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.
Each year on the first Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, also known as Trinity Sunday. Although it wasn’t until 1334 that Pope John XXII officially established the feast for universal observance in the Western Church, the mystery of the Holy Trinity has been the pulse of the Church’s life since the very beginning. The Trinity is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life…[and is] the source of all the other mysteries of faith” (CCC 234). The whole of the Church’s life flows from the central belief that the one true God exists as three divine Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Since the very beginning of time, God has gradually revealed and communicated the truth of who he is as Trinitarian through what he has done in salvation history (see CCC 53-67). Although God gradually revealed himself throughout different stages of the Old Testament period of salvation history, mankind had no way of knowing the full truth of God’s inner life of the Trinity before the time of Christ, since this mystery of our faith is “inaccessible to human reason alone…before the Incarnation of God’s Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 237).
In his encyclical Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI poses a challenging question: “So now we must ask explicitly: is the Christian faith also for us today a life-changing and life-sustaining hope…which shapes our life in a new way, or is it just ‘information’” (Spe Salvi 10) that doesn’t change us? Furthermore, what difference does this central mystery of our faith make in our daily lives?
Trinity Sunday is an invitation to remember that “[being] Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est 1). In revealing himself as Trinitarian, God hasn’t merely shared impersonal facts about himself; rather, God has shared himself with us, and has invited us into his own inner life and communion of love, which alone is the origin, goal, and meaning of our life. As we read in the Catechism, “By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (CCC 221). On Trinity Sunday, the Church proclaims the truth about God—that God is love (1 John 4:8)—and the truth about us: we are made for this love. We eternally belong to God—we have an eternal home!
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity leads us more deeply into this reality by saying that “The Trinity—this is our dwelling, our ‘home,’ the Father’s house that we must never leave.” When speaking with his disciples before his Passion, Jesus directed the gaze of their hearts towards this truth: “In my Father’s house there are many rooms…and when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3). Jesus continued to reveal more of the Father’s loving plan: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you…If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:18, 23). Jesus reveals to his disciples the Father’s breathtaking desire. He desires not only that we be at home in him when we get to heaven in the future, but he desires us to be at home in him now—and so, he comes to us, he makes his home among us (c.f., John 1:14) in order to make his home in us. Thus, with the Feast of Pentecost and the sending of the Holy Spirit, God fulfills his promise to never leave us orphans. This is why the Church celebrates Trinity Sunday the week after Pentecost: On Pentecost, “the Holy Trinity is fully revealed” (CCC 732).
“I will not leave you orphans!” If Jesus has promised to never leave us orphans, then that means we have a permanent home—we eternally belong to the Father as children of his heavenly household! This is the mystery into which the Church invites us more deeply on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Yet this truth is also the very gift that that we are invited to share with all whom God entrusts to us in our daily lives: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Every human heart longs for its eternal home. Today, we invite the Trinity to be more at home in our hearts in order to make them a more welcoming home for others—that through our smile, our gentleness, our availability of heart, everyone whom the Father entrusts to us may experience the Love that is their eternal home.
Question for Reflection: Today, will we allow our hearts to be touched and changed by the reality into which Trinity Sunday invites us more deeply?
I recently watched a movie that’s been on my Hulu queue for some time--a 1966, mostly black and white film by the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky on the 15th century medieval Russian artist named Andrei Rublev. Sound exciting? Maybe not to all… but it was on the Vatican’s recommended Best Films list, so I thought it was one probably worth seeing.
Of all the magnificent works of Christian art and architecture, I believe the Russian monk and artist Andrei Rublev’s (c. ~1360–1430) icon of the Holy Trinity still stands out. For how influential the icon has been for generations of artists and theologians, it doesn’t look like much. You may have seen the icon but never heard of the Russian monk and artist, Rublev, of whom little information is known (especially after he took his vow of silence!). Those who have seen the icon may never have recognized the Trinity present in the domestic scene of three people sitting around a table. Rublev’s icon is both simple and complex.
Even though the Catechism tells us the, “mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234), we may still find it difficult to imagine what difference the Trinity makes in our daily life and actions.
The Sunday after Pentecost (this May 22) celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, or Trinity Sunday for short. I’m not giving a movie review or a systematic take on the Trinity, but Andrei Rublev did serve as a reminder of the great mystery and gift of God revealed in the three persons of the Trinity- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Rublev’s work is not simply a masterpiece of medieval Russian iconography, but also represents one of the most profound and concise theological reflections on the Trinity in history. Known by most non-Western Christians as The Hospitality of Abraham, the three persons seated around a table depicts the Old Testament scene of three angels visiting Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-15) that Christian tradition sees prefiguring the Trinity fully revealed at the coming of Christ and the sending the Holy Spirit.
Andrei Tarkovsky produced Andrei Rublev and loosely based it on the life of the artist and his conviction of “Christianity as an axiom of Russia’s historical identity.” Tarkovsky’s hauntingly beautiful film, set in 15th century Russia, is not really a biography, but an exploration of the human longing for transcendence and freedom in God through faith and art in a world often characterized by the chaos and violence of sin. When first released, various scenes were censored or cut out entirely by government officials of the atheistic and authoritarian Soviet Union, whose oppressive ideology the film subtly criticized. Tarkovsky believed his Trinitarian faith led him to take risks for truth, not remain comfortably passive. It was for this reason that he produced such a compelling film.
For Rublev and Tarkovsky, the Trinity wasn’t just an abstract idea, but a power and a presence at work in the world and in every human heart. Their work highlights their belief that when we suppress God in our lives, we are cut off from the source of true freedom, beauty, creativity, and peace. Instead, the Trinitarian character of our faith should empower us to bring these qualities into every aspect of our lives- from art to politics, medicine and healthcare, business, and everything else.
Maybe the most “practical” truth about our belief in the Trinity is how it changes the way we look at things, especially our relationship with God, others, and ourselves. Tarkovsky’s movie is in black and white… until towards the end when it shows Rublev’s icons. The Trinity icon is the last, and it stands out in vivid color. Artists like Rublev and Tarkovsky don’t show us what God actually looks like, but they do depict the realities of everyday as they look like through the eyes of faith.
The community of love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a model of mutual affection and other-centeredness that we can apply to our relationships with friends, family members, and those we encounter. For example, in our political views, are we seeking power and influence over others, or striving for cooperation in achieving the common good? The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together in their respective functions of creating, redeeming, and sanctifying the world. Do our actions and lifestyles imitate this self-giving? By contemplating Trinitarian works of art like those of Rublev and Tarkovsky, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity helps our everyday thoughts and actions beautify and bless the world around us.