I became acquainted with the Raccolta through one of those God- directed “accidents.” I was searching for something else on the Internet (I don't remember what it was, so it must not have been too important) when I came across a full-text copy of the Raccolta online. I was both surprised and delighted. Then I found myself feeling a bit sad, for most Catholics, if asked about the Raccolta, would probably respond with a blank look and a rather uninterested shrug.
They don't realize that they are missing out on a spiritual treasure.
What is the Raccolta?
The Raccolta is a thick book that contains a large collection of prayers and pious acts that have been enriched with indulgences. The Italian word "raccolta" means “collection” or “depository,” but the word can also refer to a “summons.” In other words, the Raccolta is both a call to prayer and good works and a “how-to” manual that places those prayers and good works right at Catholics' finger tips.
The first Raccolta, with Latin prayers, was published in 1807. Over the next 150 years, the Raccolta went through numerous editions and translations. The final English Raccolta was printed in 1957 by the Benziger Brothers, a New York printing company. This edition has recently been reprinted by St. Athanasius Press.
What kinds of prayers and pious acts are collected in the Raccolta?
The Raccolta is divided into the following chapters: 1. The Triune God; 2. God the Father; 3. God the Son; 4. God the Holy Spirit; 5. The Most Blessed Virgin Mary; 6. The Holy Angels; 7. The Saints; 8. For the Faithful Departed; 9. For Special Occasions; and 10. In Favor of Certain Groups. The appendix contains prayers and pious practices for visitors to Rome.
Each chapter offers a variety of prayers, some as short as a few words and others as long as a few pages. For example, the chapter focusing on God the Son begins with the simple, and very short, prayer “My Jesus, mercy.” Several pages later, the Raccolta presents the Litany of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, which extends over four pages. Many prayers are printed in both English and Latin.
Within each chapter, prayers are grouped according to topics. For instance, the chapter containing prayers to the Blessed Virgin is split into sections devoted to General Devotions, the Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary Sorrowing, the Heart of Mary, the Holy Rosary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Raccolta also lists pious practices that have been enriched with indulgences. Since most modern Catholics are not familiar with these, let's take a closer look at some. In the chapter dedicated to the saints, we find three pious exercises in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. First, if the faithful spend time in meditation, prayer, or other devotions on any of the ten Sundays surrounding the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi (September 17), they may receive a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions (see below for an explanation of the “usual conditions”). Second, if the faithful pray in a church or public oratory on the Feast of St. Francis or on one of the seven following days, they may receive a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions. Third, if the faithful devote prayers or pious exercises in honor of St. Francis for a month or for nine successive days, they may gain a partial indulgence each day and a plenary indulgence at the end of the exercise.
What is an indulgence?
The prayers and pious works listed in the Raccolta are “enriched by indulgences.” Many Catholics today either have no idea what indulgences are or have a rather skewed view of these spiritual gems.
Let's explore indulgences by way of an analogy. A little boy all dressed up in his Sunday clothes decides, right before Mass, that he wants to play in the mud. His mother comes out of the house to find him covered head to toe in brown goop. She's shocked and angry, for she had specifically told him to be careful to keep his clothes clean. The little boy is sorry almost immediately. He starts to cry, knowing that he had disobeyed his mother, and he runs to her to apologize. The mother looks down at her muddy little son and loves him. She can't help it. He's just so loveable, even when he is disobedient and covered in mud. She forgives him at once. But she doesn't hug him...not yet. He is, after all, filthy. So she takes her son inside, throws his muddy clothing in the laundry, and plunks him in the bathtub to clean him up.
We're a lot like that muddy little boy. God gives us rules for our own good. We are disobedient and sin. We get our souls filthy dirty, and God is displeased. But God loves us so much that the moment we repent, He forgives us. He can't help it. We're loveable to Him. He wants us with Him forever. But our sins, even after they are forgiven, leave us covered in spiritual mud that gets in the way of our intimacy with God. We need to be cleaned up.
Here's where the Catholic doctrines of indulgences and Purgatory come in. Indulgences are like spiritual soap and water that help scrub off the spiritual mud left over even after God has forgiven us for our sins. When we recite prayers and perform pious acts that have been enriched by indulgences, we're cooperating with God in getting cleaned up. If we happen to die before all the spiritual mud has been removed, we need to continue the clean-up after death. This is Purgatory. At this point, other people can help us by gaining indulgences for us through their prayers and pious acts.
This explanation is quite simplified and doesn't even touch on important concepts like “merit” and “temporal punishment,” but it does offer us at least a bit of insight into the important Catholic doctrines of indulgences and Purgatory. For further reading, please see Catholic Answers' “Primer on Indulgences.”
What are the time values assigned to the indulgences, and what is a plenary indulgence?
Nearly every prayer and pious act listed in the Raccolta is accompanied by an indulgence with a time value assigned to it. Many of them also note the presence of a plenary indulgence under certain conditions.
For instance, the following prayer merits an indulgence of 300 days and a plenary indulgence if it is repeated devoutly every day for a month: “Holy Mary, Virgin Mother of God, intercede for me.”
Until Vatican II, partial indulgences, ones that helped clean off only part of the spiritual muck of sin, were designated by a time value, usually in days or years. These do not, and never did, mean that such a number of days or years was knocked off one's time spent in Purgatory. Instead, these times refer to days or years of penance. Reciting a prayer with an attached 300-day indulgence is equivalent to performing 300 days worth of penitential acts (which also help wash off spiritual mud). Reciting a prayer with a 7 year indulgence is equivalent to performing 7 years of penitential acts. These are some powerful prayers!
In recent years, the Church has simplified the system of indulgences, so today we only designate whether an indulgence is partial or plenary without designating any actual time values. Still, knowing the values that were once attached to indulgenced prayers and actions can help us understand the spiritual force of prayer and pious exercises.
Plenary indulgences, by the way, remove all the spiritual mud from our souls (and, with it, all the time we or our loved ones spend in Purgatory). Plenary indulgences may be gained under certain conditions. Along with the prayer or pious act, the faithful must go to Confession, receive Holy Communion, say prayers for the intentions of the Pope, and be free from any attachment to sin. The last condition is certainly the most difficult. Very few of us are free from any attachment to sin, but this should not stop us from trying to gain plenary indulgences. Even if attachment to sin is still lurking in the corners of our hearts, we will at least gain a partial indulgence when we pray or perform pious acts.
Doesn't this system of indulgences and all these prayers and pious acts in the Raccolta just mean that we are trying to save ourselves?
No! Definitely not! Jesus Christ saves us. He died for us on the Cross. He merited all the graces we need to be with the Blessed Trinity in Heaven forever. We do not save ourselves. But we do need to accept our salvation. We need to reach out and grasp the graces God holds out to us so generously.
Think again about the little boy who got so muddy on a Sunday morning. He didn't scrub all that dirt off by himself. His mother cleaned him up; he accepted the scrubbing and tried to “help” as much as he could.
We're like that little boy. God is the One Who cleans off all our spiritual muck. He gives us the graces we need; He provides the indulgences; He makes them effective. But He lets us help through our prayers and pious acts.
How about a couple more examples from the Raccolta?
“O dearly beloved Word of God, teach me to be generous, to serve Thee as Thou dost deserve, to give without counting the cost, to fight without fretting at my wounds, to labor without seeking repose, to be prodigal of myself without looking for any other reward save that of knowing that I do Thy holy will.” (An indulgence of 500 days. A plenary indulgence on the usual conditions, if this prayer is said devoutly every day for a month.)
“Hail, O Queen of heaven enthroned!
Hail, by Angels Mistress owned!
Root of Jesse, Gate of morn,
Whence the world's true Light was born:
Glorious Virgin, joy to thee,
Loveliest whom in heaven they see:
Fairest thou where all are fair,
Plead with Christ our sins to spare.”
(An indulgence of 5 years. A plenary indulgence on the usual conditions, when this antiphon has been repeated daily for a month.)
“O Holy Spirit, Spirit of truth, come into our hearts; shed the brightness of Thy light upon the nations, that they may please Thee in unity of faith.”
(An indulgence of 300 days.)
“My God, my only Good, Thou art all mine; may I be always Thine.”
(An indulgence of 300 days. A plenary indulgence on the usual conditions, if this invocation is said daily for a month with pious dispositions.)
Are copies of the Raccolta readily available?
Copies of the 1957 edition of the Raccolta, reprinted by St. Athanasius Press, are available at Amazon. The 1910 edition is available full text online at Internet Archive, and Google Books offers full text editions from 1857 and 1878.
Even though the Raccolta is no longer the Church's “official” book of indulgences (it has been superseded by Enchiridion of Indulgences), it is still a valuable collection of prayers and pious acts that help scrub off our spiritual mud.