SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY (Cycle A)

Readings:
Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9
Daniel 3:52-55
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
John 3:16-18

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

This Sunday the Church returns to Ordinary Time in the Liturgical Calendar.  This second part of Ordinary Time begins the day after Pentecost and runs to the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent.  If the number of ordinary weeks is thirty-four, the week after Pentecost is the one that follows immediately the last week celebrated before Lent.  If the number of ordinary weeks is thirty-three, the first week that would otherwise follow Pentecost Sunday is omitted.

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity:

The word "Trinity" is not found in Sacred Scripture.  It is a word the Church uses to define the mystery of the triune nature of the One mighty, Creator God.  The revelation of the mystery of the One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit was not known to the covenant people of the Old Testament.  The Triune nature of God was, however, hidden in the Holy Spirit inspired writings of the Old Testament.  It is an ineffable mystery of the Triune nature of God that was first revealed to us by Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. 

Jesus began to reveal the mystery of the Triune nature of God to the Apostles in His Last Super discourse.  Then, the revelation became clear after His Resurrection and before His Ascension, when He instructed His disciples to baptize believers using the Trinitarian formula: "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit": Jesus came up and spoke to them.  He said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you" (Mt 28:18-19)Jesus' statement in this passage refers to the oneness of God as well as the unique relationship of the "threeness" of the Most Holy Trinity.  The command is to baptize in "the name," singular, of the three Persons of the unity that is the Most Holy Trinity. 

This is the same profession of belief in the Trinity that Christians confess whenever making the Sign of the Cross and using the theological Trinitarian formula: "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!"  The sign of the cross made across our bodies is everything a Christian believes in one profound gesture.  It especially takes on that statement of belief when (according to the ancient custom) holding up the first two fingers of the right hand together to symbolize the humanity and divinity of the Christ and holding the last three fingers against the palm to symbolize the unique three-on-one relationship for the Most Holy Trinity.  Then the motion from forehead to chest and the hand moving from one shoulder to the other symbolizes our belief that God the Son came from Heaven to earth and from suffering to resurrection to accomplish mankind's salvation.

The dogma (truth) of the Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and the dogma that, above all others, makes the Christian faith unique among world religions (CCC 232, 234, 237, and 261).  In defense of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the Universal Church proclaimed at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215: "We firmly believe and confess without reservation that there is only one true God, eternal, infinite, and unchangeable, incomprehensible, almighty, and ineffable, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, three persons indeed, but one essence, substance or nature entirely simple."  In our attempt to grasp the depth of this sublime mystery, we, like St. Paul, should cry out: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! (Rom 11:33).

The First Reading Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9 ~ The Attributes of God
4b Early in the morning Moses went up Mount Sinai as the LORD had commanded him, taking along the two stone tablets.  5 Having come down in a cloud, the LORD stood with him there and proclaimed his name, "LORD [Yahweh]." 6 Thus the LORD passed before him and cried out, "The LORD, the LORD [Yahweh, Yahweh], God [El = god singular], merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity  of tenderness [rachum] and compassion [hanan], slow to anger [erech appayim], rich in faithful love [rav hesed =faithful covenant love] and constancy [truth = emet]."... 8 Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship.  9 Then he said, "If I find favor with you, O LORD, do come along in our company.  This is indeed a stiff-necked people, yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own." [...] = Interlineal Bible: Hebrew-English, page 235; JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 216; Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon, page 42).

This passage recounts Moses' third ascent to the height of Mount Sinai and occurred after the rebellion of the Golden Calf when Moses broke the first stone tablets of the Ten Commandments in anger (Ex chapter 32).  There are differences in this ascent to rendezvous with Yahweh as opposed to the first partial ascent in Exodus 19:23-24 and second ascent of Mount Sinai that lasted 40 days in Exodus 24:12-18:

  1. God provided the stone tablets on the second ascent (Ex 24:12), but this time Moses must cut the stone tablets himself and bring them to the summit.
  2. No one is allowed to accompany Moses as Aaron did in Exodus 19:24 and as Joshua did in 24:13.
  3. No animals are to be permitted to graze at the base of the mountain as they had apparently been permitted to graze in Moses' first 40-day absence.
  4. There is no display of fire or thunder at the summit.

Yahweh descended to the summit in the Glory Cloud (verse 5a), and, standing before Moses, Yahweh pronounced his Divine Name (verse 5b); it is a private revelation of His Divine Essence for Moses.

In Exodus 34:6, 8-9, God Reveals His Divine Attributes.  Verse 6 (and verse 7 that is not in our reading) constitutes God's response to Moses' petition to know God's ways (Ex 33:13) and to behold God's glory (Ex 33:18).  There is no awesome visual display because this is not a revelation for a multitude but is instead a divine disclosure for a single individual.  God reveals Himself to Moses in a quiet oral proclamation of His attributes: His divine qualities of mercy and justice that He extends in His relationship with man.  God begins by calling out His Divine Name in a three-fold expression of His divinity; it is a foreshadowing of the revelation of the triune nature of the One God:

Exodus 34:6
1. Yahweh
2. Yahweh
3. El (god singular)

In the New Testament, God reveals the mystery of the Triune nature of the One God through God the Son.  We know God the Father's Divine Name from the Old Testament, and the New Testament reveals the Divine Name of God the Son.  There are two Divine names (Yahweh and Yahshua/Jesus) and the One who is unnamed, the Paraclete, meaning "Advocate," revealed to us by Jesus in His last discourse at the Last Supper: He who is God the Holy Spirit. 

In this passage, what Yahweh reveals to Moses is the essence of His divine character, and for a human to "know" Him is to be welcomed into a higher level of intimacy in one's conception of God.  The enumerated attributes, which we would number as ten in the completed passage (verses 6-7), are both merciful (34:6-7a) and punitive (34:7b).  However, in his response to the revelation, Moses ignores the punitive statement and only focuses on God's mercy and forgiveness.

Jewish tradition identifies verses 6-7a and 9b as the "Thirteen Attributes of Mercy," Shelosh 'Esreh Middot (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 216).   With the exception of the Sabbath liturgy, the list of thirteen divine attributes are recited aloud in the synagogue liturgy on days of fasting and on feast days.  They are also recited on other holy days when the Ark of the Torah (Aron Kodesh) is opened and the Torah scroll is made ready for the appropriate Scripture reading (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 216).  In Synagogue worship, the Jews also recite in the Shelihot.  They are the penitential prayers recited on those occasions and during the week before the High Holy Day period as well as during that period that falls between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

We must not regard the attributes of God as the human qualities inherent in God.  They are instead His "ways" (Ex 33:13) of governing the destiny of mankind.  Moses' response to this private revelation is to bow down in worship and to make three petitions.  He is encouraged to petition God:

  1. To accompany the people on their journey to the Promise Land, rescinding Israel's punishment pronounced in 33:3 (verse 9a).
  2. To forgive Israel's sin (verse 9b).
  3. To renew the covenant and adopt the Israelites as Yahweh's covenant people (verse 9c).

When we acknowledge the One True God as we bow down in worship, we too must have, like Moses, the confidence in the Most Holy Trinity's mercy to offer up our petitions for the New Covenant people Jesus' Kingdom of the Church.  We should pray that:

  1. God the Holy Spirit will accompany us through the wilderness of this life on our journey to the Promised Land of Heaven.
  2. Through the atoning Blood of God the Son, God will forgive our collective and individual sins as a covenant people in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confessed venial and mortal sin) and the Penitential Rite of the Mass (venial sins confessed and forgiven through the Eucharist).
  3. In each new generation, our children will be adopted, through the Sacrament of Baptism, into the family of God the Father becoming co-heirs with Christ.

Responsorial Psalm is Daniel 3:52-55 ~ Glorifying God

The response is: "Glory and praise forever!"

52 Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever; and blessed is your holy and glorious name, praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages.
Response:
53 Blessed are you in the Temple of your holy glory, praiseworthy and glorious above all forever.
Response:
54 Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.
Response:
55 Blessed are you who look into the depths from your throne upon the cherubim, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.
Response:

When the Babylonians conquered Judah in 605 BC, they took Jewish youth of noble birth and sent them to Babylon.  It was the plan to educate them for service to the Babylonian king.  Among those taken from the Kingdom of Judah were four young men: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Dan 1:1-6).  Each of them received Babylonian names: Daniel was called Belteshazzar, Hananiah was called Shadrach, Mishael was called Meshach, and Azariah was called Abednego (Dan 1:7).  Daniel became the advisor to King Nebuchadnezzar, and the others became administrators of the province of Babylon.  Despite their captivity and exposure to pagan traditions and beliefs, all the young men remained loyal to the One True God.

King Nebuchadnezzar had a golden statue made which he set up in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.  He ordered all members of his government to come to the dedication of the statue and to bow down in worship before it.  Whoever refused to bow down in worship was threatened with being thrown into a white-hot furnace.  Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were present at the dedication and refused to bow down to the idol.  Their punishment was to be thrown into the furnace, but miraculously they were not consumed by the fire.  Instead, they walked about in the flames, praising God and blessing His holy name (Dan 3:1-24).  Our reading is from the song they sang in the flames, as they praised and gave glory to God in the midst of their ordeal in which God preserved them from harm.  It is an example that we should follow when we are thrown into the furnace of personal suffering.  In faith and trust, we must praise God in the midst of our difficulties and have confidence in His power to save us from disaster.

The Second Reading 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 ~ God's Grace, Love, and Peace
11 Finally brothers, rejoice.  Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.  12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.  All the holy ones greet you.  13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

These verses are St. Paul's concluding words from his second letter to the Church at Corinth, Greece.  He calls for the community to strive for unity and peace and to live in the love of God.  In the final verse, St. Paul blesses the congregation in what is one of the clearest Trinitarian passages in the New Testament.  It differs from the Trinitarian formula Jesus gave in Matthew 28:19 and from St. Peter's and St. John's formula in 1 Peter and the Book of Revelation.

Notice that Paul's order is the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit.  In 1 Peter 1:2, St. Peter uses a Trinitarian formula to explain how God calls Christians to belief:

  1. in the foreknowledge of God the Father
  2. through sanctification by the Holy Spirit
  3. for obedience and sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ

Peter's Trinitarian order is the same as in Revelation 1:4-5

  1. He who is and who was and who is to come = God the Father
  2. from the seven spirits before His throne = God the Holy Spirit
  3. Jesus Christ the faithful witness = God the Son

But different than the order Jesus gave in Matthew 28:19, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in

  1. the name of the Father
  2. and of the Son,
  3. and of the Holy Spirit

The Church Fathers identified the Trinitarian order in Revelation and 1 Peter as a liturgical order in naming the Most Holy Trinity as opposed to the theological order in Matthew 28:19. The theological order is also the order of divine revelation to humanity.  First, God the Father called people to a covenant relationship with Him.  Next, in the Incarnation and mission of the Christ, God the Son revealed Himself to humanity.  Finally, after the Son's Ascension, the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity was fully revealed at Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit.  Peter's Trinitarian order may be significant in the context of Peter's universal letter that was read in a liturgical assembly.  And, it is significant that the visions of St. John in the Book of Revelation take place in the heavenly liturgical Assembly. 

In the Liturgy of the Mass, we follow Peter's and the Book of Revelation's liturgical order in addressing the Father, the Holy Spirit, and God the Son:

  1. We begin our worship by addressing our prayers to God the Father, and we continue with prayers to the Father until the Eucharistic prayer.
  2. In the Eucharistic prayer, the priest calls upon God the Holy Spirit when he prays: "Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ."
  3. It isn't until the rite of the "Sign of Peace" that the priest finally addresses a prayer to God the Son: "Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: 'I leave you peace, my peace I give you.' Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever." From the Sign of Peace onward, we continually directed our prayers to God the Son.

In Paul's order, he is probably expressing his concept that the blessing of "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" is the greatest expression of "the love of God" for the Corinthian Christians.  It is in divine love that the first two Persons of the Trinity sent the Holy Spirit.  Mankind's fellowship with the Holy Trinity is only made possible through the mission of God the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Corinthian Christians and for us. 

The Gospel of John 3:16-18 ~ Believe in the Son
16God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  18 Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

John 3:16 is one of the best-known verses in the Bible.  It is the witness of the Gospels summed up in one sentence.   God the Father did not send God the Son into the world to judge the world.  Jesus' Hebrew name, Yahshua means "Yahweh is salvation" (Yehoshua in Aramaic).  He was sent into the world to offer mankind God's gift of eternal salvation (verse 17).  Salvation was the focus of His mission, but judgment will come, and that judgment depends on whether or not one believes Jesus is the Son of God and receives Him as Lord and Savior (verse 18).

18 Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
To believe in His "name" is to believe everything that Jesus revealed to us about His true nature, human and divine.  It is to believe He is the Son of God.  It is to believe that He died for our sins, and it is to believe that He was raised from the dead to raise those who believe in Him to eternal life.  In rejecting Christ, one rejects salvation and eternal life.  Their rejection of the Christ is what Peter preached in Acts 4:11-12 to the members of the Jewish Law Court when he said: This is the stone which you, the builders, rejected but which has become the cornerstone.  Only in him is there salvation; for of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved" (emphasis added).

But what about the poor soul who never heard the Gospel and therefore never had the choice of accepting or rejecting Christ?  According to St. Paul, those men and women who never heard the Gospel of salvation will be judged by their consciences and the innate, natural law that God has placed in the heart of every human being (Rom 2:12-16).  The difficulty is that sin can erode one's conscience to the point where one's conscience will no longer be aware of the degree of wickedness.  That is why the spread of the Gospel across the earth is so important to bring salvation to all humanity (also see Luke 12:47-48 and CCC # 846-48).

Divine grace saves us through the sacrifice of God the Son.  Grace in its most intimate definition regarding Christ is nothing less than Divine Sonship.  CCC# 1997: "Grace is a participation in the life of God.  It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body.  As an 'adopted son' he can henceforth call God 'Father,' in union with the only Son.  He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church."

This gift of the grace that God gives us is His life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our souls to heal it of sin and to sanctify us.  This infusion of divine life is the sanctifying/deifying grace we receive in Baptism.  It is a gift of His life that God makes to us, and in turn, we become a new creation, "born from above" (Jn 3:3, 5).  In 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 St. Paul writes, So for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old order is gone and a new being is there to see.  It is all God's work; he reconciled us to himself through Christ and he gave us the ministry of reconciliation.  I mean, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not holding anyone's faults against them, but entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (also see CCC # 1999).

All human beings are created by God and fashioned after God's image.  We are made in His image, but we are still creatures—created beings.  Christ is the eternal Son who is begotten of the Father.  He is the image of the Father while human beings are only created in the image of the Father.  In the New Creation, Christ gives us, through His life, re-birth into permanent sonship.  In 1 John 3:1, St. John writes: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.  Yet so we are!  Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are no longer simply children in the family of Adam as creatures in God's creation.  Through the Sacrament of Baptism we belong to God by virtue of the blood of Christ Jesus which unites to the Father in our re-birth "from above" (Jn 3:3) as His childrenThis is the most distinctive feature of Christianity and the most distinctive feature of Catholicism.  It is what Pope Pius XI expressed when he said: "Ours is a religion of Divine Sonship.  We are made partakers of the divine nature.  St. Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:3-4, By his divine power, he has lavished on us all the things we need for life and for true devotion, through the knowledge of him who has called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these, the greatest and priceless promises have been lavished on us, that through them you should share the divine nature and escape the corruption rife in the world through disordered passion.  Also see CCC 1996.

Catechism References:
Exodus 34:5-6 (CCC 210); 34:6 (CCC 214, 231, 2577); 34:7 (CCC 211); (CCC 210); 34:6 (CCC 214, 231, 2577); 34:7 (CCC 211); 34:9 (CCC 210)
2 Corinthians 13:13 (CCC 249, 253-55, 734, 1109, 2627)
John 3:16 (CCC 219, 444, 454, 458, 706); 3:17 (CCC 679); 3:18 (CCC 444, 454, 679)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014; revised 2017