Trinity Sunday, Pentecost: Christians celebrate the Holy Spirit and three persons of God

Holy Trinity stained glass Sunday

An interpretation of the Holy Trinity in stained glass. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, JUNE 12: A culmination of the Nativity, Epiphany, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost, Trinity Sunday is observed by both Eastern and Western Christians today, calling to mind the role that each member of the Holy Trinity—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—plays in Christianity. In the Western Christian church, white banners are draped and vestments shine as a sign of purity, one week following the Pentecost holiday; in the Eastern Orthodox Christian church, Trinity Sunday is observed on the same day as the Sunday of Pentecost.

Did you know? Some Christians may be surprised to learn that the original writers of the New Testament did not use the term “Trinity” as it appears in mainline Christianity today. While the three elements of divinity, God and Christ and Holy Spirit, were a part of the faith from its early years, the famous theologian Tertullian (who lived and wrote in Africa) is widely credited as introducing the first full analysis of the Trinity in the early 3rd century. The doctrine wasn’t formalized among Christian leaders until the fourth century.

For centuries, church leaders argued that the Trinity was honored every Sunday. But, in the 12th century, Thomas Becket declared that the day of his consecration should be an annual festival in honor of the Holy Trinity. The observance spread through Western Christianity, and was placed in the general calendar in the 14th century.

There is, perhaps, nothing more central to the creed of the Christian faith—and yet, so elusive, in comprehension of it—than the Holy Trinity. Through the centuries, countless saints have attempted to teach about the Trinity. Among the most famous was a three-leaf clover that tradition says was used by St. Patrick.

CUSTOMS & THE ATHANASIAN CREED

On this one Sunday each year, many Christians around the world recite the Athanasian Creed (read it here). Some bake cloverleaf rolls to reflect the Trinity, or set the table with a centerpiece of triple-leaf flowers. For a Catholic perspective or to read Pope John Paul II’s writings on the Holy Trinity, go to CatholicCulture.com.

Trinity Sunday: Christians profess faith in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit

“The Trinity is the mystery of God in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The revealed truth of the Holy Trinity is at the very root of the Church’s living faith.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church

Painting of old man on right, young man on left, dove above, sitting on clouds in sky

The Holy Trinity, as depicted by Luca Rossetti da Orta, 1738-9 CE. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, MAY 31: It’s been one week since Pentecost, and for Western Christians, this marks Trinity Sunday. A celebration of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—Trinity Sunday is celebrated across Western liturgical churches. Though the early Church observed no specific day for the Holy Trinity, Thomas Becket (1118-70 CE) helped spread the observance of such a day across Western Christendom when he said that the day of his consecration would be held as a new festival for the Holy Trinity. Still, a day set aside solely for the Holy Trinity continued to vary by Sunday in several regions until Pope John XXII accepted the festival into the official calendar of the Western Church, in 1334 CE.

Note: The Thursday following Trinity Sunday is observed as the Feast of Corpus Christi. In some countries, this feast may be moved to the following Sunday.

According to Christian tradition: Following the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost, Christians regard that the Holy Trinity has been fully revealed. Last week, signs of the Holy Spirit were evident in red banners, roses and doves; this week, vestments are white and a new season begins. The shamrock and viola tricolor pansy symbolize the Trinity, and in some churches, the Athanasian Creed is recited or read. (Learn more from Catholic Culture and Fish Eaters.)

Did you know? The Preface of the Trinity that is frequently read on Trinity Sunday is the same one that was in the first text of the Sacramentary of St. Gregory the Great.

ACTIVITIES & MORE

Families, youth groups and others can teach St. Augustine’s simplified explanation of the Trinity to children today, as is suggested by Women for Faith & Family. Children can also go outdoors to search for shamrocks and pansies, or prepare a dinner with cloverleaf rolls and a three-in-one fruit salad. The table may be decorated with a “Trinity” candle, and a vase of collected tri-petal wildflowers.