For Catholics the bread and wine are the body and the blood of Christ after they have been consecrated. So when you come into an empty Catholic church – which you always do when you travel in European countries, because they are the greatest objects of interest in most of the small and big cities – then you come into a sacred atmosphere, not into a house which is used on Sundays, and sometimes even on weekdays, but you come into a house in which always, for 24 hours, God Himself is present in the holiest of the holy, on the altar, in the shrine. And this transforms the whole mood which prevails in such a church. There are always lights and always people who go around; there is always God Himself in a defined, circumscript way present on the altar. I believe this is the reason why the attempt of some great Protestant churches, also in this city, to be open for prayer and meditation during the whole day, has a very limited effect, because nothing happens. But if you go into a Roman church, something has happened, the effects of which are still completely there – namely, the presence of God Himself, of the body of Christ, on the altar.
On this basis, of course, the Roman church also preserved the Mass against the criticism of the Reformers, and not only the Mass for those who attend, not only the Mass for those who are living, but the Mass, I. e., the sacrifice of the body of Christ, also for those who are dead and in Purgatory. In all these respects, the Council of Trent gave practically no reform at all, nor did it give a better theological foundation. It simply consecrated and confirmed the tradition.
A little different was the attitude towards the sacrament of penance, /which another of the main attacks of Protestantism was directed. But the sacrament was, generally speaking, maintained as a sacrament, and even the weakest point of this sacrament, the doctrine of attrition – or as Luther called it ironically, the repentance evoked by the gallows == even this kind of repentance by fear was accepted as a necessary preparation. Contrition, the real repentance, the real metanoia in the New Testament sense, is not sufficient. It is fulfilled only in connection with the sacrament and with the word of absolution. And this word does not just declare that God has forgiven, but it itself gives the forgiveness – not that the priest gives the forgiveness, but through the priest, and only through the priest, does God give forgiveness. And Christians need not only the word of the ministers, the word of absolution, but they also need satisfactions, because the punishment is not removed with the guilt, and therefore so me punishments must be imposed on the people even after they have taken the sacrament – these are the satisfactions, e.g., praying the “Our Father,” a hundred times, or giving money, or making a pilgrimage, etc.
And this was the point where the Reformers disagreed the most.