Article 29: Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
All Christians are introduced to the Holy Trinity on the occasion of their baptism. With these sacred words, the Holy Trinity takes up residence in our souls: I baptize you “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (ccc. 232).
In this first sacrament of the Church, we are introduced to the truth that there exists only One God in a Trinity of Persons. The Catechism, using the teaching inspired by Pope Vigilius I in the year 552, explains that “Christians are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: not in their names …” (ccc 233).
Quoting from the Gospel of St. Matthew 28:19, Pope Vigilius I provides us with the correct interpretation of this passage in Sacred Scripture, explaining that we are baptized “in the name of” (God), as this passage tells us, and not “in the names of,” thus the Sacred Scripture even uses grammatical style to teach the truth that God revealed himself as a Trinity of Persons in One God.
A few years following infant-baptism, when children are first catechized, it is not uncommon for the adult-catechist (teacher) to use symbols such as a triangle or a shamrock to illustrate the Holy Trinity and the truth that there exists three Divine Persons in One God.
At every Mass, just before receiving Jesus in Holy Communion, we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof …” Yet, having been baptized in the name of the Holy Trini-ty, means, that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are not only “under our roofs” but within our souls!
Unfortunately, we have all heard homilies preached on the Holy Trinity, many of which have been heavy on theological language but light on practical application. Others have reduced one of the most sublime realities of our precious faith to a cheap skit that would have even been rejected by Comedy Central.
When we speak about the Blessed Trinity we are not only speaking about “the central mystery of Christian faith” and “the source of all the other mysteries of faith” (ccc 234), but about “one of the mysteries that are hidden in God” (ccc 237).
The Catechism acknowledges that the Blessed Trinity is a “mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone” but explains that “God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation throughout the Old Testament” (ccc 237). The New Testament gives us a more complete portrait of the Holy Trinity when we are introduced to Jesus, the Eternal Word of God made flesh; the Second Person of the Trinity. We hear Jesus say such things as, “the Father and I are One” (Jn 10:30). The third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is described as the “wind” or “breath” of God. Most familiar to us are the terms “Advocate” or “Paraclete” given in the Gospel of St. John (see 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7).
Throughout the New Testament it is apparent that some passages refer to the three persons of the Holy Trinity together while others treat them separately. What remains crystal clear in the Scrip-tures is the truth that there is only One God (Deuteronomy 4:35; Isaiah 45:5; 46:9) and that this “One God” reveals himself as a Trinity of distinct persons: God the Father (Galatians 1:1), God the Son — Jesus Christ (John 1:1; 20:28) and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4).
The classic example of the Holy Trinity being revealed in the Sacred Scriptures is the account of the baptism of Jesus where a definite distinction among the three persons of the Holy Trinity is made by their different names as well as the operations which they accomplish. As the Catechism affirms, “by the divine missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit, God the Father fulfills the ‘plan of his loving goodness’ of creation, redemption and sanctification” (ccc 235). By analogy, as it can be said of human persons, so it is with the Persons of the Holy Trinity: “a person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions” (ccc 236).
In the account of the Baptism of Jesus, God the Father speaks: “a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Mt 3:17). Then, “after Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened” (Mt 3:16). Finally, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus: “and he saw the Spirit of God descending [upon him in bodily form] like a dove” (Mt 3:16). Evidently, the “three” are not one person, but three distinct persons! The Father is someone other than the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son is someone other than the Father and the Holy Spirit. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is someone distinguishable from the Father and the Son. At the same time, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are united by one and the same nature and enjoy the distinction of being One God.
Now for your homework, recall the first prayer you learned as a child. Was it the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be to the Father? I venture to say it was none of these. Rather, the first prayer you learned was probably signing yourself with the Trinitarian formula: “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” thus reaffirming your baptism and the presence of the Holy Trinity abiding in your soul.
Father John G. Hillier, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Chancellor to the Bishop and the bishop’s liai-son to persons with disabilities.