The Sunday after Pentecost Sunday always affords us the opportunity to reflect in a meaningful way on the Trinity. This is a serious and complicated topic, one that, at least anecdotally, many of us talk about as a “mystery” while remembering some religious sister from our youth a generation or so ago.
While thinking of the Trinity as a mystery seems quaint, it does so primarily we think of mysteries in terms of puzzles to be solved or perhaps some eerie coincidences that fall together. A mystery is that which takes us beyond our understanding and into the realm of things unknown and even those that are unknowable. There are many aspects of life, the nature of the universe, and the essential qualities of what it means to be human in this world and the next that remain mysteries. With that in mind, then, let us reflect on this first among the mysteries, the very nature of God.
Understanding and defining the Trinity has been an arduous and almost impossible task for the Church since the beginning. This mystery is one left to us to contemplate and to apprehend without complete understanding. In effect, contemplation of the Trinity is an important reminder to us of two things; first, on the majestic nature of God as God and secondly of our own humility. It is a bit like that old joke about the blind men contemplating the elephant. The one who held the trunk had a much different impression than did the one who held the tail, or the one who stood up against the leg, but yet they all understood some aspect of the elephant while not understanding it perfectly. Due to the Incarnation and the nature of divine revelation we are not (we presume) as confounded as to the nature of the Trinity as are the men in the joke about the elephant, nonetheless the Trinity remains an eternal mystery to us.
The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) affirmed the following: “Hence, though ‘the Father is one person, the Son another person, there is not another reality, but what the Father is, this very same reality is also the Son, this the Holy Spirit, so that in orthodox Catholic faith we believe them to be of one substance. For the Father gives his substance to the Son, generating him from eternity, as he himself testifies ‘That which my Father has given me is greater than all.’ One cannot say that he gave him a part of his substance and retained a part for himself, since the substance of the Father is indivisible, being entirely simple. Nor can one say that in generating, the Father transferred his substance to the Son, as though he gave it to the Son in such a way as not to retain it for himself, for so he would have ceased to be substance. It is therefore clear that the Son, being born, received the substance of the Father without any diminution, and thus the Father and Son have the same substance. Thus the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit who proceeds from both are the same reality.”
This reality enables us to pray with loud voice “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and became man and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.“
In this way we acknowledge and celebrate the absolute oneness of God as expressed in the Trinity. This is a reality we will contemplate for all eternity.
May 29 – The Eucharist is Christ present among us
The mysterious priest Melchizedek appeared to Abraham and offered a sacrifice of bread and wine as a blessing and a thanksgiving to God for the victory which Abraham won in defending his land. While there are many people who appear only once in the Bible Melchizedek captured the imaginations of both Jews and Christians alike. He is referred to several times in the Bible representing the ideal Jewish priesthood. His singular appearance, without heritage, lineage or background, is later developed in the Christian tradition as representing a type of Christ. Melchizedek foreshadows the sacrifice of Jesus and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
In the Rite of Ordination of Priests, the Bishop declares that, “you are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” which we hear in the Responsorial Psalm this weekend. This expresses the continuity of the priesthood of Levi, the line of priests who served the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Christian priesthood.
The use of bread and wine in the offering of Melchizedek stands as the sign of the perfect offering of Jesus. Through that sacrifice all subsequent sacrifice is rendered unnecessary. Our priests do not offer sacrifices on our behalf. Rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis) Christ is made present to the community through the singular sacrifice of Jesus.
We cannot separate the priesthood from the Eucharist. We believe that both sacraments are instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper. In intending the Eucharist, Jesus establishes a priesthood to care for that Eucharist and the Church which celebrates that Eucharist.
Throughout the Mass we experience the presence of Christ in many different and often very subtle ways. In reverencing the altar genuflecting we recognize that Christ is present as the altar itself. Jesus is the Word of God, present in the proclamation of the Scriptures. Other signs and symbols point us toward Christ – the candles and crucifix, for example. The ministerial priesthood – bishop, priest and deacon – signifies that God is present within the assembly. Even the assembly itself, called both “People of God” and the “Body of Christ” point to Christ among us.
The Liturgy is not a repetition of past events nor is it simply a symbolic ritual. The Liturgy, which is a reflection of the Heavenly Liturgy, is where we are in our deepest communion with God. Through the reception of the Eucharist we express that relationship and profess our community with Christ and the Church.
The importance of the “Breaking of the Bread” in the earliest Christian communities it attested in the Second Reading from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. Already by the mid 50's when Paul wrote this letter, Liturgy stood at the core of the worshiping community. Paul instructed the Corinthians by reminding them of the presence of Christ within their assemblies and specifically in the sharing of the Body of Christ.
It is essential to our Tradition that we remain keenly aware of the presence of Christ throughout the Liturgy. Unlike social gatherings or the rituals of family or of society, through the Liturgy we share most deeply the love of Christ which has been poured out for us through the Paschal Sacrifice. It is not only important for us to enter into the celebration each week, but to do so prayerfully and in a way which is a form of evangelization and catechesis for those who do not yet fully apprehend or in faith affirm the very core of the Catholic Faith – that through the Eucharist we share in the very Body and Blood of Christ.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.[[In-content Ad]]