Question concerning the Council of Trent

Hi all!

I am confused about one of the doctrines of the Council of Trent compared to the Ordinary Form of the Mass today.

These are the two doctrines:

Canon 9. If anyone says that the rite of the Roman Church, according to which a part of the canon and the words of consecration are pronounced in a low tone, is to be condemned; or that the mass ought to be celebrated in the vernacular tongue only;[28] or that water ought not to be mixed with the wine that is to be offered in the chalice because it is contrary to the institution of Christ,[29] let him be anathema.THE COUNCIL OF TRENT
Session XXII - The sixth under the Supreme Pontiff, Pius IV, celebrated on the seventeenth day of September, 1562

Canon 10. If anyone says that all Christians have the power to administer the word and all the sacraments,[5] let him be anathema.
Session VII - Celebrated on the third day of March 1547, under Pope Paul III

Doesn’t this condemn lay people reading the Scripture at Mass and the use of the vernacular language at the Mass?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

First of all, those are not doctrines, they’re rules. Our current system of Canon Law is not much more than a century old. In those days, Councils taught both Doctrine and law. You can tell the difference because these have anathemas attached to them. An anathema is a judicial penalty, meaning this is a judicial (law) teaching (we call them excommunications today).

Second, the Council does not teach that Mass cannot be celebrated in the vernacular, but teaches against the idea that it can ONLY be celebrated in the vernacular.

Third, one could argue that laypeople are still forbidden to “administer the word.” The Gospels are the story of Jesus (the Word who became flesh - John 1:14). The New Testament is meaningless without the Gospels, which are the foundation for everything.

But it doesn’t matter, because the first edition of the Code of Canon Law completely abrogated all prior law (including all of the law promulgated at Trent). No law taught by Trent is currently in force (unless it happens to also appear in the second (current) edition of the CoCL).

Ok, thank you for the answer. It helped my understanding.

Notice, too, that the intent here is the claim that priests aren’t necessary – that laypeople can administer all the sacraments. That’s what’s in play here – the notion that a layperson can do everything a priest can do; that’s what the council is rejecting.

No, it does neither of these things.

It refutes heretical teachings about the ministerial priesthood.

Or, of course, I should have mentioned a much more obvious way to tell the difference: The Canons are actually called Canons. No detective work required - it is obvious that the Council was, in these instances, promulgating Canon Law and not doctrine.

Vatican-1 (1870) was the last Council to promulgate Canon Law, complete with anathemas. It’s Canons (and all other Canons of all other Councils) were abrogated by the First Edition of the Code of Canon Law in 1917 - less than 50 years later, making these Canons the shortest-lived in Catholic history.

The current system of Canon Law is FAR superior to the previous system, in which Canons were scattered all over the place (and all over history), and, if an apparent conflict arose, it was not clear which Canon applied. By completely abolishing all prior Canons, the 1917 Code of Canon Law finally established a single authoritative judicial framework. The Second Edition (1983) Code of Canon Law completely abolished and replaced the 1917 Code (1983:Canon 5).

Thank you for the information, very insightful. Is there a decent, easy to read history on these changes through the centuries? I find it interesting.

If there was such a history then the Church would have never changed the former system of promulgating Canon Law. Canon lawyers were much more important (and numerous) before 1917. Canon Law was a messy labyrinth of Councils, Papal interpretations, and consensus opinions, built up over 19 centuries. Some Canons were still technically “in force” but discarded in practice, such as the 20th and final Canon of the Council of Nicaea (the first Ecumenical Council), which forbade kneeling on Sunday. No authority ever contravened this Canon - it was simply forgotten. And that’s OK, as long as the Bishops (who are the ultimate interpreters and enforcers of Canon Law within their Diocese) don’t object.

Bishops relied on Canon lawyers to advise them, but Canon lawyers often offered contradictory advice. It wasn’t uncommon for two Canons to apparently teach in opposition to each other. Individual Bishops were interpreting Canon Law independently, so what was canonical in one Diocese was not canonical in another. The Bishops SHOULD have interpreted Canon Law - that is their role as Bishop - but what constituted Canon Law was poorly defined. It was hard to say what Canon Law WAS.

The Catholic Church has a lot of institutional inertia. The old system of Canon Law SHOULD have been replaced a thousand years ago, but it wasn’t until 1917 that the Church finally threw in the towel on the old system and implemented a single authoritative set of Canons accessible to anyone - the First Edition of the Code of Canon Law. The Church abrogated every single Canon ever promulgated (for nearly nineteen centuries!) and replaced all of of that old, arcane and confusing Canon Law with a single resource. No more digging through Council Canons and Papal interpretations and whatever else.

Each Bishop is STILL the ultimate interpreter of Canon Law for his Diocese, but at least the Bishop (and his Canon lawyer advisers) know, at least, WHAT constitutes Canon Law.

EDIT: In case someone stumbles upon this thread and thinks that the Church can change doctrine - that is not part of this discussion. Everything I have said refers to the RULES of the Church (such as how many times a priest can say Mass each day). Church DOCTRINE does not change.

FANTASTIC post, thank you. Very interesting history to the say the least. What education do you have? I envy you vast knowledge on the subject.

[quote="michaelmas]Is there a decent, easy to read history on these changes through the centuries? I find it interesting.

If you’re just looking for a brief overview, this page might be of interest.

In addition, if you’re looking for something more substantial, Ferme’s Introduction to the History of the Sources of Canon Law (ISBN 2-891-27805-4) might be your cup of tea. (I haven’t read it, though, so I can’t offer a recommendation on it.)

True enough, but this gives the impression that the CIC is the only source that is consulted today for to understand what canon law says. It isn’t. The situation is much, much better than it was prior to the promulgation of the 1917 Code, though.

Gorgias, great link and a great start. Thank you

I’m a mechanical engineer and computer programmer by trade, but I’ve been an eager student of Catholicism for 25 years. And I hang out here a lot, and I learn something new everyday, such as the wealth of information provided by the fantastic link from Kenneth Pennington that the esteemed Gorgias posted, which substantially enriched my knowledge of the matter (and brought to light the differences between Greek and Latin viewpoints on Canon Law, of which I had been unaware).

I do, however, wish that Dr. Pennington’s page was a little more readable. The selection of fonts and colors is less than ideal, IMHO. It was difficult for me to read (but I soldiered on, and it was worth it).

LOL… I agree. It did bring back memories of browsing individuals’ web pages back in the 90s… :wink:

LOL from me as well. I consulted for a couple of desktop publishers (a new field in an era of professional typeset publishing). Microsoft issued a 26-typeface “font pack” under public domain licensing (and later attempted to “take it back”). Suddenly, average people could create sophisticated documents with many fonts and styles.

I tried to emphasize that, just because you COULD use many fonts and styles (and colors and backgrounds), that doesn’t mean you SHOULD. It was like trying to hammer nails into concrete. I gave up.

I will give well-deserved credit to Dr. Pennington’s page in not using some obnoxious and obfuscating background image - which I regard as the mortal sin of 90’s era design.

I would offer a plug for Dr. Pennington - if you drill down into other categories, he has published some videos of his lectures. This really took me back to my college days. Dr. Pennington’s lectures are not like Dr. Richard Feynamn’s lectures in physics at CalTech (which were very polished, with little interaction from the students). Dr. Pennington’s videos are exactly what I remember from college.

Or the dreaded which is now an excommunicable offense.


Just a quick note on interpreting condemnations of errors. When the Church condemns a given proposition, it means the Church merely affirms a contradictory, not that it necessarily affirms the contrary.

For example, the Council of Trent condemned the following as noted in the OP:

“the mass ought to be celebrated in the vernacular tongue only”

This does not mean the Church teaches the contrary, that the Mass can only be celebrated in the non-vernacular. It just means a contradictory–Mass may be celebrated in the non-vernacular.

Drawing the contrary from a condemnation seems to be a common mistake in regards to other condemnations as well, so I just wanted to make a note of it.

That Canon from Trent is a doozy of a sentence. Pairing it down a bit:

If anyone says … that the mass ought to be celebrated in the vernacular tongue only … let him be anathema [excommunicated]

The Canon does not preclude vernacular-only Mass (as long as we don’t insist upon it), or Latin-only Mass, or a combination.

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