Many symbols of three

By Linda Zahorik | For The Compass | May 25, 2016

This Sunday we celebrate the very beautiful threesome of our Catholic faith, the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Perhaps the most common image of the Trinity is one of the Father as an older man with a white beard. The Son is shown with him at the Father’s right hand while the Holy Spirit as a dove hovers above them. Of course there are many variations; some show Jesus displaying the wounds of his Passion and the dove between them. You may find some representations where both Father, especially, and Son wear elaborate robes and crowns.

The Trinity has been represented in many ways throughout history; often church architecture had three arches or pillars joined together. St. Augustine mentions people using their three middle fingers to make the sign of the cross, symbolizing their faith in a triune God. Most likely at least one of the hymns you will sing this weekend will make mention of the Trinity. Some hymns devote an entire verse to each person of the Trinity such as the hymn “Come Now Almighty King,” but more common is a hymn in which the last verse praises the Trinity such as “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” or “Now Thank We All Our God”.

Wouldn’t it be interesting this weekend to listen very closely to all the words of the liturgy and count how many references are made to the Trinity? I will let you concentrate on prayer. Dependent on what eucharistic prayer your presider uses, and not including any of the hymns or Scripture readings, you will hear the Trinity mentioned approximately 12 times.

Look carefully around your church, at carvings, floor tiles and, in particular, the stained glass windows, and you may find Trinitarian symbols that have been eluding you.
One of the first symbols used for the Trinity was the equal-sided triangle. The triangle is also an extremely strong shape used in construction and conveys to us the balance and stability shared by the Father, Son and Spirit.

Look for three circles that intersect one another representing the equality, unity and eternity of the Trinity. A circle has no apparent beginning or end and so it symbolizes the eternity of God.

If you see a symbol that has a Celtic look to it, you are seeing a triquetra. The design began from one of the oldest Christ symbols, the shape of the fish; three fish intersecting one another followed and later lost the distinctly fishy features. This shape is also known as a “trinity knot” because of its use in early Celtic Christianity.

Remember how St. Patrick used a shamrock to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity? From that example emerged the trefoil, i.e. three-leaved, which is a design that looks like a stylized shamrock and signifies one God in three persons.

If you look high up into the stained glass windows you may find a fleur-de-lis. Often this symbol is in the arch at the top of a church window. It was adopted by the French kings as a royal symbol.

Such a variety of expressions of the Trinity only go to prove what we learned early on in our Catechism: “The Trinity is a mystery” and it is difficult for us adequately to express in our human language, difficult divine concepts.

Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.

Related Posts

Scroll to Top