Trinitarian feast has long history

By | May 28, 2009

There are two solemnities and five feasts of the Lord which occur in Ordinary Time. This week we celebrate the Most Holy Trinity, the central mystery of our Christian faith and life.

The origin of a specific feast in honor of the Trinity is unclear but we have evidence of a celebration in some places as early as the seventh century. In those early years, there wasn’t a centralized calendar or uniform liturgical directives, so commemorations of various mysteries and events differed among the churches in Rome, Gaul (France), Spain, Jerusalem, Egypt and Antioch.

Pope Alexander I (106-115) wrote that it was not the custom in Rome to celebrate a feast in honor of the Trinity since on every day the psalms honored the Trinity with the doxology, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.”

By the seventh century, the Gelasian Sacramentary included a preface for a Trinitarian feast which included the expressions three persons and one nature. The Gelasian, the second oldest surviving Sacramentary, contains a mixture of Mass texts used in France and Rome dating from the years 628-751.

We also know that a Trinitarian feast was celebrated in some monasteries and parishes in the west by the year 1030 but on different dates — after Pentecost or preceding the first Sunday of Advent.

In 1334, Pope John XXII made the celebration of the feast obligatory for the west, and set the date as the Sunday after Pentecost.

As we celebrate this Sunday, we want to pay special attention to the opening prayer, the text of the Creed, and the lyrics of the hymns we sing.

Many parishes will begin with a sprinkling rite, recalling our baptism in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is followed by the opening prayer, which is usually addressed to God or to the Father. But this week we hear, “Let us pray to the one God, Father, Son and Spirit . . .”. The prayer closes in the name of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God, true and living, for ever and ever.”

In the Creed, we recite the basic elements of our Trinitarian theology: one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, creator of all that is, true God, begotten, not made, one in being.

The Preface (based on the Gelasian text) is addressed to God, “three Persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendor, yet one Lord, one God.” If the third Eucharistic Prayer is used, we will hear that all life, all holiness comes from the Father, through the Son, by the working of the Holy Spirit.

And as you sing some of the many Trinitarian hymns, listen especially to the final verse of each, which is usually a doxology or hymn of praise to the three persons.


Sr. Rehrauer is president of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross, Bay Settlement, and former associate director of the Liturgy Secretariat for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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