Council of Trent on the Eucharist: A Summary

I’m currently writing an essay on the Protestant theologies of the Eucharist at the time of the Reformation and the Council of Trent’s response to them, along with contemporary approaches to these same questions. (If anyone has any thoughts, let me know!)

I figured I should probably read the Council… and then I summarised it! (Read the original here.) Seriously, the more I read of Trent, the more I love it. So here’s for the sharing of some Trentiness!

What is the Eucharist?

1. “In the first place, the holy Synod teaches, and openly and simply professes, that, in the august sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things.”

This is possible because while Christ sits at the right hand of God in Heaven, “according to the natural mode of existing”, he can also be “in many other places, sacramentally present to us in his own substance”. This is certainly possible for God and is the teaching of “all our forefathers”. 

2. Christ “instituted this Sacrament, in which He poured forth as it were the riches of divine love towards man” so that the Eucharist would be:

  • a remembrace, “to venerate His memory” and “show forth His death until He comes to judge the world.”
  • the “spiritual food of souls, whereby” He feeds and strengthens “those who live with His life.”
  • an “antidote, whereby we may be freed from daily faults [venial sins] and be preserved from mortal sins.”
  • pledge of our glory to come, and everlasting happiness”
  • asymbol of that one body whereof He is the head, and to which He would fain have us as members be united by the closest bond of faith, hope, and charity…”

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.” (Jn 6:53-57)

Peter Paul Rubens, The Last Supper, 1632 (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan)

Peter Paul Rubens, The Last Supper, 1632 (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan)

3. Like all sacraments, the Eucharist “is a visible form of an invisible grace”. It is different from the other sacraments though because while they give “power of sanctifying when one uses them”, the Eucharist actually “is the Author Himself of sanctity.”

While the bread is the Body and the wine the Blood “by the force of the words”, “Christ whole and entire”, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, is actually under both the bread and wine. This is because there is a “natural connexion and concomitancy” which unites “the parts of Christ our Lord, who hath risen now from the dead”, including His soul and His divinity, “on account of the admirable hypostatical union”. [NB: You can’t have one bit of Christ without the other because He is a person, not a box of Bertie’s Every Flavour Jelly Beans.]

4. This conversion, “of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood” is “suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.”

How should we treat the Eucharist?

5. All Christians should “render in veneration the worship of latria, which is due to the true God, to this most holy sacrament” because the same God is “present therein”. It is right that “this sublime and venerable sacrament be, with special veneration and solemnity, celebrated” on the Feast of Corpus Christi “and that it be borne reverently and with honour in processions through the streets” as a joy to believers and a witness to unbelievers.

6. Both the custom of keeping the Eucharist in the sanctuary  which “is so ancient that even… the Council of Nicaea recognised” it, and of “carrying the sacred Eucharist itself to the sick” are to be retained.

Jacob Jordaens, The Veneration of the Eucharist, 1630 (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin)

Jacob Jordaens, The Veneration of the Eucharist, 1630 (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin)

How should we receive the Eucharist?

7. The Eucharist should be approached and received with “great reverence and holiness”

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” (1 Co 11:27-29)

No one who is conscious of “mortal sin, how contrite soever he may seem to himself, ought to approach to the sacred Eucharist without previous sacramental confession.”

8. There are three ways to receive the Eucharist:

  • “Sacramentally only”, when someone receives the Eucharist, but in a state of sin so that it has no effect. [NB: Judas received the first ever Eucharist this way; hence the betraying Christ and whatnot.]
  • “Spiritually only”, when someone doesn’t receive the sacrament itself but desires to and so receives its benefits.
  • “Both sacramentally and spiritually”, when someone receives both the physical sacrament and it’s benefits.

“[A]s to the reception of the sacrament”, the laity “should receive the communion from priests” but priests “should communicate themselves”. This is “an apostolical tradition” and is to be retained.

Finally, “this holy Synod with true fatherly affection admonishes, exhorts, begs, and beseeches, through the bowels of the mercy of our God, “[T]hat all and each of those who bear the Christian name would now at length agree and be of one mind in this sign of unity, in this bond of charity, in this symbol of concord;

  • [T]hat, mindful of the so great majesty, and the so exceeding love of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave His own beloved soul as the price of our salvation, and gave us His own flesh to eat, they would believe and venerate these sacred mysteries of His body and blood with such constancy and firmness of faith, with such devotion of soul, with such piety and worship as to be able frequently to receive that supersubstantial bread, and that it may be to them truly the life of the soul, and the perpetual health of their mind;
  • [T]hat being invigorated by the strength thereof, they may, after the journeying of this miserable pilgrimage, be able to arrive at their heavenly country, there to eat, without any veil, that same bread of angels which they now eat under the sacred veils.”
Raphael, Disputation of the Blessed Sacrament, 1510 (Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici)

Raphael, Disputation of the Blessed Sacrament, 1510 (Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici)


17 responses to “Council of Trent on the Eucharist: A Summary

  1. So many essay topics in this post for an essay… Haha how are you ever going to narrow it down? 😉

    • Haha, no idea! Luckily I have 5000 words. 🙂 Plus, I’m pretty good at being concise… sometimes. I think I’ll be focusing on a conflict between metaphysical and metaphorical understandings and how its not an either/or but a both/and. That’s my standard Catholic go-to argument anyway. 🙂 What would you focus on?

      • Lawd!

        First thing that pops in my head are the distinctions between heretical doctrines versus orthodox doctrines on the Eucharist (i.e. transubstantiation vs mere symbolism/consubstantiation/etc.). Some might seem similar to one another, but the logical consequences give different effects. A second thing that pops out is your use of the word latria: Why do we give show latria as opposed to, say, dulia? A third thing that interests me is how can there be multiple Masses at the same time where all have the same real presence, though I imagine that’ll get really sticky with theology 😛

  2. Fascinating, and I’ll be very interested in the comparisons, although i agree with Circlecitadel here, lots, and lots and lots more material here. 🙂

    • Yes, there is! So far, I’m finding Luther’s view on the Eucharist very interesting! Much more so than Zwingli’s and Calvin’s which tends to predominate in Protestantism more generally.

      • I hear that, i had to read what you wrote on Trent closely to make sure it wasn’t Luther, only thing that stuck out at me is consubstantiation instead of transubstantiation, and to my mind there not all that much difference there either.

        I suspect you’re right on that.

        Luther got corrupted rather quickly by the more radical reformers (some of whom were his friends) and that only got worse when it was subsumed in Prussia into the Evangelical and Reformed state church after the Napoleonic war. It’s fascinating stuff, though.

  3. I love historical posts like this. The only Christian history we learned in my former church was, “Jesus died for your sins.”

    I’m kind of in love with that last image, by the way. I’m going to be trippin’ on that for the next half hour or so…

    • Christian history is amazing, at least in my humble opinion. I particularly love theological history and how social structures shaped and interacted with ideas. Oh dear, I’m getting giddy just thinking about it. You should definitely get into church history. 😀

      And Raphael IS THE BEST. He is eminently trip-worthy. 😉

  4. Yeah, I’ve only read one book on church history. It’s funny, because some people’s journey to Catholicism is all theologically intricate, but I got 100 pages into The Early Church by Henry Chadwick and thought, “Damn, I’m going to have to become Catholic.” Just like that. So I’m kind of scared of what will happen if I read more church history :S

    And yes, Raphael is pretty awesome. I was dimly aware that he was a painter, but his incarnation as a ninja turtle has had more of an impact on my life 🙂

  5. I stand in awe. I tried to chew this one up but very quickly gave up. 🙂

    A book that was prescribed for my grad-school Early Modern Europe course (before I was fully Catholic) that I never really gave the full read that I wanted to, and have now misplaced in my move, that I think is probably very good because my professor recommended it and he is awesome: Lee Palmer Wandel, The Eucharist in the Reformation: Incarnation and Liturgy (Cambridge, 2006).

    [Randomly out of curiosity: what citation style do historians use in your neck of the global woods?]

    • Oh, that’s on my list of books to track down! 🙂 I think we tend to use Oxford, the one with footnoting. But I’m always getting it mixed up. It’s the one where you end the citation with (Place: Publisher, date) if that makes sense.

      • We use Chicago style (from the Chicago Manual of Style, a venerable bible of how to write and cite things, a perfect book for a perfectionist like me), which is “the one with footnotes” around here. Or we use Turabian, which is a distillation of Chicago style for academic work. The major nemeses are MLA (Modern Language Association), for language and literature people, “the one with parentheses,” and APA (American Psychological Association), for… psychology people? All science people? I’m not sure I’ve ever used that one. Most non-history courses in school teach MLA, and I generally despite it, since footnotes are so nice and informative and parenthetical citations are easier on no one but the publisher. There are those rare occasions when it’s nice, though, such as in Internet posts where footnotes don’t work very well.

        • Agreed! Footnotes are the greatest. The text flows, you have more actual content for your word count, and as you say, it looks so pretty! I think the Oxford and Chicago styles are pretty much identical but not sure.

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