The Great Schism was a division between the East and West Christian Churches that occurred because of differences in how they worshiped and lived out their faith. Because of the geographical distance between the two major churches (the Western Church based in Rome and the Eastern Church based in Constantinople), such differences were hard to work out, and each church felt that its example should be the one followed by the majority of Christians. The Great Schism found its beginning when a man of the Eastern Church, named Michael Cerularius, began shutting down churches in the East that worshiped in the Western way. The Pope in the West sent men to try and reason with Celarius, whose refusal to negotiate led the Pope to excommunicate him from the Church. Until that point Christians from both the East and West Churches had seen themselves as one brethren, different in some aspects but united under the same God. Now tensions only escalated between the two Churches, with aggressions on both sides that ultimately led to the Churches separating themselves from each other once and for all. Even today, the Catholic Church in the West and the Orthodox Church in the East do not see themselves as one Christian brethren.
According to Roman Catholic religion, the sacraments are "sensible revelations of insensible grace," meaning that they are visible and audible signs of God's nonphysical grace of salvation in a believer. The Roman Catholic Church holds that every sacrament relates to a particular significant event in the life of each believer. The Sacrament of Baptism signifies the washing away of the stain of Original Sin, while the Sacrament of Penance signifies the removal of every successive sin confessed to a priest. The Sacrament of Holy Communion signifies the sacrifice of God's Son on the cross, and the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, or anointing the sick, signifies the washing away of sins in the very old or ill. The sacraments are meant to follow Catholics from their birth to their death; an entire lifetime of signs of God's grace.
An indulgence is an often-misunderstood piece of Catholic doctrine introduced in the Early Middle Ages. The widest belief about indulgences is that they are bought by people who want their sins forgiven; therefore, an indulgence is the forgiveness of sins bought with money. This is not, however, what the Catholic Church teaches. To them, one's Original Sin is already washed away at baptism, and every mortal sin thereafter is confessed to a priest, who then gives the sinner penance to wash away these new sins. As long as Catholics are faithful in confessing their sins, the Catholic Church teaches, they are forgiven as a matter of course. No one has to purchase with money what they can get for free in a confessional. Indulgences, then, do not relate to actual sins but to time spent in Purgatory. According to the Catholic Church, if a person dies or is killed before they can complete their next confession of sins, their soul – burdened with unforgiven sins – goes to Purgatory to do penance for those unconfessed sins and wait. Indulgences are granted to shorten the length of a soul's stay in Purgatory, thus quickening their trip to heaven. While indulgences could indeed be bought for money, most indulgences were granted for free to those that the Church deemed worthy. Indulgences could also be acquired for someone already dead, whose friends or family worried that their soul might be in Purgatory, as a kind of last favor to those loved ones who are deceased.