The Holy Trinity is in every mass from the opening invocation to the closing blessing. The liturgy of the Church year has various feasts which focus more intently on some aspect of faith, and at the end of the Pentecost liturgy, we turn to the fullness of the Trinity.
The catechism statement of one God in three ‘persons’, is not met in the New Testament. Scripture tends to show the effects, and thus how people encounter the Trinity in life. This week’s readings have only a passing reference to this, but instead concentrate on the totality of our experience of God, stressing God’s love for us.
Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9
This account is close to the end of the book telling of the formation of the Jewish religion from the time of rescue from slavery in Egypt to the entrance into the Holy Land. After the giving of the Law and its acceptance, there came a time when the Israelites rejected the God they had learned of from Moses, and it seemed that God would in response reject them as His chosen ones. Moses prays for them – with the words at the end of the reading – asking God to forgive a ‘headstrong’ and sinful people.
The stone tablets were engraved with the basic commandments of the Law. Moses takes them to the mountain where he has encountered God. Here he has another experience of God’s presence (a ‘theophany’ in theological language). God then defines His relationship to humanity in words that are still how God in his unity is known as one full of ‘tenderness and compassion, faithful, kind and slow to anger’.
Our response is usually from the book of Psalms, but there are ‘psalms’ and hymns as part of other books. Daniel is a complex work and one where the help of modern scholars is especially valuable; I have Louis F. Hartman, CSSR and Alexander A. Di Lella, OFM, in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. There are some differences between the version in the Hebrew text and the expanded versions found in Greek translations. This hymn of praise is not in the Hebrew Bible and also will not be found in some English bibles following the Protestant tradition of sticking to the Hebrew version; it may be printed in a separate section as ‘apocrypha’.
The short verses are a hymn of praise (‘doxology’) addressed to God as known before Jesus – that is on ‘One’ but whom we may experience as the Trinity. The praise is a fitting reaction on our part to the God’s self-description in the first reading.
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
These words end St Paul’s letter correcting the problems of the community at Corinth. The advice is good for any Christians at any time, with the stress on peace, love and unity. The final words of blessing have become an enduring part of our liturgies as including all of the Trinity – ‘God’ here meaning ‘the Father’.
‘The holy kiss’ suggests a gesture in the early liturgies, and some have used the same phrase for ‘the sign of peace’ in our modern mass – although we use a handshake. The Greek word translated ‘kiss’ comes from the word meaning ‘to love’ and so means a greeting that conveys affection between friends.
These words come at the end of a long dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus, a leader of the Jerusalem Jews, and the liturgy has inserted the first line to make that connection. In the full context of the Gospel, however, this reflection may come from the Evangelist looking at back at the dialogue. (The Greek manuscripts do not contain punctuation marks for quotations, so it is a matter of interpretation in cases like these.) In either case, the message is what matters. In the setting of the mass, it circles back to the first reading, putting love at the heart of God’s dealing with the world. The whole section, while not always easy, is worth reading, and in it we get more sense of the three-in-one Father, Son and Spirit, as acting in our lives.
The text stresses that God does not come to us ‘in condemnation’ – it is human freedom which makes the choice to accept love, or live outside it. In other words, people condemn themselves.
‘Believe in the name of’ – in Hebrew thought the ‘name’ equates with the person so here a full acceptance of the loving, merciful God that comes to us through Jesus.
Communion Antiphon Galatians 4:6
These words from St Paul are a fitting conclusion to the meaning of the Trinity for us: through the Spirit, we become children of God and learn to call him Father as Jesus did – the Aramaic word Abba is one Jesus would have used in intimate conversation. Females in this context can be called ‘sons’ for it is in union with Jesus the Son that we are the ‘family of God.’
This sharing in the love which is at the heart of the Trinity also comes in the alternate prayer for the mass. These choices are usually not printed in our mass sheets, so I am copying it here.
‘Let us pray to our God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
God, we praise you, Father all-powerful, Christ Lord and Saviour, Spirit of love. You reveal yourself in the depths of our being, drawing us to share in your life and your love. One God, three Persons, be near to the people formed in your image, close to the world your love brings to life.’