The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (Year C)
O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost, that is, after the celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This succession is because, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us, “The sending of the person of the Spirit after Jesus’ glorification reveals in its fullness the mystery of the Holy Trinity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 244). It is the “central mystery of Christian faith and life,” as the Catechism points out and continues in this regard: “It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the ‘hierarchy of the truths of faith.’ The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men ‘and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin’ (GCD 47)” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 234).
Thus, the Holy Trinity is the mystery of mysteries and, as the mystery of God, always remains unfathomable despite human efforts. Today’s solemnity therefore, with the special Mass prayers and readings, offers an opportunity not so much to explain everything about the mystery of the Trinity, but to invite us Christians to contemplate even more deeply the life of the triune God in whom our lives are immersed.
1. A Divinely Revealed but Humanly Inaccessible Mystery
Above all, when we speak of the Trinity, it must be strongly emphasized that it is a mystery inaccessible to the human mind and revealed only at the end of time by the mission of Jesus and the Spirit. In short, we believe in the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not because of some human reasoning that convinces us and makes us “understand” such a complex reality, but solely and exclusively on the basis of the revelation of Jesus Christ, conveyed by the apostles under the action of the Holy Spirit, called by Jesus in today’s gospel also as “the Spirit of truth,” that “will guide [his disciples] to all truth.”
This is what is noted in the teaching of the Catechism:
The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the “mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God” (Dei Filius 4: DS 3015). To be sure, God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation throughout the Old Testament. But his inmost Being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel’s faith before the Incarnation of God’s Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 237). (Italics added).
Thus, to explain the mystery of the Trinity, any human reasoning, image or metaphor (such as the three states of water, the three actions of the ray of light...) will never be satisfactory, even if it can help us “understand” something. (Indeed, with this kind of human explanation there is a risk of having more questions and perplexity than before, as well as of having a not entirely accurate view of divine reality!) The only sure foundation remains the set of authoritative words and actions of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, transmitted in the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We believe in the Trinity because we believe in Jesus Christ who calls God the Father; who calls Himself the Son; and who reveals the Holy Spirit. This is why Pope Francis confirmed with authority and simplicity in one of his teachings: “It is a mystery that Jesus Christ revealed to us: the Holy Trinity” (Pope Francis, Angelus, Saint Peter’s Square, Trinity Sunday, 30 May 2021).
In this regard, it is always useful to recall the (legendary) story of St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, who at the time attempted to understand the mystery of the Trinity (He later left for posterity a great 15-volume treatise De Trinitate on the Trinity!). While he was meditating on the Trinity along the seashore, he suddenly saw a child playing on the beach. The little boy was intent on taking water from the sea with a shell and pouring it into a hole he had dug in the sand. The curious saint asked him, “What are you doing?” And the answer was, “I’m trying to pour that great big ocean into this tiny hole,” and St. Augustine said, laughing, “My dear child, you could never pour this great, magnificent ocean into that tiny hole!” At this point, the little boy became an angel and said to Augustine, “And you will never be able to grasp all the great mystery of the Holy Trinity in your tiny head!”
2. The Trinity’s mission for humanity
The mystery of the Trinity is to be experienced and lived more and more in order to grow steadily in its understanding. In reality, the inner life of the triune God is revealed through God’s action, and mission, in human history, as the Collect prayer expresses: “God our Father, who by sending into the world the Word of truth and the Spirit of sanctification made known to the human race your wondrous mystery.” We see clearly the process of Trinitarian revelation precisely in the act of sending, that is, the “mission,” of the Son and the Spirit, and this serves not only to make known something of the divine life, but also and foremost to give the fullness of such a life to all who open their hearts to receive it. In other words, God is revealed himself in the mission for humanity’s salvation and happiness from creation until the end of the world.
In this perspective, in the fullness of time, the mission of God the Father is realized concretely by Jesus Christ, the Son of God himself, and that mission of the Father and the Son is then carried on through time by the Holy Spirit. Thus emerges the chain of divine mission in history, missio Dei - missio Christi/Filii - missio Spiritus Sancti. Such a chain, however, serves only to mark the various historical periods before and after the earthly life of Christ, the Son and Incarnate Word of the Father, because the divine mission for the salvation of humanity was, is, and always will be carried out jointly by all the persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, in a perfect divine unity. Therefore, to use a wordplay in Italian, the mystery of the Trinity is the mystery of the triune God who “makes himself in four” to bring humanity to divine salvation and happiness! (In Italian, “to make oneself in four” means “to engage/commit oneself fully.”) This could already be seen, in a mysterious way, in the Old Testament accounts of creation with the presence of divine Wisdom alongside God the Creator (first reading) as well as with reference to the action of God’s Spirit (cf. Gn 1:2; Ps 104:30). Jesus himself affirmed that the Father always acts and so does He (cf. Jn 5:17), and the emblematic biblical icon of “Trinitarian cooperation” in the divine mission for humanity remains the scene of Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River. Even more, the interaction and “collaboration” between the divine Persons in proclaiming the things of God is also glimpsed in today’s gospel, from Jesus’ explanation to his disciples: “Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he [the Spirit] will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”
The constant mission of the triune God for humankind is fulfilled by and in love, as revealed with and in Jesus, Son of God, who declares: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3,16). It cannot be otherwise, because “God is love” (1 Jn 4,8.16), and that means, as Pope Francis explained to us recently, “The Father is love; the Son is love; the Holy Spirit is love. And inasmuch as he is love, God, while being one alone, is not solitude but communion, among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Because love is essentially a gift of self, and in its original and infinite reality it is the Father who gives himself by generating his Son, who in turn gives himself to the Father, and their mutual love is the Holy Spirit, the bond of their unity” (Pope Francis, Angelus, Saint Peter's Square, Trinity Sunday, 30 May 2021).
3. Our mission in the Trinity
As it is revealed to us in Scripture, we are created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1:26-27), of that God revealed to be triune, the “perfect Trinity and simple Unity” (expression of St. Francis of Assisi) of communion and divine love. “In him we live and move and have our being,” as St Paul recalled in his missionary address in Athens (Acts 17:28). Furthermore, as Christians, we are all already immersed in the Trinity in baptism, and thus we remain immersed in the divine life, that eternal life of the triune God. In this way, we are called to live the life given to the full, experiencing God’s presence in us and thus knowing more and more the abundant love of all three divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for us. As Jesus points out in his prayer to the Father before the passion: “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn 17:3). This will be our mission in the Trinity, the mission we should live first for ourselves, so that we can witness and share with others the grace of divine life in communion with the triune God. The one God in three Persons who has loved us so much and continues to “make himself in four”, that is, committed totally, to save even only one person.