What Does the Prayer Really Say? Trinity Sunday
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2005
JM writes via e-mail: “When a new The Wanderer arrives in the post I always turn first to your column. It is with trepidation that I quibble with one so versed in the nuances of language. However it seems to me that one of the problems confronting the Church today is the confusion of Church canon with the institutions of democracy. Should you not refer to the ‘investiture’ of our new Pope rather than to his ‘inauguration’?” Okay, JM, that sounds fine. Let’s hope we don’t have to concern ourselves with this choice again for a long time. Do consult, however, your own trusty well-thumbed Lewis & Short Dictionary and reassure yourself that the word “inauguration” is from inauguro stemming from the ancient Roman religious practice of augury, “to take omens from the flight of birds, to practice augury, to divine”. Priests would watch the patterns made by birds flocking in the skies thereby make predictions about the future. With more relevance to our topic inauguro means also, “to give a certain sanctity to a place or (official) person by ceremony of consulting the flight of birds, to consecrate, inaugurate, install.” So, “inauguration” will work, but if it creates confusion, we can surely find a clearer word.
Here is an anecdote you will not find anywhere else. During the inaug… investiture Mass of Benedict XVI, I was with the press corps on top of one the colonnades flanking the area where the altar was. Right after the Holy Father was invested with his pallium and Fishman’s Ring, an odd thing happened. A singular crow flew out from behind the top of the Basilica’s façade, circled the area over the altar, loudly cawed a few times and then flew away. This was amazing. There are in Rome great flights of swallows and ubiquities of sparrows this time of year and, alas, vast lofts of pigeons and flocks of seagulls, but murders of crows are scarce. They simply don’t come around venues with large numbers of people and they tend not to be alone. In art and statuary the glorious St. Benedict (+c. 547) is normally depicted with a crow. A biographical dialog once attributed to the great St. Pope Gregory I (+604) recounted that Benedict was accustomed to feed a crow with bread at his table. One day the crow saved Benedict from being killed through a loaf of bread that had been poisoned. The crow flapped and hopped about cawing a warning against the envenomed loaf. This is why in art Benedict has his crow. I am not sure what to divine from the appearance of the crow at Pope Benedict’s Mass but I was pleased to see and hear him around the place, alone and not with his murder.
The collective nouns for birds makes me wonder about the collectives for all the clergy and prelates gathered for that investiture Mass. We had, of course, a college of cardinals. Could we say, perhaps, a committee of bishops, an ostentation of monsignors, a quarrel of priests, a huddle of deacons and a chattering of seminarians? WDTPRS wants to know.
Apropos the Trinity, on the coat of arms of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, now gloriously reigning (I love saying that), in the principle place there is a seashell, a scallop. The Holy Father said that the scallop on his crest came from a story recounted about St. Augustine of Hippo (+430). Papa Ratzinger is deeply rooted in the Fathers of the Church, particularly St. Augustine. Augustine’s treatise on the Trinity is one of the greatest works of systematic theology ever penned. In his treatise he delved into this awesome mystery fully aware of our incapacity to grasp its reality. An oft depicted medieval legend narrates how Augustine, at the seashore one day, saw a child vainly attempting to empty the sea into a hole in the sand with a shell. The bishop remarked that this was an impossible task. The child, really an angel, riposted that Augustine’s project of trying to grasp the Trinity with human reason was more impossible yet.
Small metal scallop shaped scoops are often used to pour water when conferring baptism as the Trinitarian formula is spoken. The scallop is also the symbol of pilgrims. For centuries they would fix a shell to their cloaks or hats when traveling to Jerusalem, Rome or other holy sites. The Church and all of us her baptized members are pilgrims in this world traveling toward the heavenly Jerusalem. The origin of the Trinitarian baptism scallop is probably a confluence of both traditions, that of the pilgrim and that of Augustine’s anecdote. Now it is on the coat-of-arms of Benedict, gloriously reigning. But now let us move to today’s Latin prayer, substantially rewritten, which has roots in the Collect for this same Sunday in the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal.
COLLECT – (2002MR):
Deus Pater, qui, Verbum veritatis
et Spiritum sanctificationis mittens in mundum,
admirabile mysterium tuum hominibus declarasti,
da nobis, in confessione verae fidei,
aeternae gloriam Trinitatis agnoscere,
et Unitatem adorare in potentia maiestatis.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
you sent your Word to bring us truth
and your Spirit to make us holy.
Through them we come to know the mystery of your life.
Help us to worship you, one God in three Persons,
by proclaiming and living our faith in you.
What does the Latin really say? A key to this Collect is maiestas. In the writings of the Fathers of the Church maiestas is conceptually related to gloria. We have seen what follows more than once in these columns, but since you are no doubt giving out gift subscriptions let us review this for the WDTPRS newcomers. In the Latin Fathers Sts. Hilary of Poitiers (+367), Ambrose (+397) and in early liturgical texts, maiestas/gloria has to do with more than simply fame, celebrity or splendor of appearance. The Latin liturgical gloria is the equivalent of biblical Greek doxa and Hebrew kabod. Latins also translated doxa with the words like maiestas and claritas. It has to do with man’s recognition of God as God and the acknowledgment of the salvation won for us by Christ, crucified and risen. At the same time this “glory” is a power of God that transforms us into what He is. “Glory” in this sense is the salvation which the Risen Christ communicates to us, a sharing of His divine power which transforms us for eternity. This was foreshadowed in Moses’ meetings with God in the tent. When God came to speak to Moses He descended like a cloud (Hebrew shekinah). When Moses came forth from the shekinah his face and shone like the sun and had to be veiled. In our Collect we adore the gloria Trinitatis and the maiestas Unitatis, which has potentia. In the L&S we see that potentia means, “might, force, power”. The majestic glory of the Trinity is more than mere splendor. It is transforming power.
O God the Father, who, sending into the world
the Word of Truth and the Spirit of sanctification,
declared Thy wondrous mystery to men,
grant us, in a confession of true faith,
to recognize the glory of the eternal Trinity,
and to adore Its Unity in the power of majesty.
In this Collect there is a reference to those moments in Scripture when God granted a manifestation, an epiphany of the Trinity and of the glory of God. At Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan the Holy Spirit was seen in the form of a dove descending and the voice of the Father was heard (cf. Luke 3). Before going to His death in Jerusalem Jesus was transfigured before the eyes of Peter, John and James (cf. Matthew 17) and God again revealed the wondrous mystery (admirabile mysterium) that He is Three in One, a Trinity of divine Persons. In our confession of true faith (vera fides) in the Creed we recognize (agnoscere) God to be Three and One. The Triune God is God the Father, God the Word of Truth, God the Spirit of sanctification, One God in three eternal divine Persons. In the articles about prayers used during the Conclave we learned the difference between cognosco and agnosco. The L&S says for agnosco, “as if to know a person or thing well, as having known it before, to recognize: agnoscere always denotes a subjective knowledge or recognition; while cognoscere designates an objective perception.” Man can reason toward this on his own, as did the pagan Neoplatonic theologians, but only by the gift of faith, of grace, and of divine revelation enable us to profess (confiteor) the Trinitarian mystery fully, in an authentic way.
If you are faced with trying to explain this to someone, you might consider this. In the mystery of the One and Threefold nature of God we believe that, from all eternity, before material creation and time itself, the One God desired a perfect communion of love and therefore expressed Himself in a perfect Word. This was always so in an absolutely all embracing single instant of being in which there can be no distinction of past, present, or future, no sequence of events in the way we observe things bound in matter and time as we are. The Word God uttered beyond and outside of time was and is a perfect self-expression, containing all that God is, perfectly possessing every characteristic of the Speaker: being, omniscience, omnipotence, truth, beauty, and personhood. Thus, from all eternity there were always in perfect unity the divine Persons – the God who spoke and the Word who was spoken, the God who Generates and the God who is Generated, true God with and from true God, God Begetter and God Begotten, distinct Father and distinct Son having the same indivisible divine nature. There was never a time when this was not so. These two Persons eternally regard and contemplate each other. From all eternity they knew and loved each other, each embracing the other in a perfect gift of self-giving. And since a self-gift of these perfect divine Persons, distinct while having but one divine nature, is a perfect mutual self-gift, perfectly given and perfectly received, the very Gift between them also contains all that each of the Persons have: being, omniscience, omnipotence, truth, beauty, and personhood. Thus, from all eternity there are three divine Persons having one indivisible divine nature, God the Father, God the Son and the perfect mutual self-gift of love between them, God the Holy Spirit. This is the foundational saving doctrine we believe in as Christians and which we celebrate on Trinity Sunday. This is the One and Three God in whose image and likeness we are made. At the core of everything else we believe in and hope for, we will find this mysterious doctrine of divine relationship, the Triune God.
The communion of Persons in the Trinity is written into our beings as images of God. Our dealings with others ought to reflect the communion we were created for in God’s loving plan. We must also do our best to give the Trinity glory here in all that we do, think and say so that we may merit a share of Its divine transforming glory for eternity.