The Urbi et Orbi Blessing
After Easter morning Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Father traditionally reads a special message, addressed not just to Catholics, but to the whole world.
He concludes his talk with an apostolic blessing and plenary indulgence given not only to the people in St. Peter’s Square, but also to those who receive his blessing by radio, television, and the new communications media. The message and the blessings are called Urbi et Orbi (“for the city and for the world”).
In previous centuries, the pope would give apostolic blessings each year from the balconies of three of the city’s main basilicas: St. Peter’s on Holy Thursday, Easter, and the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul; at St. John Lateran on the Ascension; at St. Mary Major on the Assumption. An apostolic blessing was also given on extraordinary occasions (such as at St. Peter’s when the pope was crowned, at St. John’s when he was enthroned) at various times during the holy year.
Today the Urbi et Orbi message and blessing are primarily given only on three occasions–when a new pope is elected, on Chrismas Day, and on Easter Sunday.
An Apostolic Blessing
The Apostolic Blessing or papal blessing is a blessing imparted by the Pope, either directly or by delegation through others. Bishops are empowered to grant it three times a year and any priest can do so for the dying.
1. This is how an indulgence is defined in the Code of Canon Law (can. 992) and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1471): “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints”.
2. In general, the gaining of indulgences requires certain prescribed conditions (below, nn. 3, 4), and the performance of certain prescribed works (nn. 8, 9, 10 indicate those specific to the Holy Year).
3. To gain indulgences, whether plenary or partial, it is necessary that the faithful be in the state of grace at least at the time the indulgenced work is completed.
4. A plenary indulgence can be gained only once a day. In order to obtain it, the faithful must, in addition to being in the state of grace:
— have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin;
— have sacramentally confessed their sins;
— receive the Holy Eucharist (it is certainly better to receive it while participating in Holy Mass, but for the indulgence only Holy Communion is required);
— pray for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.
5. It is appropriate, but not necessary, that the sacramental Confession and especially Holy Communion and the prayer for the Pope’s intentions take place on the same day that the indulgenced work is performed; but it is sufficient that these sacred rites and prayers be carried out within several days (about 20) before or after the indulgenced act. Prayer for the Pope’s intentions is left to the choice of the faithful, but an “Our Father” and a “Hail Mary” are suggested. One sacramental Confession suffices for several plenary indulgences, but a separate Holy Communion and a separate prayer for the Holy Father’s intentions are required for each plenary indulgence.
6. For the sake of those legitimately impeded, confessors can commute both the work prescribed and the conditions required (except, obviously, detachment from even venial sin).
7. Indulgences can always be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased, but they cannot be applied to other persons living on earth.