Catholic Church History
The Council of Trent 1545
450 years ago the Great Council of Trent met to define for all time the essential principles of the Catholic faith. The Council of Trent was a dogmatic council which required the assent of the faithful to its teachings as issued by the Pope. Conversely, Vatican II was a pastoral council, having no doctrinal authority and thereby subjecting its teachings to possible future revsion. The Council of Trent has been called the most important council of the Western Church, having had such an influence over Catholic doctrine and practice that over 300 years passed before another council was to be held.
By the time the Council convened in 1545 Protestantism had separated half the souls of Europe from the Catholic Church. Lutheranism, or Calvinism, had become the state religion in most of the countries of central and northern Europe. The Church of England entered into schism from Rome and then became protestant-ized under King Henry VIII. Through 18 years of epidemics and wars the Council labored to define and standardize Church doctrine, including attempts to address pastoral issues of compromising with Protestants on non-faith issues. More importantly, it concerned itself with reforming Christian life and ecclesiastical disciplines. The corruption in the Church, which extended to the papacy itself, had been one of the principal causes of Protestant revolt. The Council made every effort to suppress the abuses that existed in the life of the Church and aimed to ensure the most effective pastoral care of the Christian people. It took steps to see that bishops dedicated themselves to their ministry and provided for more effective intellectual and spiritual training of the clergy, joined with a high standard of morality. In many ways, the challenge that the Council of Trent had to face parallels the challenge to the Faith in our own times, including those in the 16th century who wished to abandon long-standing practices of the Church in order to appease attacks upon the Church and legalize marriage for priests. Today, the Church around the world is again rocked by moral scandal and prelates who seem to have lost the true Catholic faith and could learn much from the wisdom of the Council of Trent.
Chief among the Council’s doctrinal pronouncements were those concerning the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. 1500 years had passed before Martin Luther became the first person who dared to reform the Sacred Liturgy of the Church in any essential way. He denied that the Mass was the renewal of the sacrifice of our Lord on Calvary and denied the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament as taught by the Church. The Council redetermined that the Mass is a sacrificial act by which Christ, through the ministry of the priest, offers Himself to God in an unbloodied manner under the appearances of bread and wine. To ensure a continuity with the Apostolic faith, the Council decreed that the Traditional Latin Mass was to be celebrated uniformly everywhere. The Council confirmed Tradition together with the Bible as the two sources of divine revelation. Moreover, in matters pertaining to faith and morals, the Bible was to be interpreted not by each person’s opinion, but uniformly through the teaching authority Christ gave to His Church. St. Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible, known as the Vulgate, was declared to be the authentic version of the Scriptures to be used in the Western Church.
The Council taught that divine grace and the cooperation of our free will can work together to justify us in the sight of God to attain salvation. It confirmed the traditional teaching of the Church on Original Sin, the Seven Sacraments, Purgatory, the veneration of the saints, sacred images, and indulgences. In our time, it is interesting to note that virtually all of these doctrines, so forthrightly confirmed and proclaimed by the Council of Trent as the constant teaching of the Catholic Church from Apostolic times, are the again the subject of denial on the part of many, even in the Church, just as they were in the 16th century.
Foremost among the many saints who worked tirelessly to implement the Council’s teachings was Pope St. Pius V (1566-1572), the last pope to be canonized until this century’s Pope St. Pius X. He carried out the decree of the Council that the Traditional Roman Rite of Mass be codified and purged of any regional differences. To bring this about, he issued the Papal Bull entitled Quo Primum, in which he enshrined the Traditional Latin Mass for all time with the following words:
By virtue of Our Apostolic authority, We give and grant
in perpetuity that for the singing or reading of Mass
in any church whatsoever, this Missal may be followed
absolutely, without any scruple of conscience or fear
of incurring any penalty, judgment, or censure, and may
be freely and lawfully used…. We likewise order and
declare that no one whosoever shall be forced or
coerced into altering this Missal; and that this
present Constituion can never be revoked or modified,
but shall forever remain valid and have the force of
Thus was the reforming work of the Council of Trent, which is impressive in its doctrinal clarity and scope even from our perspective 450 years later. The Council did not succeed in abolishing the religious differences generated by Protestantism, but it did prove that the Church could reform herself and maintain her spiritual life once again in the minds and hearts of her clergy and people .
excerpted from TRADITIO
A priests first impression upon celebrating the Tridentine Mass
The place for the traditional Mass in the life of the Catholic Church today, I believe, is vital. Its focus is God, not man. There is no confrontation between the priest and the people, and therefore, there is no need for the priest to feel he has to entertain the body in front of him. It is difficult to ignore people you are looking at directly. And so priests have been pressured to entertain, their minds taken away from what they are there to celebrate. The secularism of our age has led many priests to believe that man comes first. The old Mass, on the other hand, cries out the very opposite.
So all the fears I mentioned at the beginning—e.g., the vast number of rubrics and stage-managed movements—are not repressive, as I first thought. Rather, they enable a freedom which has gone from the Mass as it is now. Rubrics and canon law are both essential, for they are our security and our freedom. They give us the freedom to concentrate on the truths we are there to celebrate. A lack of rules does not equal freedom; it equals chaos, and that is where the new rite has gotten us—to a state of chaos. Liturgical rules enable the priest and the people to be completely free to absorb themselves in the great mystery they are celebrating. This is true participation; this is accessible and understandable worship. How can we honestly refer to swinging in the aisles and waving one’s hands in the air as participation? Such behavior may satisfy the ego for a moment but nothing of it speaks of eternity; it confines souls to the present.
The old Mass is timeless, as should the new Mass be equally timeless. All time is brought together when Christ’s Mystical Body gathers to celebrate the Passion, death and Resurrection of the Savior, and should not be lost in a few moments of something verging on hysteria. Liturgy is about the worship of Almighty God and the sanctification of the world; it has nothing to do with being entertained by a priest who looks like an out-of-place, second-rate comedian.
We have been having governors’ meetings all week and there has been no end of talk of “mission statements.” I finally stood up and declared the whole spectacle preposterous. Our Lord gave us the mission statement: “Go out and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” That is the mission statement of us all as Christians. Let us make that our mission statement. We all share the mission of Our Blessed Lord. The Church takes this mission seriously, for she exists for the sanctification of souls. It is for this reason that the Mass ends with “Ite missa est—Deo gratias.” Here is that living tradition of the Church at work; after “Go, you are sent” surely “Thanks be to God” is the most fitting response we can make. By it we are prepared to go out into the world and to take with us the Church’s mission of teaching to all nations. We have been given the grace of the Mass; now let us take the message of the Gospel with us to bring others to join in this most holy mystery. But how can we bring people in when all they are going to get is a priest sporting Mickey Mouse ears?
I have celebrated the Tridentine Mass many times now and each time I am more aware of the priceless gift we have in the traditional liturgy, more aware of the freedom an timeless nature of this worship of the Trinity. There is no need for any priest to think constantly of new ways to keep people’s attention, or any need to amuse the audience with funny stories. So many things have been removed from our churches: statues, vestments, music and even choirs, to say nothing of doctrine and prayer; the list, alas, is too long to contemplate. We have a duty to preserve beauty in all its forms. The Tridentine Mass is indeed one of those priceless treasures we have. It must not be forgotten, nor should its spiritual benefits be overlooked. This great gift must never be considered a source of embarrassment. On the contrary, be proud of the love you have for the old Mass; never allow yourself to be put down or ridiculed by those who criticize it while knowing nothing about it.
excerpted from Latin Mass Magazine by Rev. Stephen Shield
Father Chad Ripperger, F.S.S.P. lays out the reasons why the Tridentine Mass is the proper celebration of Christ’s Passion
FAQ about the Tridentine Mass
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