On Trinity Sunday, one cannot help but think of a common greeting heard at Mass, “Let us begin as we wish to begin all things. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” How many times have we made the Sign of the Cross? Why do we begin Mass (indeed, every prayer) with the Trinity? Perhaps Trinity Sunday is the perfect day to ask, what does it all mean?
During a General Audience, Pope Francis remarked, “The Mass begins with the Sign of the Cross. The whole prayer moves, so to speak, within the space of the Most Holy Trinity…” Perhaps we should look at the actions of the Trinity to see what God has done for us and thus see the true power of those words.
A favorite hymn sung on Trinity Sunday begins, “O God Almighty Father, Creator of all things, The Heavens stand in wonder, While earth Thy glory sings.” Everything, from the smallest pebble to the tallest mountain and every living creature in between, is the result of God’s generative power. As the Catechism points out, “the totality of what exists depends on the One who gives it being” (CCC 290). And so, when we begin “In the name of the Father,” we remind ourselves of the awesome power God has to create everything from nothing.
The second verse of the hymn goes, “O Jesus, Word Incarnate, Redeemer most adored, All Glory, praise and honor, Be Thine, our Sovereign Lord.” St. Paul reminds us, “In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7). By his death and resurrection, Christ opened the doors of heaven for the faithful.
The third verse says, “O God, the Holy Spirit, Who lives within our souls, Send forth thy light and lead us to our eternal goal.” The Catechism states, “By virtue of our Baptism, the first sacrament of the faith, the Holy Spirit in the Church communicates to us, intimately and personally…” (CCC 683). It is by the Holy Spirit that the knowledge of our faith is revealed to us. And it is through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we are able to live out our faith in the hope of reaching heaven.
One thing that should be noted when talking about the Persons of the Trinity, is that while the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit may be three distinct Persons, they are still of one nature. This is what we mean in the Nicene Creed when we say that Christ is “consubstantial with the Father”—they are distinct but are of the same substance. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each wholly and entirely God. Many times, when we talk about the Trinity, we appropriate certain actions to each Person, i.e. God the Creator and Christ the Redeemer. This is fine, so long as we remember that the Father alone did not create, nor did the Son himself redeem. All actions are done in concert as one Triune God.
On this Trinity Sunday, when we make the Sign of the Cross, let us do so remembering what that action reveals – that God created all things, that through Him the gates of heaven are opened to us, and that with Him our faith is revealed. And let us always sing the chorus of that hymn we used above: “O most Holy Trinity, Undivided Unity; Holy God, Mighty God, God Immortal, be adored.”
Questions for Reflection: Is there a Person of the Trinity that you go to most frequently in prayer? How can you continue to build your relationship with each Person of the Trinity?
Victor David is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a marvelous performance of the Sistine Chapel Choir in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. This was the first visit of the choir, one of the oldest in the world, to the United States in over thirty years, and was sponsored in part by the National Shrine, The Catholic University of America, and the latter’s new Catholic Arts Council. After I arrived, I noticed that it was not long before the nave of the Basilica was filled to capacity. The time before the performance afforded me the opportunity for private prayer and reflection. As I looked around the church, I was awed by the works of art surrounding me and, despite the growing crowd, could sense the spiritual beauty and ambient serenity characteristic of God’s House.
The concert itself was no less awe-inspiring. While the choir’s reputation and skill preceded it, from the very first note, I found myself enraptured by a beauty like no other. The sacred notes were uplifting yet never overpowering, as if they were directing our focus away to something greater. Listening to the notes being individually pronounced captivated the congregation and invited the audience to be placed in a calming yet spiritually-driven mindset. Each work called our attention to God, His works, and His eternal presence. The Catholic Church recognizes music’s beautiful and historic role in the liturgy as an invitation to participate in the mystery of God Himself. As Pope Francis said in his Address to Participants in the International Conference on Sacred Music, “Sacred music and liturgical chant have the task of giving us a sense of the glory of God, of his beauty, of his holiness which wraps us in a ‘luminous cloud.’”
Think about the psalms prayed at Mass each day. They are ancient prayers the Church has preserved in Her liturgies! In the psalms, the people of God are able to express the full range of their emotions to Him, such as their joys (like Psalms 98 and 100), sorrows (like Psalms 69 and 88), exhaustion (like Psalm 6), uncertainty (like Psalm 23), and even abandonment (like Psalm 22). The psalms are not simply performances; they convey, guide, and evoke an emotional response from the people of God back to Him Who is the focus of the entire liturgy. By extension, the other hymns we sing at Mass should move us to participate more fully in the liturgy rather than passively watch the processions and preparation of the altar—the Mass is not meant to be watched like a secular performance! Pope Francis expands upon this, saying,
[Sacred Music] is therefore firstly a matter of intense participation in the Mystery of God, in the “theophany” that occurs in each Eucharistic celebration, in which the Lord manifests himself in the midst of his people... Active and conscious participation consists, therefore, in knowing how to enter profoundly into this mystery, in knowing how to contemplate, adore and welcome it, in grasping its sense, thanks in particular to religious silence and to the ‘musicality of the language with which the Lord speaks to us.’
Hymns have also been recognized by the Church as an effective means of catechizing the faithful, including the youth. Pope Francis continued, “The various key figures in this sphere, musicians, composers, conductors and choristers of the scholae cantorum, with liturgical coordinators, can make a precious contribution to the renewal, especially in qualitative terms, of sacred music and of liturgical chant.” The works that are crafted by their hands can indeed be a beautiful means of engaging those whose ears the notes fall upon. But in order to be truly esteemed as noble and sacred, they must be holy. “In order to foster this development,” Pope Francis said, “an appropriate musical formation must be promoted, even of those who are preparing to become priests, in a dialogue with the musical trends of our time, with the inclusion of different cultural areas and with an ecumenical approach.”
The next time you hear music at Mass, I suggest uniting your voice with the cantor as a prayer to God. The act of doing so invites us to offer to God a part of ourselves that we may regularly try to keep private. Done reverently, it becomes an offering of love to our Lord, as Pope Benedict XVI observed:
The singing of the Church comes ultimately out of love. It is the utter depth of love that produces the singing. “Cantare amantis est”, says St. Augustine, singing is a lover’s thing. In so saying, we come again to the trinitarian interpretation of Church music. The Holy Spirit is love, and it is he who produces the singing. He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit who draws us into love for Christ and so leads to the Father.
Questions for Reflection: How can music impact your experience of the liturgy or of God? Can you remember a time when music helped deepen your faith?
“Good morning and welcome to St. Michael Catholic church. Before Mass begins, we invite you to take a moment to greet those around you.”
I was on vacation at the time I heard these words, and thus totally unfamiliar with the parish until I had searched for local Catholic churches. There wasn’t much choice compared to my options in a densely populated city, but I knew Mass was Mass—the same and just as important in the rural diocese I was visiting as it is in the Archdiocese of Washington (and the rest of the Universal Church). I was excited to experience another faith community as a visitor.
After the cantor made the welcome announcement, the parishioners around me turned and exchanged greetings with their neighbors. While there were a number of familiar faces for them, mine was new. Their eyes lit up when they saw me. I appreciated the parishioner’s hospitality efforts, beginning with the first handshake and smile. As Mass began, I could not help but pick up on the small differences in the celebration of the liturgy: the church was smaller and rounder, there was a piano instead of an organ, the servers were past middle-age, and the priest liked to stroll up and down the aisle during his homily. While it was not exactly what I was used to, the actual worship of God and the spiritual nourishment of the faithful was no less authentic or beneficial. The Word of God was proclaimed in the readings and we received the real Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. We sang hymns, exchanged a sign of peace, and participated in the usual liturgical responses, movements, and postures at the appropriate times.
These experiences may very well be shared by anyone taking a vacation this summer or otherwise visiting another parish. The Mass transcends one’s location or liturgical preferences. It is ultimately the gathering and lifting of prayers of praise, petition, repentance, and thanksgiving to God Who blesses us with His grace and True Presence. In Her wisdom, the Church has laid down guidelines for the celebration of the liturgy that must be adhered to in order to be valid. Without them, the Mass would lose its focus on divine worship and partaking in the Sacred Mysteries. While different parishes and cultures may imbue a different spiritual character in the celebration of the sacraments, the Substance (God) remains the same to unite all the faithful, whoever and wherever they may be. This universality reflects that of the Church, instituted to proclaim Christ to all, especially those outside of His Body.
My experience of welcome at this new church during my vacation reflected that very evangelical mission! One does not have to go far to invite another to share in the Sacred Mysteries—all are invited to enter and re-enter the liturgy, and to do so more deeply than before in order to draw more meaning and grace along one’s spiritual journey.
After that morning’s Mass, the church hosted a hospitality breakfast during which I was continually greeted by other parishioners who expressed amazement that I found my way to join them in the Eucharist at such an early hour—and on a weekday! To some, it was refreshing to see not only a new face, but a young one. They were as happy to greet me and share their experiences as I was to be there and form new ones. Before leaving that church to continue on with the day, the members of the faithful drew strength from their reception of Jesus in the Eucharist and from each other in order to sustain them through the burdens and challenges of their lives.
In welcoming newcomers to the Catholic Church, let us strive to extend the same heartfelt message as our Lord to the wearied disciples after His Passion: “Peace be with you!” Doing so will not only help others benefit from the graces and support offered at your home parish, but will also strengthen and enrich the life of the local church as it endeavors to minister to the world spreading the Gospel message.
Question for Reflection: How does visiting different parishes deepen your understanding of the Mass? Have you ever benefitted from attending Mass in a different location or within a different culture?
"From starry skies descending,
Thou comest, glorious King,
A manger low Thy bed,
In winter's icy sting;"
~St. Alfonso Liguori 1732
In a few short days, millions of children will wake up excited to see what is under the Christmas tree. Many will be eager to wake up their families so they can unwrap these gifts. There is a sense of pure joy and excitement that radiates from these children. I have a young Goddaughter, who was explaining to me over Thanksgiving about all the different things she hopes to receive. Her eyes lit up at just the mere thought of Christmas morning. It made me stop and wonder about my own excitement and joy for Christmas. I get caught up in all of the trappings of the season and not the very reason it exists. I started to question if I had that childlike excitement for the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The more and more I thought about it, the more I realized that I have lost part of that joy.
Advent and Christmas provides one the time to stop and think about how the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Messiah, did not come in some powerful show of force or splendor. Rather, God chose quite the opposite. He came to us as a child, born in a manger. The human embodiment of love and mercy came to us in the form of a helpless baby. In the middle of the holiday season, you rarely take the time to stop and think about how perfect that is.
Being a godfather has taught me about the amazing ability of a child's capacity to love and forgive. Many a family function, I will walk in and my goddaughter drops what she is doing and runs over to give me a big hug. Her face lights up with joy and excitement. One can only imagine a young Jesus showing the same sort of love to Mary and Joseph.
The beauty of this simplicity has inspired the Church for two thousand years. A wonderful example of this is the Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican. At the end of Mass, the pope carries a small statue of Jesus to be placed in nativity scene as the choir sings the carol "Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle". This carol was written by Saint Alphonso Liguori in 1732 and translated from Neapolitan into Italian by Pope Pius IX. This hymn is about Christ as a child who descends from heaven out of love for us.
"Dearest, fairest, sweetest Infant, Dire this state of poverty. The more I care for Thee, Since Thou, O Love Divine, Will'st now so poor to be."
I think it is the perfect hymn for these last few days of Advent.
For these next few days, I invite you to join me in a quest to be like a child. A quest to seek the joy of Christ's birth of in a pure, whole hearted, and simple way. Pope Francis tweeted about a year ago "to be friends with God means to pray with simplicity, like children talking to parents." For the next few days, as prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us embrace peace, love, joy, and mercy just like a child who runs to greet you with open arms and an open heart.
For more information on Advent, check out our resources and devotional material here.
If you visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., you may recognize many of the titles of the Virgin Mary marvelously illustrated in nearly 50 chapels and oratories throughout what is the largest Catholic church in North America (and tenth largest church in the world!). To me, one depiction stands out from the rest, an image that causes many a visitor to gasp, stop in his or her tracks, and call to mind a particular event in salvation history. Whereas the National Shrine is filled with beautiful images of the Blessed Mother in splendor furnished by various religious orders or benefactors of a national or ethnic devotion to Mary, the Slovakian chapel’s central work of art is not the characteristic mosaic or even a portrait, but rather a statue of the Sorrowful Mother holding in her arms the lifeless body of Jesus.
The image of the Pietà described above is one of the three common artistic representations of a sorrowful Virgin Mary, the other two being Mater Dolorosa (“Mother of Sorrows,” portrayed with seven daggers piercing her heart, often bleeding) and the 13th century hymn, Stabat Mater (which comes from the first line of the hymn “Stabat Mater Dolorosa,” meaning “the sorrowful mother stood”). The feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is celebrated on September 15th, while a feast of Friday of Sorrows is observed in some Catholic countries on the Friday before Palm Sunday. It’s an opportunity to remember that the Blessed Mother’s life was not without sadness or pain in light of her Immaculate Conception. The popular devotion to Mary’s Seven Sorrows recalls seven such instances in her life (likewise the Pietà in the Shrine’s chapel is flanked by the other sorrows on the wall):
While we may tend to think of Mary’s life as being purely one of perfect serenity and union with God, it is important to remember that she was human— she had emotions, doubts, and pains like the rest of us! In a world where violence and suffering are all too frequent headlines in the news, how much more closely can we relate to and depend upon the Mother of God who was no stranger to anguish and distress? However more quickly can we fly in prayer to our Mother’s tender embrace for comfort and peace when we are faced with great tribulation and uncertainty!
Below is a hymn often used for the Stations of the Cross that is composed with the verses from the Stabat Mater. When sung reverently, this hymn solemnly and deeply touches the hearts of the faithful and helps to place each at the foot of Calvary in vigil with the Blessed Mother:
Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?
In the end, however, like Mary, we must not dwell solely on the pains of our lives, but look ahead with hope and faith in God (as sculptor Ernest Morenon uniquely depicted in the Shrine chapel with Mary looking towards heaven). For Mary, as well as for each of us, Christ did gloriously resurrect on the third day. How much more confidently, then, can we proceed with our lives, even after great turmoil, as we pray:
While my body here decays,
may my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.
There are many places in life where we find joy. Often times, I find joy in my family – going home for holidays and being with the people that I love the most. I find joy in my friends – a second family that arguably knows me best. I find joy in my work – encouraging others to support an institution that means so much to not only me, but also to the Church in the United States.
When I think of my Catholic faith, I can only think of joy. This was especially evident during the recent election of a new Pope when I saw the entire world rest its eyes on our Church. It gave me great joy to answer people’s questions about my faith, help them to learn more about what it means to be Catholic, and strengthen my own faith. Joy in our faith can be found in a variety of different contexts.
The one place where I find the most obvious joy, however, is within the hymns and songs of praise that are sung so beautifully in churches throughout the world. Over this past Triduum and Easter Sunday I heard magnificent music that brought people to tears.. One thing which astounds me every time I attend Mass is that it doesn’t matter if you can sing or not – liturgical music is meant to be sung by anyone. The entire congregation is meant to join in and sing their praise to God. You can see visually the people around you either belting their notes or perhaps listening intently to those around them. Whichever way one chooses to participate, there is no doubt that you can find Joy within the music both sung and played.
One of the things I like to do immediately upon entering a pew is to figure out what hymns are going to be sung as the processional and recessional. If I don’t know the hymns, I try to hum the notes to myself in an effort to learn before the music starts. When the organist starts playing, I am transported – if only for a few brief moments – to a place of Joy. The people singing around me are all focused on one thing: praising God, saying thank you for giving us this day, and joining together to start off their week on the right foot.
As I was writing this post, I stopped to go to Mass in downtown Washington, DC. Again, the music chosen immediately brought me into the moment. Each liturgical season brings with it an amazing group of hymns. Everyone I’ve spoken to have their favorites, especially at Christmastime. As for me, I’m a sucker for Easter hymns. Whatever the case may be, liturgical music has a way of bringing us closer to God in so many ways. Next time you’re at Mass, take it in – notice that everyone around you is all focused on the same thing: praising God and thanking him for giving us this day.
What’s my favorite hymn? Too many to choose from, but I’ll leave you with this beautiful piece of music that I think anyone can appreciate – especially when you least expect it.
Chris Pierno is the Associate for Media and Marketing for the Catholic Apostolate Center.