to affirm the dignity and Christian vocation of elderly people. And it’s pretty awesome.

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Is there a prayer for World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly?

You bet. Download it here, on a prayer card from the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life

Here’s what it says:

I thank You, Lord,
for the comfort of Your presence:
even in times of loneliness,
You are my hope and my confidence,
You have been my rock and my fortress since my youth!

I thank You for having given me a family
and for having blessed me with a long life.
I thank You for moments of joy and difficulty,
for the dreams that have already come true in my life and for those that are still ahead of me.
I thank You for this time of renewed fruitfulness to which You
call me.

Increase, O Lord, my faith,
make me a channel of your peace,
teach me to embrace those who suffer more than me,
to never stop dreaming,
and to tell of your wonders to new generations.

Protect and guide Pope Francis and the Church,
that the light of the Gospel might reach the ends of the earth.
Send Your Spirit, O Lord, to renew the world,
that the storm of the pandemic might be calmed,
the poor consoled and wars ended.

Sustain me in weakness
and help me to live life to the full
in each moment that You give me,
in the certainty that you are with me every day,
even until the end of the age.

Amen.