The next day, Father Salví is in a noticeably bad mood, which churchgoers recognize by the way he delivers mass. A group of gossiping nuns eventually turn their attention to plenary indulgences, which churchgoers buy from the church to supposedly relieve purgatorial souls of sins for which they haven’t yet repented. One of the sisters brags that she keeps “clean accounts” of her indulgences. She prays, asking a saint to tell her if there is a soul in purgatory who needs the exact amount of indulgences she’s received at a given time—she flips a coin to determine whether she’ll use the indulgence or store it away. If she stores it, she writes it neatly in her ledger. “It’s too bad you can’t do with them what you can with money: get interest,” she says. “You could save more souls.”
In this scene, Rizal satirizes the Catholic church’s tendency to conflate spirituality and piety with finances. This nun approaches plenary indulgences as if she is some sort of investor, a sentiment underscored by her disappointment that indulges can’t earn interest. In this way, Rizal illustrates how supposedly religious people easily lose sight of the true value of their devotion, instead focusing on materialistic and earthly concepts that have nothing to do with piety and everything to do with social status.
Another nun tells the group her own method of gathering plenary indulgences. Whenever a maid or servant breaks a dish, she explains, she makes him or her say a prayer for every broken piece. These prayers supposedly decrease the time a soul must spend in purgatory. When another nun points out that these prayers belong to the servants, the sister says, “And who is going to pay for my cups and my plates then?” At the end of their discussion, the nuns turn their attention to the task at hand, which is to make a decision regarding which priest should deliver a sermon at the town’s big fiesta, a celebration of the community’s patron saint. They choose Father Dámaso because he is well-spoken in his sermons. “But we can’t understand what he’s saying,” one says. “Because he is very profound,” another responds, “which is why he preaches so well.”
Again, the nuns conflate social status with piety, using their authority to force people below them—their servants—to shoulder the nuns’ religious burdens. When the nun justifies this practice by asking who would pay for her broken plates if she didn’t claim her servants’ indulgences, she reveals that she is more concerned about material items than she is about purgatorial souls. Throughout Noli Me Tangere, religious figures prioritize social status and largesse over actual piety, as evidenced by one sister’s assertion that they should choose Dámaso to speak at the fiesta precisely because they don’t understand what he’s saying; for her, the mere idea that he’s “profound” is more important than receiving a spiritual message.
Sisa, who has apparently been sitting amongst these nuns, stands and goes upstairs to visit the priest to ask about Crispín’s whereabouts. She comes upon a parish servant, who tells her she can’t speak to the priest because he’s feeling unwell. She asks after Crispín, and the servant frowns, saying, “Isn’t he at home?” She says that he stayed behind the night before. “Yes, of course,” the servant says, “At first he stayed, then he left. He took a lot of things. This morning the priest told me to go to the barracks to let the Civil Guard know. I assume they have already gone to your house after the boys.” Crying, Sisa bursts out into the street and sets off toward home.
Once again, the false accusations leveled by the church adversely affect the people the institution is supposed to serve. In this case, these people are Crispín and Sisa, whose reputation is surely impacted by these unfair circumstances, ultimately further disempowering her and isolating her from her own community.