What is the Apostolic Pardon and When is it Given?


The Apostolic Pardon, sometimes called the Apostolic Blessing, is one of the Catholic Church’s most precious gifts, yet it’s often not well understood. It’s a special blessing given by a priest, usually at the time of death, to a baptized Catholic who is in a state of grace. The purpose is to offer the dying person a full remission of temporal punishment due to sin, so that they may more freely enter the Kingdom of God. This article aims to clarify what the Apostolic Pardon is, when it is given, and its basis in Church teaching and Scripture.

Scriptural Foundations

The Apostolic Pardon finds its roots in the biblical understanding of the authority granted to the Apostles by Christ. Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19, ESV). In a broader sense, this authority is extended to the Apostles and their successors, the bishops, and the priests who collaborate with them.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus appears to the Apostles after His Resurrection and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23, ESV). This passage is often cited as the biblical basis for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but it also lays the groundwork for understanding the Apostolic Pardon.

The Catechism’s Explanation

The Apostolic Pardon is not explicitly detailed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but the teachings that underlie it are. Paragraph 1471 of the Catechism defines an indulgence as “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.” The Apostolic Pardon is a form of plenary indulgence granted at the point of death.

The Catechism also emphasizes the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), especially before death (CCC 1524-1525). While the Apostolic Pardon does not replace the sacrament, it complements it and brings it to its ultimate aim: the eternal salvation of the soul.

When is the Apostolic Pardon Given?

The Last Rites

The Apostolic Pardon is commonly given as part of the “Last Rites,” which often include the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, and the Eucharist, also known as “Viaticum” when given at the point of death. These rites aim to prepare the dying person for their journey to eternal life.

Conditions for Receiving the Apostolic Pardon

The person should be a baptized Catholic and ideally in a state of grace. If the person is unable to go to Confession, the Church teaches that perfect contrition (sorrow for sin due to love for God, rather than fear of punishment) is sufficient to put one in a state of grace. The dying person should also have the intention, even if implicitly, to receive the indulgence.

The Role of the Priest

The priest administering the Apostolic Pardon must have the appropriate faculties, which are usually granted by the local bishop. The words of the Apostolic Pardon are specific and are often along the lines of, “Through the holy mysteries of our redemption, may almighty God release you from all punishments in this life and in the life to come. May He open to you the gates of paradise and welcome you to everlasting joy.”

Theological Insights and Misunderstandings

Not a “Get out of Hell Free” Card

It’s essential to distinguish universal Church teaching from theological opinion. Some may misinterpret the Apostolic Pardon as a “get out of Hell free” card. This is not the case. The Apostolic Pardon remits temporal punishment for sins, not the eternal punishment due to unrepented mortal sin. One must still be in a state of grace to benefit fully from the indulgence.

The Communion of Saints

The Apostolic Pardon also reflects the Church’s teaching on the Communion of Saints. The Church Militant (those on Earth), the Church Suffering (those in Purgatory), and the Church Triumphant (those in Heaven) are all united in Christ. The Apostolic Pardon can even be applied to the souls in Purgatory by way of suffrage.


The Apostolic Pardon is a beautiful and profound expression of the mercy of God, mediated through the Church. It is a grace-filled way to approach the end of one’s earthly journey, reassured of God’s unfailing love and mercy. While not explicitly named in the Catechism or Scripture, the principles that support it are deeply rooted in both. Therefore, it serves as a cherished aspect of the Church’s pastoral care for the dying, leading them to the eternal joy that God desires for each of His children.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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