During the fifteen and sixteen centuries, many of the clergy were corrupted by money and other luxuries, and reform was needed in the Church. Unfortunately, some attempts to reform the Church led to the Protestant revolt. Beginning with Martin Luther, several groups rebelled and broke away from the Church.
The Council of Trent met the challenge of the Protestant revolt and brought about a renewal spirit of Catholicism.
Council of Trent
The Council of Trent was held from December 13, 1545 to December 4, 1563.
Regarding doctrinal issues, the Council declared that the Tradition of the Church together with the Bible is the source of Catholic belief. The books contained in the Latin Vulgate were the complete canonical list.
The Council taught that original sin did not destroy human freedom and man’s ability to cooperate with grace. Good works guided by faith are necessary for salvation.
The seven Sacraments were discussed at the Council. A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. The Mass is true sacrifice, and Holy Communion is truly the living substance of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Council defended the special spiritual powers of ordained priests and bishops.
To correct abuses, the Council required that bishops must live in their dioceses for the greater portion of each year. Bishops were no longer allowed to head more than one diocese at a time. Seminaries were to be set up for the training of future priests.
Decisions on paper remain just that, until they are implemented into the life of the Church. Pope St. Pius V and other saints translated into action the spirit and letter of the Council of Trent.
Michael Ghislieri became a Dominican at fourteen, and held important positions in his order. He was elected pope on January 7, 1566, about two years after the Council. During his six years pontificate, Pius V published the Roman Catechism, revised the missal and breviary, and reformed the Roman court and capital.
Pius V was a man of deep piety and austerity. He spent long hours at night in prayer, fasted, and did penance. He had special devotion to the Passion of Christ.
To defend Christian Europe, Pius V rallied the Christian forces to break the Turkish advance at Lepanto, and organized the people to pray the Rosary. Due to the sudden shift in the wind the Christian fleet defeated the larger Turkish force on October 7, 1571. Pius V knew in some miraculous fashion of the victory on the very same day it occurred. In thanksgiving, he added “Help of Christians” to the Litany of Loreto. October 7 is now celebrated as the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Pius V died on May 1, 1572. He prayed on his deathbed, “Lord, increase my sufferings, but increase my patience too.”
St. Charles Borromeo (1538-1584) was made cardinal at twenty-one. He handled the correspondence of his uncle, Pope Pius IV, and was instrumental in the reopening and the completion of the Council of Trent.
At twenty-six, St. Charles became the Archbishop of Milan. He held a series of provincial councils and diocesan synods to promulgate and to apply the decrees of the Council of Trent.
St. Charles established three seminaries for the training of clergy and required annual retreats for all clerics. He founded the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine with 2000 teachers to instruct children from Milan in over 740 schools. He also made regular visits to the parishes in his diocese.
In his personal life, St. Charles spent long hours in prayer, ate and slept little, and wore himself out in pastoral work. Though he accomplished so much, he never did anything in a hurry. He would never rush a liturgical prayer or ceremony.