On March 20, the Holy See Press Office announced that the Apostolic Penitentiary had established a series of plenary indulgences during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. These indulgences include:

  1. Plenary indulgences for COVID-19 patients who watch Mass online during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, in addition to patients who recite the Rosary or the Stations of the Cross. This applies even “if at least they will recite the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and a pious invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, offering this trial in a spirit of faith in God and charity towards their brothers and sisters, with the will to fulfil the usual conditions….as soon as possible.”
  2. Plenary indulgences for COVID-19 caregivers under the same conditions.
  3. Plenary indulgences “under the same conditions on the occasion of the current world epidemic, also to those faithful who offer a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, or Eucharistic adoration, or reading the Holy Scriptures for at least half an hour, or the recitation of the Holy Rosary, or the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross, or the recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, to implore from Almighty God the end of the epidemic, relief for those who are afflicted and eternal salvation for those whom the Lord has called to Himself.”
  4. Plenary indulgences at the point of death for all the faithful who “are duly disposed and have recited a few prayers during their lifetime (in this case the Church makes up for the three usual conditions required).”

The announcement invokes “the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and of the Church, Health of the Sick and Help of Christians, our Advocate.”

This invocation, Pope Francis’s worldwide Rosary on March 19 offered to “Our Lady, Health of the Sick,” and the overall idea of an emergency extension of indulgences in conditions in which they normally wouldn’t be offered (any dying Catholic who’s duly disposed and has ever prayed in their life? Really?), brought to mind both the “power of the keys” held by the Pope and the popular image of Our Lady Undoer of Knots. Both of these images, or metaphors, have to do with “binding and loosing”—that is, in the economy of salvation, with binding people to the communion of saints, the moral law, etc. for the salvation of their souls, and loosing them from whatever hinders their salvation. In addition to the similar symbolic vocabulary, both images also (and I say this more by way of a fun fact than anything else) are connected with the person of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He holds the power of the keys because he is the Pope, of course; but before he was Pope–indeed even before he was a bishop–he spread the devotion to Our Lady Undoer of Knots in South America after returning from a trip to Germany. This is probably Francis’s most famous contribution to Catholic popular piety, so far; holy cards with Our Lady Undoer of Knots can be found in many churches, and–a little like St. Anthony–she is often invoked by people with seemingly minor but complicated problems.

This type of piety is just what we need for this moment. In this moment of suffering the Church is acting as mother–as Mary is our mother–and lavishing grace and mercy upon her children. A confident reliance on and reception of that grace will allow us to endure in the face of our frustrations, even if to embrace that grace we must let go of other things.

Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, Health of the Sick, pray for us!

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Nathan Turowsky is a native New Englander and now lives in Upstate New York. A lifelong fascination with religious ritual led him into first the Episcopal Church and then the Catholic Church. An alumnus of Boston University School of Theology and one of the relatively few Catholic alumni of that primarily Wesleyan institution, he is unmarried and works in the nonprofit sector. He writes at Silicate Siesta.

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