DPPL 39-40: Trent, the Good and Bad

STA altar at night smallThe Council of Trent gets a bad rap, especially in progressive circles. But in many ways it did address, or attempt to address, the need for reform. Was active participation really a priority, as stated here:

39. In conformity with the dispositions of the Council, synods were held in many of the ecclesiastical provinces. These often demonstrated a concern to bring the faithful to an active participation in the celebration of the divine mysteries.

In my liturgical studies I also recall Tridentine proposals such as the one suggest it would be better for the laity to stay home. Imagine if such a prohibition had been put into effect. Lay people–including women–not only barred from foot-washing, but also from the sacramental life.

A brief history:

Simultaneously, the Roman Pontiffs began a vast program of liturgical reform. The Roman Calendar and the liturgical books of the Roman Rite(Pius V published the Brevarium Romanum ex decreto SS. Concilii restitutum on 9 July 1568 with the Bull Quod a nobis, the Missale Rmanum ex decreto sacrosancti Concilii tridentini restitutum with the Bull Quo primum tempore of 14 July 1570; Paul V envisaged a reform of the liturgical books when he promulagted the Rituale Romanum on 16 June 1614 with the Apostolic Letters Apostolicae Sedi) were revised in the relatively short space of time between 1568 and 1614. In 1588 the Sacred Congregation of Rites was established to promote and correctly order the liturgical celebrations of the Roman Church(The Sacra Congregatio Rituum was founded by Sixtus V on 22 January 1588 with the Apostolic Constitution Immensa aeterni Dei.). The Catechismus ad Parochos fulfilled the provision of pastoral and liturgical formation.

The CDWDS’s ancestral congregation dates from this period.

What did Trent and its reformed Missal intend? The briefest of summaries:

40. The reform of the Council of Trent brought many advantages for the Liturgy. There was a return to the “ancient norm of the Fathers” (In the Bull promulagting the Missale Romanum explicit reference it is explicitly stated that the experts engaged by the Apostolic See “ad pristinam Missale ipsum sanctorum Patrum normam ac ritum restituerunt”) in many of the Church’s rites, notwithstanding the relatively limited scientific knowledge of the period then available.

In other words, the full resources of the Liturgical Movement were as yet unavailable or unknown to the liturgical scholars of the late 16th century.

Elements and impositions extraneous to the Liturgy or excessively connected with popular sensibilities were eliminated.

Thus widening the gulf between popular piety and liturgy.

The doctrinal content of the liturgical texts was subjected to examination to ensure that they reflected the faith in its purity.

I wouldn’t argue against it, but the language of art is not always compatible with the communication of intellectual purity.

The Roman Liturgy acquired a notable ritual unity, dignity and beauty.

No argument here: this was the most visible and undeniable aspect.

The CDWDS notes the failures of Tridentine reform:

The reform, however, had a number of indirect negative consequences: the Liturgy seemed to acquire a certain fixed state which derived from the rubrics regulating it rather from its nature. In its active subject, it seemed to become almost exclusively hierarchical which reinforced the existing dualism between Liturgy and popular piety. 

Would you agree with these “negative consequences” as listed? Are there others? Were they less the result of the reform and perhaps more due to institutional blind spots? Can human beings ever hope to fabricate the “perfect” liturgy? Why should we try?

The full document, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, is online at the Vatican site.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, post-conciliar liturgy documents and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to DPPL 39-40: Trent, the Good and Bad

  1. Liam says:

    Some fronts that Trent began to engage, but where full engagement was left for a later century:

    1. Vernacular in the liturgy. Trent anathematized those who decried a Latin Mass. It merely didn’t find expedient giving conciliar permission for the use of the vernacular in the liturgy (the Popes remained free to permit it by indult, and they did so in certain areas). Trent did not, however, condemn outright the use of the vernacular in the liturgy.

    2. Likewise the offering of the Precious Blood to the faithful; here, though, one of the sessions expressly deferred to the discretion of the Pope, and in central Europe for a time the Eucharist was offered under both species to the faithful.

    3. Sacramental participation: it was Pius X, the centenary of whose death was remembered last week, who picked up this long dormant torch from Trent.

    Outside the realm of liturgical piety, the Tridentine and post-Tridentine generation included those who endeavored to engage the lay faithful in spiritual development and apostolates on a wholly new scale.

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