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What is Holy Trinity Sunday?

The Catholic Church celebrates this unfathomable mystery each year on the Sunday following Pentecost. In 2022, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is on June 12. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 234) teaches,

The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in Himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith.” The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men “and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin.”


What does it mean for the Trinity to be a Mystery?

The objects of the Christian Faith, such as the Trinity, are above created natures. As supernatural realities, they cannot be discovered by reason or the senses, but must be revealed by God, who alone fully knows and understands them. This makes the Trinity a mystery. Even so, we can reason about the mysteries of the Faith by analogy to the things that we do know, showing that they are not incompatible with reason, just beyond its natural comprehension. This possibility is the basis of the various dogmas regarding the mysteries of the Faith which the Church has promulgated over the centuries, as well as of the reasoned conclusions of theologians—all founded upon the act of Faith in the truth of the mystery.

Where did the term Trinity originate?

In Scripture it is revealed that God is One and God is Three, in that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. This faith was held by the Church from her beginning. With time a theological language was developed, largely to exclude various errors about the nature of God (e.g. three gods, or three modes or aspects of God). After the end of Roman persecution in 313 A.D., the theological work of defeating errors regarding God and Christ would occupy the Church through her great Councils of the 4th and 5th centuries. Trinity, specifically, seems to have been in use by the end of the second century. It is found as the Greek trias around 180 A.D.—in Theophilus of Antioch, who explains, “the Trias of God [the Father], His Word and His Wisdom (“Ad. Autol.”, II, 15). Tertullian will adopt the Latin Trinitas, and the term would become common in the third century.

“O Trinity, eternal Trinity! Fire, abyss of love...
Was it necessary that you should give
Even the Holy Trinity as food for souls?...
You gave us not only your Word
Through the Redemption and in the Eucharist,
But you also gave yourself
In the fullness of love for your creature.”
- St. Catherine of Siena (c. 1370)

What does it mean for God to be a “Trinity”?

The Catechism (paragraphs 253-255) further explains, stating, The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity.” The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: “The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e. by nature one God.” In the words of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, “Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature.” The divine persons are really distinct from one another. “God is one but not solitary.” ”Father”, “Son”, “Holy Spirit” are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: “He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son.” They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.” The divine Unity is Triune. The divine persons are relative to one another.Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another: “In the relational names of the persons the Father is related to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to both. While they are called three persons in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance.” Indeed “everything (in them) is one where there is no opposition of relationship.” “Because of that unity the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son.”

“Three Persons who are one God because the Father is love, the Son is love, the Spirit is love. God is love and only love, most pure, infinite and eternal love. The Trinity does not live in a splendid solitude, but is rather inexhaustible font of life that unceasingly gives itself and communicates itself. We can in some way intuit this, whether we observe the macro-universe: our earth, the planets, the stars, the galaxies; or the micro-universe: cells, atoms, elementary particles. The ‘name’ of the Most Holy Trinity is in a certain way impressed upon everything that exists, because everything that exists, down to the least particle, is a being in relation, and thus God-relation shines forth, ultimately creative Love shines forth. All comes from love, tends toward love, and is moved by love, naturally, according to different grades of consciousness and freedom.” - Pope Benedict XVI

Who are the three Divine Persons?

God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are the Three Divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity.

Who is the First Person of the Trinity?

God the Father is the First Person of the Blessed Trinity. This means He is the Source or Principle of what is call the “processions” of the other two Persons. In the Old Testament references to “God,” whether Yahweh, or Adonai, or by other Names are references to the Divine Nature, but in some sense are also to the “principle” of that Nature, the Father, from Whom the Godhead proceeds eternally. Thus, the Christian can take references to God in Scripture to be to the Unity of the Divine Nature or to the Father, depending on context.

Who is the Second Person of the Trinity?

The Son is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He processes from the Father as His Divine Word from all eternity. The term “generation” is also used for this procession. The human analogy of Sonship, therefore, reflects this, and the fact that the Second Person is the Word of God, or the image as St. Paul explains (Col. 1:15).

Who is the Third Person of the Trinity?

The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. He processes from the Father and the Son as their Spirit, the Spirit of Love.

“A Christian receives divine wisdom in three ways: by the commandments, teachings, and faith. The commandments free the mind from passions. Teachings lead it to true knowledge of nature. Faith leads to the contemplation of the Holy Trinity.” - St. Maximus the Confessor (c.650)

Given the terms “Father and Son” is God male?

As with every teaching about God, our human understanding falls short. The Catechism explains, CCC. 239. We ought … to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father. God is Spirit, and spirit is neither male or female. The human categories of sex or gender are distinctions arising from our human nature’s material need to perpetuate itself through reproduction. Neither God’s divine nature, nor the angels’ spiritual nature, have this need. The use of Father, Son, or masculine pronouns for God are, therefore, based on Revelation—that is how God has revealed Himself. Thus, although God is spirit and neither male nor female, the masculine usages (Father, Son, He, His etc.) reveals something about the Divine Nature, and the Communion of Divine Persons, by analogy to our own human nature. In creatures male and female refers to the mode of generating that nature. Males do so outside themselves; females within, nurturing life once begun. Since some religions and ideologies confuse God with his creation, this usage of masculine terms teaches us that God is other than His creation. He neither creates from His own being, nor nurtures creation within it. The Names Father and Son follow from this, as well. This does not mean that psychological qualities generally associated with femininity and maternity are not used in Sacred Scripture. However, these generally express God’s temporal relationship with His people, whereas the use in Revelation of masculine names, and associated terms, teach about the eternal Divine Nature and the eternal relations among the Divine Persons.

Is Jesus God or His Son?

Jesus is the “Word made flesh” (John 1:14). This means that from all eternity He is the Word of God, that is, He is God (John 1:1-3). Yet, He is not the Father. Thus, the Word, the Son of God, or the 2nd Person of the Trinity, are different ways of saying this. Phil. 2:6-7 . . . who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. In assuming human nature through the Blessed Virgin Mary He was given the name Jesus, God saves. However, He did not cease to be the Son of God, nor after the Incarnation will He ever cease to be man, and known as Jesus.

Does Jesus ever claim to be God?

Yes, Jesus clearly indicates that He is God. In the Old Testament, God said to Moses that His Name is “I AM WHO I AM,” or simply, “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). In multiple places in the Gospel, Jesus uses this language or implies it, infuriating those who could not conceive of the possibility of God having a Son. “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58) “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11) “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live… (John 11:25) “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)

Is the Trinity really biblical?

While the word “Trinity” is not itself given in Sacred Scripture, the Church determined that the term taught the truth about the God whom Scripture reveals—One God and Three Divine Persons. Many other terms (e.g. Incarnation, Person, Sacrament) have been used over the centuries to teach revealed truths, having acquired stable meanings from consistent use or Church decision. In this way, the Church’s doctrines are able to teach true things about a mystery of God, without intending to exhaust all that might be said about that mystery. Fifty references to the Trinity in Scripture:

“In all our actions, when we come in or go out, when we dress, when we wash, at our meals, before retiring to sleep, we make on our foreheads the sign of the cross.” - Tertullian (c.200 A.D.)