Probably the most often repeated words within the Christian community are: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Every liturgical celebration and each pious devotion commence with this traditional hallowed terminology. Brief as this phrase might be, its terms profoundly reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity whose solemnity is observed throughout the Catholic world this coming Sunday. Note most carefully that the three Divine Persons are cited with their proper names as revealed by Holy Scripture.
“Father” is clearly the name employed by Jesus during his most intimate moment of contact with the first Person of the Trinity. He pleads to “Abba” (Father) when in agony in the garden and as he breathes last upon the cross. “Son” is the name chosen by the Father whenever he makes a solemn public announcement about the second Person of the Trinity. Jesus is openly acknowledged as beloved “Son” at Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan and atop Mt. Tabor during his transfiguration. “Spirit” is certainly the name for the third Person of the Holy Trinity broadly hinted at by the Father throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and pointedly cited in the Gospel narratives. Mary at Nazareth is informed that the “Holy Spirit” will come upon her and Jesus speaks of the future work of the “Spirit” throughout his final meal with his disciples. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are plainly names that are divinely inspired. Broader and less gender specific titles, like creator, redeemer, and sanctifier, should not be pursued.
Yet while the Sign of the Cross, as it’s called, clearly cites each Person of the Blessed Trinity individually (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), this brief invocation clearly solicits God’s attention as One Being through its opening words: “In the name…” Note: not the plural “names,” but the singular “name.” The Divine Being is indeed three distinct Godly Persons, yet this same Divine Being is only one Godly nature. In this prayer believers call upon God as one, as the opening words “In the Name” indicate. Believers then go on to appreciate that this one God is a relationship of three Divine Persons as the Scriptural titles “Father, Son, Spirit” clearly specify. “Father” clearly implies offspring. “Son” certainly entails paternity. “Spirit” surely indicates bonding. So the brief Sign of the Cross is a regular act of faith in Christianity’s central belief in God as both a Trinity of persons and a Unity in nature.
In this week’s Gospel for the Solemnity of the Trinity, St. John records some words of Jesus at the Last Supper that also speak of the Persons of the Trinity as distinct in their missions but also as totally unified in the source of the message that they are communicating to the world. St. John writes that when the “Spirit of Truth” arrives he will not speak on his own but rather he will announce the message that Jesus has already been preaching. The work of the Spirit when he happily descends and the work of Jesus already widely preached will be one message. After all, Jesus and the Spirit share the same divine nature. There can be no conflict. “He will not speak on his own…he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”
But Jesus’ statements about unity do not end with the oneness he shares with Spirit. Jesus also notes, “Everything the Father has is mine.” The unity of Christ with the Spirit parallels the Savior’s unity with Father. Jesus’ statement here about his fellowship with the Father is particularly bold and telling considering the Jewish context in which it is stated. Pious Jews would not even utter the Name of God, let alone propose some interior identification with God. Yet clearly this is Jesus’ intent. “I and the Father are one (Jn.10:30),” And Jesus instructs a hesitant Philip, “He who sees me sees also the Father (Jn.14:19).”
God is sometimes illustrated in graphic art as a triangle: three distinct points, yet one individual form. Throughout eternity and now in time, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have their distinct roles. Each is unique. Yet they employ the same one divine nature to bring about their Godly work. Their unity in diversity is clearly a goal for mankind who, after all, are made in the image and likeness of this same one-natured but multi-personal God.
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