Trinity Sunday: ‘Glory Be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit’

User’s Guide to the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Albrecht Dürer, ‘Adoration of the Trinity’
Albrecht Dürer, ‘Adoration of the Trinity’ (photo: Public domain)

Sunday, June 4, is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Mass readings: Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9; Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18.

On the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we do well to remember that we are pondering a mystery that cannot fit in our minds. So deep is this mystery that we had to “invent” a paradoxical word to summarize it: “Trinity” is a conflation of “Tri-unity,” meaning the “three-oneness” of God. In this column, we can only ponder the Trinity briefly.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three Persons: … The divine Persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God, whole and entire” (253).

Scripture also presents images of the Trinity. Some people are dismissive of reading the Trinity into many of these texts, but the claim here is not that they prove the Trinity, but only that they hint at it. 

1. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness …” (Genesis 1:26). God speaks of himself in the plural using “us” and “our.” Right here, at the very beginning in Genesis, there is already a hint that God is not all by himself, but is in a communion of Persons.

2. In the Old Testament, a common word used for God is Elohim. It is interesting to note that this word is in the plural form, “Gods,” but the word is singular in meaning (like news, mathematics and acoustics in English). So it is interesting that one of the main words for God in the Old Testament is plural yet singular. 

3. “And the Lord appeared to [Abram] who lifted up his eyes; and, behold, three men stood in front of him. … He ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth, saying, ‘My Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves. …’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said’” (Genesis 18:1-5). From a purely grammatical standpoint, this is a very difficult passage because it switches back and forth between singular and plural references. The Lord (singular) appears to Abram, yet Abram sees three men; some claim the trio is two angels with God. Then when Abram addresses “them,” he says, “My Lord” (singular). The confusing grammar continues as Abram suggests that the Lord (singular) rest “yourselves” (plural) under the tree. Plural or singular … which is it? Both. God is one, and God is three. 

4. “The Lord stood with Moses there and proclaimed his name, ‘Lord.’ Thus the Lord passed before him and cried out, ‘The Lord, the Lord …’” (Exodus 34:5). When God announces his name, he does so in a threefold way: “Lord! … The Lord, the Lord.” There is implicit a threefold introduction or announcement of God. 

5. Isaiah hears the angels say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:1-3). God is holy, holy and, yet again, holy. Some say that this is just a Jewish way of saying “very holy,” but as Christians, it is possible to see yet another hint of the Trinity. 

6. There are many references to the Trinity in the New Testament. Jesus says, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). And have you ever noticed that the baptismal formula uses “poor” grammar? Jesus says, “Baptize them in the name [not names] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). 

God is one (name), and God is three (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).