Christian Doctrine: The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

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JMJ

Christian Doctrine is not a series of disjointed statements. It is an organic body of religious truth, in which one dogma cannot rightly be understood save in its relation to the others, a part cannot be denied without rejecting the whole. The space and our time do not allow of lengthy explanations, hence the utility of a brief ‘rational’ exposition here.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

Traditional Latin Mass

Holy Church teaches us through the Sacred Council of Trent that the Holy Eucharist is not only a Sacrament which is “a treasure of heavenly riches, which if turned to good account will obtain for us the grace and love of God; butit also possesses a peculiar character [as a Sacrifice], by which we are enabled to make some return to God for the immense benefits bestowed upon us” (The Roman Catechism, “The Eucharist as a Sacrifice”).

Sacrifice is the oblation or offering made to God of some sensible object, with the destruction or change of the object, to denote that God is the author of life and death – that God has dominion over the life of His creature. Thus in the Old Law, before the coming of Christ, when the Hebrew people wished to offer sacrifice to God they took a lamb or some other animal, which they slew and burned its flesh, acknowledging by this act that the Lord was the supreme Master of life and death. The ancients offered to God two kinds of sacrifices, viz., the bloody sacrifices, such as bulls, lambs and birds; and the unbloody sacrifices, such as wheat and barley, and, in general, the first fruits of the earth.

All nations – whether Jews, idolaters, the Oriental schismatic sects, or Catholics, except the Mahometans (the Moslems) and the modern “Bible-only” sectarians – have made sacrifice their principal act of worship. If we go back to the very dawn of creation, we will find the children of Adam offering sacrifices to God even without His express command, thereby teaching us that such service is natural to man. Abel offered to the Lord the firstlings of his flock, and Cain offered of the fruits of the earth (cf., Gen. 4).

When Noe and his family are rescued from the deluge which had spread over the face of the earth his first act on issuing from the ark, when the waters disappear, is to offer holocausts to the Lord, in thanksgiving for his preservation (cf., Gen. 8). Abraham, the great father of the Jewish race, offered victims to the Almighty, this time at His express command (cf., Gen. 15).  We read that Job was accustomed to offer holocausts to the Lord, to propitiate His favor in behalf of his children and to obtain forgiveness for the sins they might have committed (cf., Job 1).

When God delivered to Moses the written Law on Mount Sinai He gave His servant the most minute details with regard to all the ceremonies to be observed in the sacrifices which were to be offered to Him. He prescribed the kind of victims to be immolated, the qualifications of the Priests who were to minister at the altar, and the place and manner in which the victims were to be offered. Hence, it was the custom of the Jewish priests to slay every day two lambs as a sacrifice to God (cf., Num. 28), and in doing this they were prefiguring the great Sacrifice of the New Law, in which we daily offer up on the altar the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world – the clean oblation to be offered from the rising of sun to the going down of the same as foretold by the Prophet Malachias (1.10-11).

In a word, in all their public calamities – whenever they were threatened by their enemies; whenever they were about to engage in war; whenever they were visited by any plague or pestilence – the Hebrew people of Old, prefiguring the Catholic Church, had recourse to God by solemn sacrifices. And like the Catholic Church, they had sacrifices not only for the living, but also for the dead; for we read in the Sacred Scriptures that Judas Machabeus ordered sacrifices to offered up for the souls of his men who were slain in battle and found carrying with them votaries of pagan idols (cf., 2 Mach. 12.43-46).

The Prophet Isaias declared that the Jewish sacrifices had become displeasing to God and would be abolished. To what purpose, says the Lord to His Prophet, do you offer Me the multitude of your victims? I desire not holocausts of rams,… and blood of calves and lambs and buck-goats… Offer sacrifice no more in vain (1.11-13).

But did God, in rejecting the Jewish oblations, intend to abolish sacrifices? By no means. On the contrary, He clearly predicts, by the mouth of the Prophet Malachias, that the immolations of the Jews would be succeeded by a clean victim, which would be offered up not anymore on a single altar (that is, only in Jerusalem), but in every part of the known world. I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of Hosts, and I will not receive a gift of your hand. For, from the rising of the sun, even to the going down, My name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of Hosts (1.10,11). The Prophet here clearly foretells that an acceptable oblation would be to God not by Jews, but by Gentiles; not merely in Jerusalem, but in every place from the rising to the setting of the sun (and so throughout the world, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – the Traditional Catholic Mass in Latin – is still being offered to God in every time zone though attacked and suppressed by the wolves in the clothing of sheep.

We may divide the inhabitants of the world into five different classes of people, professing different creeds – Pagans, Jews, Mohammedans, the “Bible-only” sectarians, and Catholics. Among which of these shall we find the clean oblation of which the Prophet Malachias speaks? Not among the Pagan nations, for they worship false gods – they worship the devils; and so do those who refuse to hear the [Catholic] Church, the pillar and ground of the truth for they must be treated as the heathens – and consequently cannot have any sacrifice pleasing to the Almighty. Not among the Jews; for they have ceased to sacrifice altogether after that God had cursed the Temple in Jerusalem to destruction for rejecting and killing Our Lord, and the words of the Prophet apply not only to the “perfidious Jews” (Traditional Catholic Missal), but to the Gentiles. Not among the Mohammedans for they also reject sacrifices. Not among any of the “Bible-only” sectarians for they all distinctly repudiate sacrifices. Therefore, it is only in the Catholic Church that is fulfilled this glorious prophecy for wherever one goes, you will find traditional Catholic priests ascending the altar of the Lord – as the Levites of the New Law – to offer the clean unbloody Holocaust.

This Oblation of the New Law is commonly called Mass. The word ‘Mass’ is derived by some from the Hebrew term Missach (Deut. 16) which means a free offering. Others derive it from the Latin word Missa which the Priest uses when he announces to the congregation “Ite Missa est” at the end of the Divine Service. It is an expression indelibly marked on our English tongue from the origin of our language, and we find it embodied in such words as “Candlemas,” “Michaelmas,” “Martin-mas,” and “Christmas.”

The Sacrifice of the Mass is the consecration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ (the doctrine of “Transubstantiation”), and the oblation of this Body and Blood to God, by the ministry of the Priest, for a perpetual memorial of Christs’s sacrifice on the Cross. The Sacrifice of the Mass is identical with that of Cross, both having the same Victim and High Priest – Jesus Christ.

The only difference consists in the manner of the oblation. Christ was offered up on the Cross in a bloody manner, and in the Mass He is offered up in an unbloody manner. On the Cross, He purchased our ransom, and in the Eucharistic Sacrifice the price of that ransom is applied to our souls. Hence, all the efficacy of the Mass is derived from the sacrifice of Calvary.

It was on the night before He suffered that Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Sacrifice of the New Law. Jesus, says St. Paul, the night in which He was betrayed took bread, and, giving thanks, broke and said: Take ye and eat; this is My Body which shall be delivered for you. This do for a commemoration of Me. In like manner also the chalice, after He had supped, saying: This chalice is the New Testament in My Blood. This do ye, as often as ye shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, ye shall show the death of the Lord until He come (1 Cor. 9.23-26).

From these words we learn that the principal motive which Our Savior had in view in instituting the Sacrifice of the Altar was to keep us in perpetual remembrance of His sufferings and death. He wished that the scene of Calvary should ever appear in panoramic view before our eyes, and that our heart, memory and intellect should be filled with the thoughts of His Passion. He knew well that this would be the best means of winning our love and exciting sorrow for sin in our soul; therefore, he designed that in every church throughout the world an altar should be erected, to serve as a monument of His mercies to His people, as the children of Israel erected a monument, in crossing the Jordan, to commemorate His mercies to His chosen people. The Mass is truly the actual memorial service of Christ’s Passion – and not merely a recollecting exercise of the mind as the early “Bible-only” sectarians and the New “Missal” of Pope Paul VI would have us believe.

In the Acts of the Apostles, it is said that while Saul and others were ministering (or, as the Greek text expresses it, sacrificing) to the Lord, and fasting, the Holy Ghost said to them: Set apart for Me Saul and Barnabas. St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, frequently alludes to the Sacrifice of the Mass. We have an altar, he says, whereof they cannot eat who serve the tabernacle (13.10). The Apostle here plainly declares that the early Christian church has its altars as well as the Jewish SynagogueAn altar necessarily supposes a sacrificewithout which it has no meaning. The Apostle also observes that the priesthood of the New Law was substituted for that of the Old Law (cf., ibid., 7.12). Now, the principal office of the Priests has always been to offer sacrifice.

St. Paul, after David, calls Jesus a Priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedech (Ps. 109.4, chapter and verse follow St. Jerome’s Sacred Latin Vulgate Bible; Heb. 5.6). He is named a Priest because He offers sacrifice; a Priest forever because His sacrifice is perpetual; according to the order of Melchisedech because He offers up consecrated bread and wine, which were prefigured by the bread and wine offered by Melchisedech, the Priest of the Most High God (Gen. 14.18).

The same Apostle, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, says that Christ was offered once to exhaust the sins of many (9.28). How then can we offer Him daily on our altars? Jesus was offered once in a bloody manner, and it is of this sacrifice that the Apostle speaks. But in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, He is offered up in an unbloody manner.

But if the sacrifice of the Cross is all-sufficient, what need then is there of the Sacrifice of the Mass? The shedding of Christ of His blood on the Cross is an all-sufficient price as to cover, for remission, every kind of sin committed in the past and would still be committed until the end of time – this is what St. Paul meant that Christ was offered once to exhaust the sins of many; not that the redemptive sacrifice of Our Lord on the Cross has already rendered us incapable of sinning. Now, after the Sacrifice of the Cross, we still have been guilty of sins and even those who belong to the different “Bible-only” sects, with a number of their popular televangelists publicly confessing their crimes that scandalized and rocked their flocks, cannot deny. But Catholics cannot be driven to miserable desperation*, at least logically, when confronted by this passage: without shedding of blood there is no remission [of sins] (Heb. 9.22). Therefore, in the Sacrifice of the Mass, the merits of the sacrifice of the Cross,

* The “Bible-only” sectarians claim: “Just believe and you will be saved.” Pressed to its logical conclusions, in view of the fact of sin even after the redemptive sacrifice of Our Lord on the Cross and the testimony of the written Word of God that without shedding of blood there is no remission, it must lead its adherent to this folly: There is no God (Ps. 52.1, Vulg.)!
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from which the Mass derives all its efficacy, are applied to the soul. And they shall look upon Me, Whom they have pierced: and they shall mourn for Him as one mourneth for an only son, and they shall grieve over Him, as the manner is to grieve for the death of the firstborn (Zach. 12.10). Let us go therefore, with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace in seasonable aid (Heb. 4.16).

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Purgatory

Dogma: “The souls of the just which, in the moment of death, are burdened with venial sins or temporal punishment due to sins, enter Purgatory.” Purgatory is a place where the souls of those must suffer for a time, who, though, dying without grave sin on their souls, have not done complete penance for their offences against God.

Scriptural Proofs for the existence of a place of the cleansing fire (called by the Church, the pillar and ground of the truth – 1 Tim.3.15, ‘purgatorium’ in Latin):

He that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world nor in the world to come (Mt. 12.32). Where can there be forgiveness of sins still after life here on earth? In heaven? But Our Lord says there shall not enter into it any thing defiled (Apoc. 21.27). In hell? There is no forgiveness of sins in there.

Indirectly, Holy Writ teaches the existence of the cleansing fire by admitting the possibility of a purification in the other world. According to 2 Machabees* 12.42-46, the Jews prayed for their fallen on whom had been found donaries of the idols, that their sins may be forgiven. Then they sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered in expiation. Therefore the Jews were convinced that they could help the dead by prayer and sacrifice to be freed from their sins. The sacred writer approves this course: Because he [Judas] considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.

* The “Bible-only” sectarians tore away the two Books of the Machabees (along with the other 5 OT Books which the Church, the ground and pillar of the truth, declared to be divinely inspired) from their versions following the decision of the Rabbis of the Synagogue to exclude the books in question from the Jewish Canon. By doing so, they decided on a Biblical question by having recourse to the tradition of mere pretended Jewish authorities – it is the Levitical priests, not Jewish “scholars”, who has the authority to decide on such issue (cf., Deut. 17.9-12; 21.5; 24.8; Mal. 2.7) – thereby contradicting their fundamental tenet “accept only what is written in the Bible” [a teaching itself nowhere written in the Bible!] when their versions teach: “All Scriptureis inpired…” (2 Tim. 3.16; the Church’s official Latin version of the Sacred Scriptures – St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Bible – says: All Scripture, inspired of God, is profitable…); insisting rather “some” and not actually “all” absolutely qualified to be “inspired of God” as their Bibles say! Where in the Bible is written the passage “The Books of the Machabees are not inspired of God”? By what divine authority do they reject then the Books of the Machabees?

Proofs from Christian Tradition:

Ancient Christian catacomb inscriptions beseech prayers for the dead.

St. Cyprian teaches that penitents who die before the reception of the Sacrament of Penance must perform the remainder of any atonement demanded in the other world, while martyrdom counts as full atonement: “To be tormented in long pains and to be cleansed and purified from one’s sins by continuous fire, is a different thing from expiating one’s sins all at once by the suffering (of martyrdom)” (Epistle 55,20). St. Augustine distinguishes between temporal punishments which must be expiated in this life, and those which must be expiated after death: “Some suffer temporal punishments only in this life, others only after death, still others both in life and after death, but always before this most strict and most final court” (The City of God, XXI, 13). St. Gregory of Nyssa: “The stains which the soul has received during its sojourn in the body must be removed by the purging fire” (in Frs. Spirago-Clarke, “The Catechism Explained,” 264). And St. Gregory of Nazianzen tells us that in the future life there is a baptism of fire, a hard and weary baptism, to destroy what is earthly in man (in ibid.).

From reason: The existence of the cleansing fire can be derived from the concept of the sanctity and justice of God. The former demands that only completely purified souls be assumed into Heaven (Apoc. 21.27); the latter demands the punishments of sins still present be effected, but, on the other hand, forbids that souls that are united in love with God should be cast into hell. Therefore, an intermediate state and place is to be assumed, whose purpose is final purification and which for this reason is of limited duration. Further, since human justice must reflect the divine justice so on earth a man may be punished by a fine; if he does not pay it he must go to prison.

Hence we should not be satisfied with the penance given us by our confessor; we should add something of our own. Much may be done by patient enduring of sickness, troubles, pains, hardships; almsgiving; gaining indulgences (as by kissing the woolen Brown Scapular, 500 days indulgence each; praying the Rosary) by fulfilling all the conditions required; or willing acceptance of death; and assistance at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Not even the least sins, voluntary faults and imperfections, omissions and negligences, should be neglected; they must all be atoned for.

(Sources: Dr. Ludwig Ott, “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” and Frs. Spirago-Clarke, “The Catechism Explained”)

All Soul’s Day
November 2, 2011

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The Glorious Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Body and Soul, into Heaven

Arise, O Lord, into Thy resting place: Thou and the Ark, which Thou hast sanctified (Ps. 131.8). “The Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25.10-22), built of incorruptible wood and placed in the Lord’s temple… a type of the most pure body of the Virgin Mary, preserved and exempted from all the corruption of the tomb and raised up to such glory in heaven.” (Pope Pius XII, in “Munificentissimus Deus” [the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary], Nov. 1, 1950)

Death being the punishment of sin, it would seem that the Divine Mother – all holy, and exempt as she was from its slightest stain – should also have been exempt from death, and from encountering the misfortunes to which the children of Adam, infected by the poison of sin, are subject. But God was pleased that Mary should in all things resemble Our Lord; and as the Son died, it was becoming that the Mother should also die; because, moreover, He wished to give the just an example of the precious death prepared for them. He willed that even the most Blessed Virgin Mary should die, but by a sweet and happy death.

There are three things which render death bitter: attachment to the world, remorse for sins, and the uncertainty of salvation. The death of Mary was entirely free from these causes of bitterness, and was accompanied by three special graces, which rendered it precious and joyful. She died as She had lived, entirely detached from the things of the world; She died in the most perfect peace; She died in the certainty of eternal glory.

And in the first place, there can be no doubt that attachment to earthly things renders the death of the worldly bitter and miserable, as the Holy Ghost says: O death, how bitter is the remembrance of thee to man who hath peace in his possessions! (Ecclus. 41.1) But because the Saints die detached from the things of the world, their death is not bitter… Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord (Apoc. 14.13). They are those happy souls who pass into eternity already detached, and, so to say, dead to all affection for terrestrial things; and who, like St. Francis of Assisi, found in God alone all their happiness, and with him could say, “My God and my all.”

Saint John saw Mary represented in that Woman, clothed with the sun, who held the moon under Her feet. And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under Her feet (Apoc. 12.1). Interpreters explain the moon to signify the goods of this world, which, like Her, are uncertain and changeable. Mary never had these goods in Her heart, but always despised them and trampled them under Her feet; living in this world as a solitary turtle-dove in any earthly thing; so that of Her it was said: The voice of the turtle is hear in our land (Cant. 2.12). And elsewhere: Who is She that goeth up by the desert? (Cant. 3.6) Whence the Abbot Rupert says, “Thus did you go up by the desert; that is, having a solitary soul.” Mary, then, having lived always and in all things detached  from the earth, and united to God alone, death was not bitter, but, on the contrary, very sweet and dear to her; since it united Her more closely to God in heaven, by an eternal bond.

Secondly, peace of mind renders the death of the just precious. Sins committed during life are the worms which so cruelly torment and gnaw the hearts of poor dying sinners, who, about to appear before the Divine tribunal, see themselves at that moment surrounded by their sins, which terrify them, and cry out, according to St. Bernard, “We are thy works; we will not abandon thee.” Mary certainly could not be tormented at death by any remorse of conscience, for She was always pure, and always free from the least shade of actual or original sin; so much so, that of Her it was said: Thou are all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee (Cant. 4.7).

In the third place, the certainty of eternal salvation renders death sweet. Death is called a passage; for by death we pass from a short to an eternal life. And as the dread of those is indeed great who die in doubt of their salvation, and who approach the solemn moment with well-grounded fear of passing into eternal death; thus, on the other hand, the joy of the Saints is indeed great at the close of life, hoping with some security to go and possess God [their supreme Good] in heaven… But what joy must the Divine Mother have felt in receiving the new of Her approaching death! She who had the fullest certainty of the possession of Divine grace, especially after the Angel Gabriel had assured Her that She was full of it, and that She already possessed God. Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee… thou hast found grace (Luk. 1.28,30).

Of Mary, it had already been asked in the Sacred Canticle of Canticles, Who is She that goeth up the desert, as a pillar of smoke, of aromatical spices, of myrrh, and frankincense, and all the powders of the perfumers? (3.6). Her entire mortification typified by the myrrh, her fervent prayers signified by the incense, and all her holy virtues, united to Her perfect love for God, kindled in Her a flame so great that Her beautiful soul, wholly devoted to and consumed by Divine love, arose continually to God as a pillar of smoke breathing forth on every side a most sweet odor… “A pillar of smoke, because burning interiorly as a holocaust with the flame of Divine love, She sent forth a most sweet odor.” As the loving Virgin lived, so did She die. As Divine love gave Her life, so did it cause her death; for the Doctors and holy Fathers of the Church generally say She died of no other infirmity than pure love; St. Ildephonsus says that Mary either ought not to die, or only die of love. – St. Alphonsus Liguori

15 August 2011
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“The Unity and Trinity of God”
Fr. L. Trese

O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments and how unsearchable His ways! (St. Paul, “Epistle to the Romans,” 11.33, DRV)

None of us would care to have the task of explaining a problem in nuclear physics to a five-year-old-child. Yet the gap between a five-year-old’s intelligence and the upper reaches of science are as nothing compared to the gap between the most brilliant human mind, even at its best, can grasp and understand. Since God is an infinite Being, no created intellect, however gifted, can plumb his depths.

That is why God, in revealing to us the truth about Himself, often has to be content with simply telling us what the truth is; the how of the truth is so far beyond our grasp in this life that even God doesn’t try to explain it to us.

One such truth is the fact that although there is only one God, yet in that one God there are three divine Persons. In human affairs, ‘nature’ and ‘person’ are practically one and the same thing; we say that ‘nature’ and ‘person’ are ‘coterminus’. If there are three persons in a room, then there are three human natures; and if there is only one human nature present, then there is only one human person. So when we try to think of God as three Persons possessing one and the same nature, we find ourselves batting our head against the ceiling.

That is why we call such truths of faith as that of the Blessed Trinity a ‘mystery’ of faith. We believe it is so because God says it is so; and He is all-wise and all-truthful. As to just how it can be so, we must await God’s full unveiling of Himself in heaven to discover.

Theologians do of course cast some light upon the mystery for us. They explain that the distinction between the three Persons in God is based upon the relationship that exists between the three Persons. There is God the Father, Who looks into His divine mind and sees Himself as He really is, and forms a thought about Himself. You and I do the same thing, often. We turn our gaze inward, and see ourselves, and form a thought about ourselves. It is a thought which expresses itself in the silent words “Maximilian Kolbe” or “Therese Martin”.

But there is this difference between our knowledge and God’s knowledge of Himself: our knowledge of ourselves is imperfect, incomplete. (Our friends could tell us things about ourselves that would surprise us – not to mention what our enemies could tell us!) Yet even if we did know ourselves perfectly, even if the thought we had about ourselves as silently spoke our own name was a complete thought, a perfect reproduction, it still would be only a thought remaining inside us. The thought would have no existence of its own, no life of its own. The thought would cease to exist, even in my own mind, the minute I turned my attention to something else. The reason is that existence, or life, is not a necessary part of the picture of myself. There was a time when I did not exist at all. And I would immediately fall back into nothingness if God did not keep in existence.

But with God, things are very different. It is of the very nature of God to exist. There is no other way of thinking straight about God, except to think of Him as the Being Who never had a beginning, the Being Who always was and always will be. The only real definition we can give of God is to say, “He Who Is”. That is the way, some will remember, that God described Himself to Moses: I Am Who Am.

If the thought that God has of Himself, then, is to be infinitely complete and perfect thought, it must include existence, since to exist is of the very nature of God. The image that God sees of Himself, the silent Word that He eternally speaks of Himself, must have a distinct existence of its own. It is this Living Thought which God has of Himself, this Living Word in which He perfectly expresses Himself, Whom we call God the Son. God the Father is God, knowing Himself; God the Son is the expression of God’s knowledge of Himself. Thus the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is called the Son precisely because from all eternity He is generated, He is begotten, in the divine mind of the Father. He is also called the Word of God because he is the ‘mental word’ in which the divine mind gives utterance to the thought of Himself.

Now God the Father (God knowing Himself) and God the Son (God’s knowledge of Himself) contemplate the divine nature which they possess in common. As they gaze (we speak of course in human terms), they behold in that nature all that is beautiful and good – all, in short, that commands love – to an infinite degree. And so the divine will moves in an act of infinite love – for the divine goodness and beauty. Since God’s love for Himself, like God’s knowledge of Himself, is of the very nature of God, it must be a Living Love. This infinitely perfect, infinitely intense, Living Love which flows eternally from the Father and the Son is He Whom we call the Holy Ghost, “proceeding from the Father and the Son.” He is the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity.

God the Father is God, knowing Himself.
God the Son is the expression of God’s knowledge of Himself.
God the Holy Ghost is the result of God’s love for Himself.
This is the Blessed Trinity – three divine Persons in one God, one divine nature.

Here is a little illustration that may make somewhat clearer the relationship that exists between the three divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Suppose one looks upon himself in a full-length mirror. He sees there an image of himself that is perfect except for one thing: it is not a living image; it is just a reflection in the glass. But if that image were to step out of the mirror and stand beside him, living and breathing like himself – then it would be a perfect image indeed. There would not be two of them. There would be just one HIM, one human nature. There would two ‘persons’, but only one mind and one will, sharing the same knowledge and the same thoughts.

Then, since self-love (the right kind of self-love) is natural to an intelligent being, there would flow between him and his image an ardent love, one for the other. Now giving his fancy free rein, and think of this love as being so much a part of himself, so deeply rooted in his very nature, as to be a living, breathing reproduction of himself. This love would be a ‘third person’ (still only one HIM, remember, only one human nature), a third person standing between him and his image, the three of them linked hand in hand, three persons in one human nature.

Perhaps this flight of imagination may help us toward a faint understanding of the relationship that exists between the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity: God the Father ‘looking at’ Himself in His divine mind and beholding there the image of Himself which is so infinitely perfect that it is a living image, God the Son; and the God the Father and God the Son loving the divine nature which they possess in common with a Living Love, God the Holy Ghost. Three divine Persons, one divine nature.

If the example used does not help at all in our thinking about the Blessed Trinity, we should not let ourselves feel frustrated. We are dealing with a mystery of Faith; no one, not even the greatest theologian, can hope to really understand it in this life. At best, there will merely be varying degrees of ignorance.

Neither should we feel frustrated that there are mysteries of Faith. Only a person suffering from consummate pride of intellect would expect to understand fully the infinite, the inexhaustible depth of God’s nature. Rather than resenting our human limitations, we should be moved to gratitude that God has chosen to tell us as much as he has about Himself, about His own inner nature, about His own life.

One error we must guard against in our thinking about the Blessed Trinity: we must not think of God the Father as having ‘come first’, God the Son a little later, and God the Holy Ghost later still. All three are equally eternal, possessing as they do one divine nature; God’s thought and God’s love are equally timeless with God’ nature. And God the Son and God the Holy Ghost are not in any way subordinate to God the Father; one is not more powerful, nor wiser, nor greater than the other. All three possess the same infinite perfection, an equality rooted in the one divine nature which they equally possess.

However, we do attribute to the individual divine Persons certain works, certain activities that seem most suitable to the particular relationship of this or that divine Person. For example, it is to God the Father that we attribute the work of Creation, since we think of Him as the ‘generator’, the instigator, and starter of things, the seat of the infinite power which God possesses.

Similarly, since God the Son is the Knowledge or Wisdom of the Father, we ascribe to Him the works of wisdom; it was He Who came upon earth to make truth known to us, and to heal the breach between God and man.

Finally, since the Holy Ghost is Infinite Love, we appropriate to Him the works of love, particularly the sanctification of souls, since sanctification results from the indwelling of God’s Love within the soul.

God the Father is the Creator, God the Son is the Redeemer, God the Holy Ghost is the Sanctifier. And yet what One hoes, All do; where One is, All are.
That is the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity – the infinite variety in absolute unity whose beauty will ravish us in heaven.

20 June 2011

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