Holy Trinity Sunday is celebrated on the first Sunday following Pentecost in most of the liturgical churches in Western Christianity. It is a solemn celebration of the belief in the revelation of one God, yet three divine persons. It was not uniquely celebrated in the early church, but as with many things the advent of new, sometime heretical, thinking often gives the Church a moment in which to explain and celebrate its own traditions; things it already believes and holds dear. In the early 4th century when the Arian heresy was spreading, the early church, recognizing the inherent Christological and Trinitarian implications, prepared an Office of Prayer with canticles, responses, a preface, and hymns, to be recited on Sundays to proclaim the Holy Trinity. Pope John XXII (14th century) instituted the celebration for the entire Church as a feast; the celebration became a solemnity after the liturgical reforms of Vatican II.
In the shadow of Pentecost and the dramatic coming of the Holy Spirit, the following week seems a place to fitting place to pause, as it were, and place it all in a context of salvation history. So central is the doctrine of the Trinity, that we can find it summed up by the Apostle Paul at the end of his second letter to Corinth: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor 13:13) These words form a brief statement of our belief. They point to the way in which Christians, from the earliest centuries of the Church, have felt that we can only speak of our experience of God by speaking at the same time of God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is for this reason the theologian Karl Barth said: “Trinity is the Christian name for God.” Our understandings stresses that this “Father” has come near to us in human form in Jesus and “lives in us” in the Spirit. St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, was addressing Christians who had been converted from paganism: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ … he is our peace … He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:13-18).
Some people say the word “Trinity” is not in Scripture – and they are correct. You can not “find” it in the Sacred texts. In Catholic understanding, divine revelation is more than just the Bible; it is also more than God revealing verbal messages to humanity. Rather, it is the entire process by which God reveals or expresses Himself in our world, what we might call “God’s self-revelation.” The idea of self-revelation is much less about us “finding God” than God revealing God’s self to us. In other words, God finds us and often surprises us what God reveals about himself. What is revealed to us is a triune God:
- “After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened (for him), and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17). You will note that the Spirit descends on Jesus to empower him for his public ministry, while God the Father speaks from heaven.
- Jesus’ final commands to his disciples, recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, includes the command to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Baptism signifies our initiation into the divine family (“partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4))
- “In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will. We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:26-28).
This passage expresses the remarkable truth that when our praying is prompted by the Holy Spirit we are caught up in the free and open communication that takes place between two members of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit and God the Father. Both of these desire our good. One writer, Martin Smith, puts it this way: “Our prayer is not making conversation with God. It is joining the conversation that is already going on in God. It is being invited to participate in the relationships of intimacy between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
And this offering is but the smallest of insights about what God has revealed to us in Scripture.