Saint Brigid Religious Education
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Holy Days

Trinity Sunday ~ Sunday after Pentecost

Trinity Sunday, officially "The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity," is one of the few feasts of the Christian Year that celebrates a reality and doctrine rather than an event or person. On Trinity Sunday we remember and honor the eternal God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Trinity Sunday is celebrated the Sunday after Pentecost, and lasts only one day, which is symbolic of the unity of the Trinity.

The Trinity is one of the most fascinating and controversial Christian dogmas. The Trinity is a mystery. By mystery the Church does not mean a riddle, but rather the Trinity is a reality above our human comprehension that we may begin to grasp, but ultimately must know through worship, symbol, and faith. It has been said that mystery is not a wall to run up against, but an ocean in which to swim.

The Trinity is best described in the Nicene Creed. Essentially the Trinity is the belief that God is one in essence, but distinct in person. Don't let the word "person" fool you. The persons of the Trinity are three human persons. Therefore we believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are somehow distinct from one another (not divided though), yet completely united in will and essence. How can this be? Well, think of the sight of two eyes. The eyes are distinct, yet one and undivided in their sight.

The Son is said to be eternally begotten of the Father, while the Holy Spirit is said to proceed from the Father through the Son. Each member of the Trinity interpenetrates one another, and each has distinct roles in creation and redemption, which is called the Divine economy. For instance, God the Father created the world through the Son and the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters at creation.

The Nicene definition of the Trinity developed over time, based on Scripture and Tradition. The Scriptures call the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit "God," yet the three are also clearly distinct.  The Church has been celebrating the Trinity in its life and worship since the earliest days of the Church. The earliest known liturgies (including those contained in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus) include many references to the persons of the Trinity, including prayers that end with doxologies.

Over time, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, the Church reflected on the implications of God's nature, and even began using the word Trinity by the middle of the 2nd century to describe the relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit. When in the 4th century a presbyter named Arius denied the Father and Son were both true God and co-eternal, his bishop Alexander of Alexandria challenged him and deposed him. Eventually the Arian controversy spread, and the emperor Constantine, newly fascinated with Christianity, convened a council of bishops in AD 325 in Nicaea to deal with Arianism. It is there that the Church drew up the beginnings of the current Nicene Creed. In the latter half of the 4th century the Church dealt with those who specifically denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, adding more text to the creed.

Nonetheless, there was no general feast of the Trinity in the early Church. Over time, dioceses and churches began celebrating feasts of the Trinity locally.  Early dates of the localized feasts include the first Sunday after Pentecost, or the first Sunday before Advent. Both placements have symbolic value. The post-Pentecost date celebrates the Trinity as the final celebration of the Church Year, after Christ's resurrection, ascension, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The pre-Advent date, no longer observed, began the Church Year with the celebration of the Trinity, the source of all creation. Both show the importance of the Trinity as the foundation, beginning and end, of Christian belief and experience. Pope John XXII established the feast day for universal observance in the Western Church in AD 1334 on the present date.

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