The Traditional Catholic Liturgy

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger

Feast of the Most Holy Trinity—1st Sunday after Pentecost

Adoration of the Holy Trinity

On the day of Pentecost the Holy Apostles received, as we have seen, the grace of the Holy Ghost. In accordance with the injunction of their Divine Master, they will soon start on their mission of teaching all nations, and baptizing them in the Name of the Holy Trinity. It was but right, then, that the solemnity which is intended to honor the mystery of One God in Three Divine Persons should immediately follow that of Pentecost, with which it has a mysterious connection. And yet, it was not until after many centuries that it was inserted in the cycle of the Liturgical Year, whose completion is the work of successive ages.

Every homage paid to God by the Church’s Liturgy has the Holy Trinity as its object. Time, as well as eternity, belongs to the Trinity. The Trinity is the scope of all religion. Every day, every hour, belongs to It. The feasts instituted in memory of the mysteries of our Redemption center in It. The feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints are but so many means for leading us to the praise of God, Who is One in essence, and Three in Persons. The Preface for most Sunday Masses, in a very special way, gives us, each week, a most explicit expression of adoration and worship of this mystery, which is the foundation of all others, and the source of all grace.

This explains to us how it is that the Church was so long in instituting a special feast in honor of the Holy Trinity. The ordinary motive for the institution of feasts did not exist in this instance. A feast is the memorial of some fact which took place at a certain time, and of which it is well to perpetuate the memory and influence. How could this be applied to the mystery of the Trinity? From all eternity, before any created thing existed, God lives and reigns, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. If a feast in honor of that mystery were to be instituted, it could only be by fixing some one day in the year, whereon the faithful would assemble for offering a more than usually solemn tribute of worship to the mystery of Unity and Trinity in the one same Divine Nature.

The idea of such a feast was first conceived by some of those pious and recollected souls, who are favored from on high with a sort of presentiment of the things which the Holy Ghost will achieve, at a future period, in the Church. So far back as the eighth century, the learned monk Alcuin had the happy thought of composing a Mass in honor of the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. It would seem that he was prompted to this by the apostle of Northern Germany, Saint Boniface. That this composition is a beautiful one, no one will doubt who knows, from Alcuin’s writings, how full its author was of the spirit of the sacred liturgy; but, after all, it was only a votive Mass, a mere help to private devotion, which no one ever thought would lead to the institution of a feast. This Mass, however, became a great favorite, and was gradually circulated through the several Churches; for instance, it was approved of for Germany by the Council of Seligenstadt, held in 1022.

In the previous century, however, a feast properly so-called of the Holy Trinity had been introduced into one of the Churches of Belgium—the very same that was to have the honor, later on, of procuring to the Church’s calendar, one of the richest of its solemnities. Stephen, Bishop of Liege, solemnly instituted the Feast of the Holy Trinity for his Church, in 920, and had an entire Office composed in honor of the mystery. Riquier, Stephen’s successor in the See of Liege, kept up what his predecessor had begun.

The feast was gradually adopted. The Benedictine Order took it up from the very first. We find, for instance, in the early part of the 11th century, that Berno, the Abbot of Reichenau, was doing all he could to propagate it. At Cluny, also, the feast was established at the commencement of the same century, as we learn from the Ordinarium of that celebrated monastery, drawn up in 1091, in which we find mention of Holy Trinity Day as having been instituted long before.

Consecration of St. Thomas a Becket In England it was the glorious Martyr, St. Thomas a Becket, who established the Feast of the Holy Trinity. He introduced it into his archdiocese of Canterbury in the year 1162, in memory of his having been consecrated Bishop on the First Sunday after Pentecost. Some Churches celebrated this feast, not on the First, but on the Last Sunday after Pentecost; some on both the First and Last Sundays.

It was evident, from all this, that the Apostolic See would finally give its sanction to a practice, whose universal adoption was being prompted by Christian instinct. Pope John XXII, who sat in the Chair of St. Peter as early as the year 1334, completed the work by a decree, wherein the Church of Rome accepted the Feast of the Holy Trinity, and extended its observance to all Churches.

As to the motive which induced the Church, led as She is in all things by the Holy Ghost, to fix one special day in the year for the offering of a solemn homage to the Blessed Trinity, whereas all our adorations, all our acts of thanksgiving, all our petitions, are ever being presented to It: such motive is to be found in the change which was being introduced, at that period, into the liturgical calendar. Up to about the year 1000, the Feasts of the Saints, marked on the general calendar and universally kept, were very few. From that time, they began to be more numerous; and it was evident that their number would go on increasing. The time would come, when the Sunday’s Office, which is specially consecrated to the Blessed Trinity, must make way for that of the Saints, as often as one of their Feasts occurred on a Sunday. As a sort of compensation for this celebration of the memory of God’s servants on the very day which was sacred to the Holy Trinity, it was considered right that once, at least, in the course of the year, a Sunday should be set apart for the exclusive and direct expression of the worship which the Church pays to our great God, Who has vouchsafed to reveal Himself to mankind in His ineffable Unity and in His eternal Trinity.

It was God’s good pleasure to make known to us His essence, in order to bring us into closer union with Himself, and to prepare us, in some way, for that face-to-face vision of Himself which He intends to give us in eternity. But His revelation is gradual: He takes mankind from brightness unto brightness, fitting it for the full knowledge and adoration of Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. During the period preceding the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, God seemed intent on inculcating the idea of His Unity, for polytheism was the infectious error of mankind; and every notion of there being a spiritual and sole cause of all things would have been effaced from the earth, had not the infinite goodness of God watched over its preservation.

Not that the Old Testament Books were altogether silent on the Three Divine Persons, Whose ineffable relations are eternal; only, the mysterious passages, which spoke of them, were not understood by the people at large; whereas, in the Christian Church, a child of seven will answer those who ask him, that in God, the Three Divine Persons have but one and the same Nature, but one and the same Divinity. When the Book of Genesis tells us that God spoke in the plural, and said: "Let Us make man to Our image and likeness" (Gen. 1: 26), the Jew bows down and believes, but he understands not the sacred text; the Christian, on the contrary, who has been enlightened by the complete revelation of God, sees under this expression, the Three Persons acting together in the formation of man. The light of Faith develops the great truth to him, and tells him that, within himself, there is a likeness to the Blessed Three in One. Power, understanding, and will, are three faculties within him, and yet he himself is but one being.

In the Books of Wisdom, Solomon speaks, in sublime language, of Him Who is Eternal Wisdom; he tells us— and he uses every variety of grand expression to tell us—of the Divine Essence of this Wisdom, and of His being a distinct Person in the Godhead; but how few among the people of Israel could see through the veil! Isaias heard the voice of the Seraphim, as they stood around God’s throne; he heard them singing in alternate choirs, and with a joy intense because eternal, this hymn: "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord!" (Is. 6: 3) But who will explain to men this triple Sanctus, of which the echo is heard here below, when we mortals give praise to our Creator? So again, in the Psalms, and the prophetic Books, a flash of light will break suddenly upon us; a brightness of some mysterious Three will dazzle us; but it passes away, and obscurity returns seemingly all the more palpable; we have but the sentiment of the Divine Unity deeply impressed on our inmost soul, and we adore the Incomprehensible, the Sovereign Being.

The world had to wait for the fullness of time to be completed; and then, God would send into this world His only Son, begotten of Him from all eternity. This His most merciful purpose has been carried out, and the Word made Flesh hath dwelt among us (John 1: 14). By seeing His glory, the glory of the only-begotten Son of the Father, we have come to know that, in God, there is Father and Son. The Son, Who had been sent by the Father, ascended into Heaven, with the human Nature which He had united to Himself for all future eternity; and lo, the Father and the Son send into this world the Spirit Who proceeds from Them both. It was a new Gift, and it taught man that the Lord God was in Three Persons. The mystery of the Trinity has become to us, not only a dogma made known to our mind by revelation, but, moreover, a practical truth given to us by the unheard-of munificence of the Three Divine Persons: the Father, Who adopted us; the Son, Whose brethren and joint-heirs we are; and the Holy Ghost, Who governs us, and dwells within us.

Let us, then, begin this day, by giving glory to the one God in three Persons. For this end, Holy Mother Church in Her Office of Prime recites on this solemnity the magnificent Athanasian Creed. It gives us, in a summary of much majesty and precision, the doctrine of the Holy Doctor, St. Athanasius, regarding the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation. We give here an excerpt:

Whosoever would be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.

Which Faith, except everyone doth keep It entire and inviolate, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

Now the Catholic Faith is this: that we worship One God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.

For one is the Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.

But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all One; the glory equal, the majesty coeternal…

So, the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Ghost is God.

And yet They are not three Gods, but One God.

So, the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Ghost is Lord.

And yet They are not three Lords, but One Lord.

For, as we are compelled by the Christian truth to acknowledge each Person, by Himself, to be God and Lord; so we are forbidden, by the Catholic Religion, to say there are three Gods or three Lords.

The Father is made of no one, neither created nor begotten.

The Son is from the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten.

The Holy Ghost is from the Father and the Son; not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding…

Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation, that he also believe rightly of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Now the right Faith is, that we believe and confess that Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and Man.

He is God, of the Substance of His Father, begotten before the world; and He is Man, of the substance of His Mother, born in the world…

At Whose coming, all men shall rise again with their bodies; and shall give an account of their own works.

And they that have done good, shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

This is the Catholic Faith; which except every man believe faithfully and steadfastly, he cannot be saved.

Adoration, then, and love, be to Thee, O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, O perfect Trinity, Who hast vouchsafed to reveal Thyself to mankind; O eternal and infinite Unity, Who hast delivered our forefathers from the yoke of their false gods! Glory be to Thee, as it was in the beginning, before any creature existed; as it is now, at this very time, while we are living in the hope of that true life, which consists of seeing Thee face to face; and as it shall forever be, in those everlasting ages, when a blissful eternity shall have united us in the bosom of Thine infinite majesty. Amen.

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