Education Capsule

Presented by Mary Lou Burke

August 19, 2002



Pope Paul III called for the Council and it opened on December 13, 1545 in a small town in the Austrian Tyrol named Tridentun, in English Trent. It took 18 years to complete its work although it was in actual session for only a little more than three of these years. There was ten years between the second session (1551-52) and the third (1562-63). Of the twenty Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church, up to this time, this was universally regarded as the greatest in view of its pronouncements and in the extent of its influence

The Council of Trent produced a large number of canons and decrees:

Four centuries after the Council of Trent, which reorganized the Church, the Church set itself with grim determination against most of the trends of modern secular culture. There was crisis after crisis and the worst was the French Revolution which began in 1789. After the Revolution the church experienced a painful spiritual revival that was manifested in the following ways:


The Council addressed the problems of doctrinal confusion:

The trend, as a whole at the Council, was extremely conservative. They reaffirmed tradition as regards the structure of the Church. It acknowledged papal supremacy. The bishop had absolute control over his diocese and left no room for participation of the laity in the administration of the Church. The Council of Trent set up the training for young men entering the priesthood. Before Trent, a person who wished ordination had to be 24 years of age, and they presented themselves three days before the ceremony and took a three day oral exam to see if they knew about the Catholic Church.

For everyday Catholics, the most important reform of Trent was reform of the Mass. The Medieval Mass had become a theatrical-type spectacle, with little participation of the faithful, that had been the heart of the ancient liturgy. Since all the books had to be copied by hand, may local variations had crept in; as well as some celebrants introduced their own eccentricities. Jesuit Joseph Jungman described the state of the Mass as a "tangled jungle".

There was simony (priests hawking Masses) and superstition, masses celebrated with 12 candles or 7 candles in order to guarantee the promised benefits.

Trent issued in 1570 the Missale Romanum which was binding on the universal Church and remained unchanged until the 1960's. It was to be a rubrical Mass--priest obligated to adhere to its most minuet prescriptions. They acted defensively and protectively not wanting to admit the Protestants, with services in the vernacular, could be right about anything.

The Tridentine Mass secured a uniform religious expression for Catholics throughout the world. It failed to restore to the people a sense of participation--forcing them into extra-liturgical devotions in order to satisfy their need to feel included.

Trent was pivotal event of Catholic Reformation. It defined key doctrine of the Church. The Roman popes were dedicated to carrying out the reforms dictated by Trent.

Pope Pius V, was the first and greatest of the reform popes. He set such a high standard of papal morality that it has never again suffered such a high standard of papal morality and it has never again suffered any serious relapse. He cleared out the long-entrenched curial bureaucracy with its policy of selling offices to the highest bidder. Charles Borromeo(Bishop of Milan) was an important example of the reformed episcopate. His successor Gregory XIII reformed the calendar (1582).

By the end of the Council of Trent in 1563, Protestantism had established itself over half of Europe. With publication of Trent's decrees and the upsurge of new vitality--especially in the Jesuits, the Catholic Church began to receive larger blocs of territory.

The post Trent Church in the 17th century was a strong, self-confident, spiritually revitalized organization. The popes were in complete command of the Church. Bernini and Borromini filled Rome with fountains, statues and churches, Bernini's elliptical colonnade frames the piazza of St. Peter's.


A Concise History of the Catholic Church, Thomas Bokenkotter, New York, Image Books, 1990

The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Rev. H.J. Schroeder, OP, Rockford Il Tan Books1978