The Trinity and Liturgy
The Holy Trinity is wrapped up in our own lives as we celebrate the liturgy this Sunday and every Sunday.
Today’s gospel reading is arguably the most famous piece of Scripture in the world today. And we can thank the likes of Tim Tebow and many others for brandishing John 3:16 for hordes of people to see and wonder about. So, today, as we celebrate the Most Holy Trinity I think it would be good for us to do just that with the gospel: Wonder and be in awe of God. Now, the Trinity is no easy subject to tackle, it is a mystery after all! Perhaps then for our purposes here it will prove helpful to just reflect on these few lines from John’s gospel, and look at how the mystery and action of the Holy Trinity is wrapped up in our own lives as we celebrate the liturgy this Sunday and every Sunday.
Last week, we reflected on the idea of the Church as a communion of persons. I would like to expand on that a little to give us a backdrop. God is a communion of three divine persons in one nature. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all of whom are God Himself. Confused yet? Here are a couple ways of thinking about it that may be helpful. The Father speaks the Eternal Word, who is the Son, and the breath with which He speaks that Word is the Holy Spirit. Or put another way: The Holy Spirit is the Eternal Love between the Father and the Son. The takeaway here is that there is a mutual sharing, a gift of self present in God. None of the Persons of the Trinity are named for Himself, there is no “in” Himself, nor “for” Himself. God is love, and that means relationship.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16).
God is wholly Other, meaning that He is wholly for an other because He is love itself, which is always directed toward an other. And since we are the object of His affection, His beloved, He offers Himself freely and gratuitously “so that every one who believes in him might not perish.” Belief often gets associated with the mind, with intellectually knowing and trusting. This is all well and good, but to believe refers to a desire and love for a person, according to the roots of the word. And seeing as we are created in the image and likeness of God, who is love and relationship, we too then are made for relationship. So, our belief in the Son means we are to love Him, which means we are to enter into a relationship of mutual, total self-gift. The Father has offered Himself completely in sending His Son to us and assuming our humanity. We must now return the gift.
How can we love and believe in this radical way? It is through the Holy Spirit that it is possible.
“No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3).
And it is in the liturgy that we see this fulfilled in our age. The light of the Holy Spirit shines forth at every liturgy when we hear the Word proclaimed to us. He illuminates to us who is being spoken, and enkindles in us the fire of love, of faith. It is in this light that we stand in our true reality as creatures, weak and desperate for salvation from death, at the liturgy. We stand before our Creator to receive the outpouring of Himself so that we might be one with Him and through Him.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world” (Jn 3:17).
Jesus Christ came so that we “might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). He is the fullness of human life because He is like us in all things but sin. He has come so that we might share in His life through relationship, one that is free and total and in this we might be one through Him, with Him, and in Him. He came to transform us into Himself, or, as our Eastern brethren say, to divinize us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, everything He touches is transformed. Just as fire transforms all that it consumes, so it is with the fire of love that comes forth from the Heart of Jesus in the Holy Spirit. But we must be open to it.
We cannot simply think or reason ourselves into this. It is a mystery. Yet we are not merely passive, rather our energies are directed toward keeping our mind and heart in a receptive posture. This helps us to see and be present to our true poverty and the light we so desperately need in our dark and hardened hearts. The more we allow ourselves to be bathed in the light of the Holy Spirit during the Liturgy of the Word, the more we will be able to receive what God wishes to pour out into us for our transformation. The light serves to purify our faith and love so that we know we stand truly empty before God. It is God’s way of preparing us. His light manifests Himself to us, and in that light we see our great need for Him, so we offer ourselves wholly to Him in order that we might be united with Him as one.
It is in the Eucharistic Prayer that we experience God’s gratuitous gift of Himself. During the epiclesis, when the priest places his hands on top of each other over the gifts of bread and wine, an appeal is made to the Father to send down His Spirit upon our offering. And our offering is not just bread and wine, but our very selves. We implore God, Our Savior, to fill our empty hearts, and so transform us by that same Spirit. And He does. Not because of our merits or good works, but because of the love with which He loves us. The transformation reaches its climax as we enter into communion.
“But that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17).
The body of Christ is the locus, or place, of salvation. Our salvation was won for us through the Body of Christ. In assuming our humanity, He baited Death into thinking he had defeated another mortal who shared the same fallenness of sin, and would therefore be swallowed up by it like the rest of us in death. Yet, when Death’s jaws went to clench on its prey, it found itself under the heel of the Son of God. By His death, Jesus crushed Death so that we “might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). It is through Christ’s taking on a Body, His becoming man, through the Holy Spirit sent forth from the Father, that He conquers death, unites us to Himself in and through His Body, and draws us to the Father for eternity.
Our participation in the Eucharist during the time of communion is when this divinizing action takes place, as we truly become what we receive: Jesus Christ Himself in His Body (more on that next week). In receiving Our Lord, we enter into a communion of persons with Jesus Himself, as well as all those who celebrate with us for they too are part of the One Body. We unite ourselves to Christ and become one with Him, such that we are transformed into Him. We are divinized.
“In him and through his blood, we have been redeemed...so immeasurably generous is God’s favor to us” (Eph 1:7,8).
And so, united in the Body of Christ, the Church, we join the Bridegroom in His triumphant return to the Father through the Holy Spirit.
Reflection for Prayer:
Try to find a quiet place, your Church, room, wherever, and close your eyes. Place yourself in that darkness, allow yourself to really sit there. This may be uncomfortable, but try to hold this for a minute or two. Note what you feel, think, and want as you experience this.
Imagine a small flame, not very bright, in the distant darkness. It is coming toward you and as it does it grows brighter and clearer. Again, note what thoughts, feelings, and desires come up in your mind and heart.
Ask the Holy Spirit to shine His light in your heart so that you can see yourself clearly as the Father sees you, love with your whole heart, or whatever is on your heart. Be honest with Him.
When you have shared what is on your heart, try to listen. A new insight may come, a feeling, or just quiet stillness. Just try to receive it as God’s gift He is pouring out. Spend 2-5 minutes on this.
Finish by thanking God.