Homily for Trinity Sunday

2023 TRINITY SUNDAY – Usus recentior

3/4 June

On most days, the Collect (or Opening Prayer) of the Mass concludes with “the longer formula”: “Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever”. This Trinitarian conclusion reminds us about nature of Christian prayer, which is always a work of the whole Trinity, God in Three Persons.

What we want to do today is to think for a moment about prayer that we offer, to each Person of the Trinity, and then reflect for a moment on the character of our prayer, irrespective of the Divine Person to Whom it is offered.

Prayer to the Father

Most of the prayers in the Sacred Liturgy (Holy Mass and the Divine Office) are addressed to the Father. In some sense, this follows the very pattern of Our Lord’s prayer, while He was on earth. Moreover, it is the very pattern of The Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, which Our Lord gave us as a deliberate model of Christian prayer. We acknowledge the Father with the some deference and love that the Divine Son offers Him: this is not to say that the Father is the greatest of the persons, or the most powerful; all of the Divine Persons are equipotent. Rather, when we address God as Father – something we “dare to say” – we do not do so on account of our own merits. Rather, it is the Son’s intimate relationship with the Father that we imitate when we call on Him in this way.

Unlike the pagan prayers to all-too-human gods, capricious and lacking in truthfulness and majesty, and even unlike the prayers of the Jews, who were somewhat removed from the intimate mode of prayer that is modelled on the Son, our prayers stake a claim to God’s fatherliness. How is this possible? The Son, Who invites us to be partakers in the Divine Nature, by being members of His Mystical Body, the Church, recognises us as co-heirs and adopted children through baptism. The very prayers that Jesus prayed can now rest on our lips since we are united with Him in His Divine Sonship.

Where this imitative prayer finds its best expression today, of course, is in the prayers of the Mass. We would be wrong to think of them only as “Father’s prayers” or “the people’s prayers”; there are ways in which it would be right to say this. Our worship is ordered and hierarchical. But in terms of ownership, if we can use this word, whose prayers are they really? And to whom are they addressed? Holy Mass, the very Sacrifice of Our Lord on the Cross, offered now bloodlessly in renewal of that First and Great Offering, is the prayer of the Son – priest and victim – to His Heavenly Father. Every movement of the Saving Sacrifice, the spoken prayers, those whispered, and even the very gestures of the priest which have their origin in the tradition, are those of Jesus Christ, offered to the Father. When the priest adds his voice to the prayers of the Mass, diligently saying only what is prescribed in the Missal, he echoes the voice of the Lord, Who is offering the Sacrifice for the salvation of the world. And when the faithful make the responses that are proper to them – in words, or gestures, and sometimes both – they make them, too, in union with Jesus, who has united Himself to us in baptism. Both priest and people, each in a distinct and unique way, participate in the greatest prayer of Jesus when they come to Holy Mass, entering into It with devotion. Here, we are brought in to hear the loving dialogue of the Son to His Father, being privileged to eavesdrop, as it were, into the very Conversation that brings us peace. And by this exchange, of the Son’s Own life to His Father, we are healed.

When we pray to the Father, especially at Mass and in the Lord’s Prayer, we imitate Jesus, in Whom we are united and able to call God “our Father”, too.


Prayer to the Son

Even during His earthly life, Our Lord it was typical to address prayers to the Son. “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief”; “Save us, Lord, for we are perishing”; “Lord, that I may see”; “Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. Prayer to the Son is thoroughly Scriptural. 

And, of course, it is liturgical. With the exception of very few Collects, which are addressed to the Son – like the Third Sunday of Advent, for example – the only other prayers directly addressed to the Son in the Mass are those set aside for priest’s preparation for Holy Communion (“Lord, Jesus Christ, Who said to Your Apostles” and the other two prayers, which are whispered by him before the “Behold the Lamb of God” in the modern liturgy). These prayers, which are all silently recited by the priest during the Agnus Dei in the older liturgy, are of ancient origin. They represent, for us, some of the most profound conversations that a priest is able to have with the Lord in Whose priesthood he has unique sharing. It is appropriate that they are closely related to the Mysteries of the Body and Blood of the Same Lord that the priest, very soon after, will consume with steady reverence and recollection. I would invite you to read them in your Missal, and unite yourself with the priest at Mass, and with the same Lord we hope to receive, praying that every act of Holy Communion will bring to us “protection in mind and body” as we hope to be “[freed] by this, Your most holy  Body and Blood from all my sins and from every evil” so that we can be “always faithful to [His] commandments and never … be parted from [Him]”.

But Catholic devotion has always encouraged a lively devotion to the Son, most especially in the Blessed Sacrament, where many prayers are directly addressed to the Lord in the lonely tabernacle or the splendour of the monstrance. Our prayers to Jesus, really present in the Holy Eucharist, are amongst the most powerful and tender of our prayers. In many ways, they inspire those trustful prayers to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, which the Church celebrates for the whole month of June. We can be proud of our devotion to the loving heart of the Saviour, in which God’s love has triumphed over sin, selfishness and death.

But other devotions to the Son abound, too – to other parts of Our Lord’s Glorious Body, like His Holy Face and His Wounded Shoulder. Some prayers help to unite us to His suffering “because by Thy holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world”. To recall, with tenderness, the very words of Jesus – contained in the Gospels – must be a type of prayer too, hearing the echoes of the Word’s words persevered for us by the Church.

We can never forget, too, the sweetness of the Holy Name of Jesus, by which every person is saved. In that Name alone, given to the Son at His Incarnation, by the inspiration of the angel, resides the whole salvation of the world. “The name of Jesus,” says Our Holy Father Saint Philip, “pronounced with reverence and affection, has a kind of power to soften the heart”. For this reason, especially at Holy Mass, when the Holy Name is pronounced, the priest will bow his head – or take off his biretta! Even pronouncing the Holy Name stirs within a heart open to God’s love great miracles, and many graces.

But Catholics love speaking with Jesus in short ejaculations too. “Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee!” “Save us, Lord, for we are perishing.” Or, with Saint Teresa of Avila, simply: “Jesus, love. Jesus, love.” And with these and other prayers, how close is the soul to God who can speak with Jesus, with all love and reverence, as one speaks with a friend: “Dear Jesus, Who spoke with the children with such sweetness, give me some of your patience with the children I teach today.” Or even, in our daily mental prayer, to imagine Our Lord sitting with us in the morning and narrating to Him our hopes and desires and to ask Him to be faithful to His promise to be with us always “even to the close of the age”.

To speak tenderly with the Son, Who has experienced all that we have – even temptations, but never sin – is the privilege of the Christian.


Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Having recently celebrated the Solemnity of Pentecost, we are conscious of our duty to call on the invisible Guest of our soul to inhabit us, just as he came into the heart of Saint Philip. We might ask the Holy Spirit to be with us, to make us more like Christ. We can ask Him for His Gifts which, in a heart that loves God, will bear fruit that will last. We may ask Him to direct our actions, that we might be truly wise and enjoy His consolations.

It is with Cardinal Mercier, that great primate, professor and priest, that we might learn what he called the “secret of sanctity and happiness”, which involved closing our eyes and speaking in the “sanctuary of the baptised soul” to the Holy Spirit, telling Him that we love Him, Who is able to strengthen, guide, strengthen and console us. “Tell me what I ought to do, and command me to do it. I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me. Only show me that it is your will.” What will it produce, to say these things to the Paraclete? “Life will flow happily, serenely and full of consolation, even in the midst of trials,” he tells us. We will be given many graces that will allow us to arrive “at the Gate of paradise, laden with merit”. The great prayer to the Spirit, the Cardinal tells us, is to simply submit to the Holy Spirit, Whom Christ promised He would send.


The Single Economy

It is right to conclude by reminding us that jealousy and contention is not possible amongst the Persons of the Holy Trinity. None is hurt or offended by the love we show to Each, in accordance with the truth of our Faith. The Father cannot sulk when we honour the Son; the Spirit is not grieved when we call on the Father. Rather, each is honoured by the honour given to One. Or, to say it differently: the honour accorded to One is honour accorded to each and all.

Our Lady – the school of prayer to the Trinity

Where can we best learn to pray to the Whole Trinity, invoking each Divine Person with authentic devotion? It must be in the person of Mary, the Blessed Virgin, that we find the most perfect prayer to God. Was it not within the context of devotion to the Father, whose handmaid Our Lady was pleased to be, that she was able to conceive the Son – first in her heart, and then in her womb? And how did this come to be, for she was truly a virgin: she would be espoused by the Holy Spirit, the Life Giver, Who would make present in her the One would free the world from sin and death.

On this Trinity Sunday, when we are called to meditate on this Mystery of God’s Unique identity, let us commit ourselves to daily prayer to the One God, revealed to us in Three Persons, equal in eternity, in majesty, in splendour and glory. And, when our skills fail us, or our devotion fails, let us ask the Blessed Virgin to pray for us – now and at the hour of our death. Amen.


The Prayers in this homily can be found in the following collection, which we invite you to download: