Trinity Sunday: Western Christians celebrate the Three Persons

Stained glass windown with a dove in the middle, a hand on the top surrounded by a red circle and yellow triangle

Holy Trinity stained glass window at St. Ignatius Church in Massachusetts. Photo by John.Workman, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, JUNE 15: White banners are draped across walls and vestments shine in white purity as Western Christian churches worldwide celebrate Trinity Sunday. A culmination of the Nativity, Epiphany, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost, Trinity Sunday calls to mind the role that each member of the Holy Trinity—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—play in Christianity.

Many Christians are 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. ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm recently interviewed Bible scholar Bart Ehrman, and they talked about this particular theological debate.

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. (Wikipedia has details.) The observance spread through Western Christianity, and was placed in the general calendar in the 14th century.

Note: In the Eastern Christian Church, Trinity Sunday is observed on the Sunday of Pentecost.

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.

TRINITY SUNDAY: CUSTOMS

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. (These suggestions, and more, are at Women for Faith and Family.) For a Catholic perspective or to read Pope John Paul II’s writings on the Holy Trinity, go to CatholicCulture.com.

The Thursday following Trinity Sunday—this year, June 19—is observed as the Feast of Corpus Christi.

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