COUNCIL OF TRENT 1545-1563

Ecumenical XIX (Contra Novatores 16 cent.)

SESSION XIII (Oct. II, 1551)

Decree On the Most Holy Eucharist *

 

873a The sacred and holy ecumenical and general Synod of Trent, lawfully a assembled in the Holy Spirit with the same legates and nuncios of the Apostolic See presiding therein, although it has convened for this purpose not without the special guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, namely to publish the true and ancient doctrine concerning faith and the sacraments, and to provide a remedy for all the heresies and other very serious troubles by which the Church of God is at present wretchedly agitated and torn into many different factions, yet from the beginning has had this especially among its desires, to uproot the “cockles” of execrable errors and schisms, which the enemy in these troubled times of our has “sown” [Matt. 13:25ff.], in the doctrine of the faith, in the use and worship of the sacred Eucharist, which our Savior, moreover, left in His Church as a symbol of that unity and charity with which He wished all Christians to be mutually bound and united. Therefore, this same sacred and holy synod, transmitting that sound and genuine doctrine of this venerable and divine sacrament of the Eucharist, which the Catholic Church, instructed by our Lord Jesus Christ himself and by his Apostles, and taught by the “Holy Spirit who day by day brings to her all truth” [John 14:26], has always held and will preserve even to the end of time, forbids all the faithful of Christ hereafter to venture to believe, teach, or preach concerning the Most Holy Eucharist otherwise than is explained and defined in this present decree.

 

Chap. 1. The Real Presence of our Lord Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist

874 First of all the holy Synod teaches and openly and simply professes that in the nourishing 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 [can. I] contained under the species of those sensible things. For these things are not mutually contradictory, that our Savior Himself is always seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven according to the natural mode of existing, and yet that in many other places sacramentally He is present to us in His own substance by that manner of existence which, although we can scarcely express it in words, yet we can, however, by our understanding illuminated by faith, conceive to be possible to God, and which we ought most steadfastly to believe. For thus all our forefathers, as many as were in the true Church of Christ, who have discussed this most holy sacrament, have most openly professed that our Redeemer instituted this so wonderful a sacrament at the Last Supper, when after the blessing of the bread and wine He testified in clear and definite words that He gave them His own body and His own blood; and those words which are recorded [Matt. 26:26ff.; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19 ff.] by the holy Evangelists, and afterwards repeated by St. Paul [1 Cor. 11:23 ff.], since they contain within themselves that proper and very clear meaning in which they were understood by the Fathers, it is a most disgraceful thing for some contentious and wicked men to distort into fictitious and imaginary figures of speech, by which the real nature of the flesh and blood of Christ is denied, contrary to the universal sense of the Church, which, recognizing with an ever grateful and recollecting mind this most excellent benefit of Christ, as the pillar and ground of truth [1 Tim. 3:15], has detested these falsehoods, devised by impious men, as satanical.

 

Chap. 2. The Reason for the Institution of this Most Holy Sacrament

875 Our Savior, therefore, when about to depart from this world to the Father, instituted this sacrament in which He poured forth, as it were, the riches of His divine love for men, “making a remembrance of his wonderful works” [Ps. 110:4], and He commanded us in the consuming of it to cherish His “memory” [1 Cor. 11:24], and “to show forth his death until He come” to judge the world [1 Cor. 11:23]. But He wished that this sacrament be received as the spiritual food of souls [Matt. 26:26], by which they may be nourished and strengthened [can. 5], living by the life of Him who said: “He who eateth me, the same also shall live by me” [John 6:58], and as an antidote, whereby we may be freed from daily faults and be preserved from mortal sins. He wished, furthermore, that this be a pledge of our future glory and of everlasting happiness, and thus be a symbol of that one “body” of which He Himself is the “head” [1 Cor. 11:23; Eph. 5:23], and to which He wished us to be united, as members, by the closest bond of faith, hope, and charity, that we might “all speak the same thing and there might be no schisms among us” [cf. 1 Cor. 1:10].

 

Chap. 3. The Excellence of the Most Holy Eucharist Over the Other Sacraments

876 This, indeed, the most Holy Eucharist has in common with the other sacraments, that it is a “symbol of a sacred thing and a visible * form of an invisible grace”; but this excellent and peculiar thing is found in it, that the other sacraments first have the power of sanctifying, when one uses them, but in the Eucharist there is the Author of sanctity Himself before it is used [can. 4]. For the apostles had not yet received the Eucharist from the hand of the Lord [ Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22] when He Himself truly said that what He was offering was His body; and this belief has always been in the Church of God, that immediately after the consecration the true body of our Lord and His true blood together with His soul and divinity exist under the species of bread and wine; but the body indeed under the species of bread, and the blood under the species of wine by the force of the words, but the body itself under both by force of that natural connection and concomitance by which the parts of Christ the Lord, “who hath now risen from the dead to die no more” [ Rom. 6:9], are mutually united, the divinity also because of that admirable hypostatic union [can. I and 3] with His body and soul. Therefore, it is very true that as much is contained under either species as under both. For Christ whole and entire exists under the species of bread and under any part whatsoever of that species, likewise the whole (Christ) is present under the species of wine and under its parts [can. 3].

 

Chap. 4. Transubstantiation

877 But since Christ, our Redeemer, has said that that is truly His own body which He offered under the species of bread [cf. Matt. 26:26ff.; Mark 14:22ff.; Luke 22:19 ff.; 1 Cor. 11:23 ff.], it has always been a matter of conviction in the Church of God, and now this holy Synod declares it again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine a conversion takes place of the whole substance of 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. This conversion is appropriately and properly called transubstantiation by the Catholic Church [can. 2].

 

Chap. 5. The Worship and Veneration to be Shown to this Most Holy Sacrament

878 There is, therefore, no room left for doubt that all the faithful of Christ in accordance with a custom always received in the Catholic Church offer in veneration [can. 6] the worship of latria which is due to the true God, to this most Holy Sacrament. For it is not less to be adored because it was instituted by Christ the Lord to be received [cf. Matt. 26:26 ff.]. For we believe that same God to be present therein, of whom the eternal Father when introducing Him into the world says: “And let all the Angels of God adore Him” [Heb. 1:6; Ps. 96:7], whom the Magi “falling down adored” [cf. Matt. 2:11], who finally, as the Scripture testifies [cf. Matt. 28:17], was adored by the apostles in Galilee. The holy Synod declares, moreover, that this custom was piously and religiously introduced into the Church of God, so that this sublime and venerable sacrament was celebrated every year on a special feast day with extraordinary veneration and solemnity, and was borne reverently and with honor in processions through the streets and public places. For it is most proper that some holy days be established when all Christians may testify, with an extraordinary and unusual expression, that their minds are grateful to and mindful of their common Lord and Redeemer for such an ineffable and truly divine a favor whereby the victory and triumph of His death is represented. And thus, indeed, ought victorious truth to celebrate a triumph over falsehood and heresy, that her adversaries, placed in view of so much splendor and amid such deep joy of the universal Church, may either vanish weakened and broken, or overcome and confounded by shame may some day recover their senses.

 

Chap. 6. The Reservation of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and Bearing it to the Sick

879 The custom of reserving the Holy Eucharist in a holy place is so ancient that even the age of the NICENE Council recognized it. Moreover, the injunction that the sacred Eucharist be carried to the sick, and be carefully reserved for this purpose in the churches, besides being in conformity with the greatest equity and reason, is also found in many councils, and has been observed according to a very ancient custom of the Catholic Church. Therefore this holy Synod decrees that this salutary and necessary custom be by all means retained [can. 7].

 

Chap. 7. The Preparation that Must be Employed to Receive the Holy Eucharist Worthily

880 If it is not becoming for anyone to approach any of the sacred functions except solemnly, certainly, the more the holiness and the divinity of this heavenly sacrament is understood by a Christian, the more diligently ought he to take heed lest he approach to receive it without great reverence and holiness [can. 2], especially when we read in the Apostle those words full of terror: “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself not discerning the body of the Lord” [1 Cor. 11 :29 ]. Therefore, the precept, “Let a man prove himself” [1 Cor. 11:28], must be recalled to mind by him who wishes to communicate. Now ecclesiastical usage declares that this examination is necessary, that no one conscious of mortal sin, however contrite he may seem to himself, should approach the Holy Eucharist without a previous sacramental confession. This, the holy Synod has decreed, is always to be observed by all Christians, even by those priests on whom by their office it may be incumbent to celebrate, provided the recourses of a confessor be not lacking to them. But if in an urgent necessity a priest should celebrate without previous confession, let him confess as soon as possible [see n. 1138 ff.].

 

Chap. 8. The Use of the Admirable Sacrament

881 As to its use our Fathers have rightly and wisely distinguished three ways of receiving this Holy Sacrament. For they have taught that some receive it sacramentally only, as sinners; others only spiritually, namely those who eating with desire the heavenly bread set before them, by a living faith, “which worketh by charity” [ Gal. 5:6], perceive its fruit and usefulness; while the third receive it both sacramentally and spiritually [can. 8]; and these are they who so prove and prepare themselves previously that “clothed with the wedding garment” [ Matt. 22:11, ff.], they approach this divine table. Now as to the reception of the sacrament it has always been the custom in the Church of God for the laity to receive communion from the priests, but that the priests when celebrating should communicate themselves [can. 10]; this custom proceeding from an apostolical tradition should with reason and justice be retained.

 

882 And finally this holy Synod with paternal affection admonishes, exhorts, entreats, and beseeches, “through the bowels of the mercy of our God” [Luke 1 :78 ], that each and all, who are classed under the Christian name, will now finally agree and be of the same opinion in this “sign of unity,” in this “bond of charity,” * in this symbol of concord, and that mindful of so great a majesty and such boundless 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” [John 6:48 ff.], they may believe and venerate these sacred mysteries of His body and blood with that constancy and firmness of faith, with that devotion of soul, that piety and worship, as to be able to receive frequently that “supersubstantial bread” [ Matt. 6:11], and that it may be to them truly the life of the soul and the perpetual health of mind, that being invigorated by the strength thereof [ 1Samuel 19:8], after the journey of this miserable pilgrimage, they may be able to arrive in their heavenly country to eat without any veil that same bread of angels Ps. 77:25 ] which they now eat under the sacred veils.

 

But whereas it is not enough to declare the truth, unless errors be exposed and repudiated, it has seemed good to the holy Synod to subjoin these canons, so that all, now that the Catholic doctrine has been made known, may also understand what heresies are to be avoided and guarded against.