A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
B. Reflection & Dialogue: Mystery of the Blessed Trinity and Mystery of the Church
The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
Theme of today’s liturgy. Today we celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Trinity. It is a mystery that to some might look awesome, far removed from weak mortals’ quest of salvation. The theme of the awesome and the Holy has been been a matter of deep reflection for sages and philosophers over many years – the Holy, the otherworldly power away beyond the human mind, what is referred to as “the Wholly Other”. One noted philosopher and writer, Rudolf Otto, called this (in Latin) Mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the awesome yet fascinating mystery, the mystery before which one trembles but is yet attracted to it. These statements had, and have, to do with the history of religions and religious psychology, but in their own way have a bearing on the Old Testament presentation of the God of Israel, whose person and presence with Israel can at times be seen as awesome.
But in the revelation of his divine person to Moses at the sealing of the covenant with his people, as presented in today’s first reading, this is not how the God of Israel would wish to be regarded. Quite the opposite: as a God of tenderness and compassion, kindness and faithfulness. And in all the readings of today’s Mass this is the central message of our liturgical celebration. The mystery of the Blessed Trinity is the self-revelation of the innermost being of the God of glory, a revelation of his love, his gentleness and compassion, and readiness to forgive sin. And this his innermost divine life he shares with believers through the communion of the Holy Spirit. God did not send his only Son into the world to condemn the world, but rather to save it and bring it life.
First Reading (Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9).Lord, Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion. Within its context in the book of Exodus this passage is part of the narrative of the renewal of the covenant, which has earlier been broken by Israel. Moses is on Mount Sinai, in conversation with God. Moses asks God to show him his glory. God replies that he will proclaim before Moses his own name “the Lord”, but Moses cannot see God’s face, since no mortal can see God and live. His own name, “the Lord”, which God was to proclaim before Moses, was Yahweh, the sacred name of the God of Israel. The basic meaning standing behind this divine name is “to be”, “being”, expressing the fundamental belief that Israel’s God was always there, was with his people in their trials and joys, and was still with them. As usual in biblical accounts of God’s contact with his people, the Lord descended in the form of a cloud. As an indication of friendship, Moses stands besides him on the mountain. God now proclaims his personal name “The Lord, the Lord” (repeated for emphasis) and reveals his most intimate life to him. He is the God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger and rich in kindness and faithfulness. Moses prays to this kind Lord to remain with his people, to accompany them on their journeying, and forgive their faults and sins, to make them his heritage.
This can be the prayer of the Church to the Blessed Trinity in any age.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 8).How great is your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth!
Second Reading (2 Corinthians 13:11-13). The grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. This is the ending of Paul’s second letter tom the Corinthians, finishing with Paul’s greeting and blessing on the Christian community at Corinth. Paul wrote from Macedonia, the Roman province in Northern Greece, and he sends the greeting of that Christian com munity also to their fellow believers in Corinth, with the central Christian message to continue living under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and of the God or love, to grow perfect, to help one another, to be united, to live in peace, as befits believers in the God of love and peace. This beautiful brief text ends with the Trinitarian formula well known through the modern liturgy, with mention of the Lord Jesus Christ, God (the Father) and the Holy Spirit – the oldest use of this Trinitarian formula in the New Testament. Not that use of the formula means that Paul would have in mind the Trinitarian theology as developed in later ages. The depth of meaning in each of these three references merits reflection. First we have the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the grace of justification and union with God from his cross, resurrection and glorification; the love of God shown in sending his only Son to save the world, as today’s Gospel reading will stress, and the fellowship, the bond of union between believers, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a rich blessing, and a rich greeting to our eucharistic celebrations.
Gospel (John 3:16-18). God sent his Son so that through him the world might be saved.This text is a passage taken from a lengthy conversation between Jesus and the Pharisee Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night. It comes immediately after a reference by Jesus to his death on the cross, and is chosen as a reading for the feast of the Blessed Trinity by reason of the stress it places on God’s love for the world, a theme that is central to this Sunday’s liturgy. This is the year of Matthew’s Gospel in the Sunday liturgy, and Matthew is the only Gospel with a clear reference to the Trinity – in regard to baptism in its name. The reading from John’s Gospel. however, suits the celebration far better because of the stress it places on God’s love for the world, in keeping with the central theme of today’s Sunday liturgy which is the self-revelation of God as Trinity, even if the text from John’s Gospel only mentions the Father (God) and his only Son.
Reflection & Dialogue: Mystery of the Blessed Trinity and Mystery of the Church
Today we celebrate the feast of the Blessed Trinity, or in the formal title “The Solemnity of the Holy Trinity”. The Trinity is something of an abstraction. We rarely, if ever, hear of devotion to the Blessed Trinity. The Trinity is recognized as the greatest and deepest of the Christian mysteries. It took centuries, with errors, heresies and bad formulations, for the Church to arrive at the formulation of or belief in the Blessed Trinity as we have it to day. Belief in the Trinity is belief in one God in three divine persons. As formulated in the latest Catechism of the Catholic Church<(paragraphs 253-260) the Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity”. The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire. The divine persons are really distinct from one another.
A brief survey of the development of the doctrine will help us to understand somewhat the development of the Church’s teaching with regard to the mystery. Any development had to take place within the strict Jewish doctrine of monotheism, namely that there is one God, and only one God. In the New Testament (as in Jewish piety) this God could be referred to as “Father”. Then there was Jesus who preached the advent of the kingdom. He once asked his disciples who people, and they themselves, thought he was. Peter, on behalf of the Twelve, said they believed he was the Christ, the Messiah (Mark; Luke, “the Christ of God”; Matthew, “the Christ, the Son of the living God”). The resurrection and the post-resurrection appearances opened a new period in Christian belief. Jesus was now seen as more than human; he was seated at God’s right hand, as Lord, that is the one who sends the Holy Spirit on the Church. By the end of the first century Jesus was worshipped as God, as is clear from the prologue to the Fourth Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, … and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and lived among us”. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Advocate, on the Church. The Holy Spirit was also worshipped as God. The Church did not have adequate biblical language to express its belief in this mystery, respecting Christian tradition and the underlying belief in one and only God. It resorted to the current Greek philosophical terms person, substance, nature (while recognising their partial inadequacy). The fourth-century formulation, still used, speaks of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as persons, really distinct from one another; not, however, three Gods, but each sharing the same divine nature or substance, and though distinct, all three are active in all the works of salvation, even if a given activity is referred to just one of the three persons.
So much for the theology of belief in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as the Trinity, the one true God. Such theology does not necessarily make for devotion, or a greater understanding of the mystery of the Trinity. This great mystery of Father, Son and Holy Spirit reveals the innermost nature and life of God to us: God as love, as saviour, as unity. This mystery of the Blessed Trinity was revealed to us as source and model of our Christian life. In his farewell discourse at the Last Supper Jesus prayed to his Father for his followers, in all ages to come: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me, I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, … that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-24). The Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers makes them, makes us, aware of our dignity as children of God, called and enabled to live according to the pattern of the inner life of God himself, as revealed by Jesus, and continued in the mystery of the Church. The Church will never be properly understood unless viewed as a mystery, the Body of Christ, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit called to live in accord with that deep mystery which is the Blessed Trinity, and as a witness on earth to the living God, the source of true life.