Father Weiser tells us of the Feast of the Holy Trinity:
“The greatest dogma of the Christian faith is the mystery of the Holy Trinity. (Mystery in this connection, means a supernatural fact revealed by God which in itself transcends the natural power of human reasoning). During the first thousand years of Christianity there was no special feast celebrated in honour of this mystery, but, as Pope Alexander II (1073) declared, every day of the liturgical year was devoted to the honour and adoration of the Sacred Trinity.”
Father Weiser observed that a Mass in honour specifically of the Holy Trinity was celebrated to counteract the Arian heresy, which was taken up by the ninth century by various bishops in the Frankish kingdoms on a special feast of the Holy Trinity which was usually set on the Sunday after Pentecost. Then in 1334 Pope John XXII accepted the festival into the official calendar of the Western Church and ordered that it be celebrated from thenceforth on the Sunday after Pentecost.
Father Weiser said that “a new Mass text was written and published. It is interesting to note that the beautiful Preface of the Trinity as read today is the same one that appeared in the first text of the Sacramentary of Saint Gregory the Great. Most of the other prayers are of later origin. The Divine Office in its present form was arranged under Pope Saint Pius V (1572). It is one of the most sublime offices of the breviary.
The feast of the Holy Trinity now belongs among the great annual festivals of Christianity. Although it is not observed with additional liturgical services outside the Mass, its celebration quickly took root in the hearts and minds of the faithful, and in all countries of Europe popular traditions are closely associated with this feast.”
THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
Father Weiser made special reference to the Sign of the Cross:
The making of the sign of the Cross, which professes faith in both the redemption of Christ and in the Trinity, was practiced from the earliest centuries. Saint Augustine (431 AD) mentioned and described it many times in his sermons and letters. In those days Christians made the sign of the Cross (redemption) with three fingers (Trinity) on their foreheads. The words “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” came later. Almost two hundred years before Augustine, in the third century, Tertullian had already reported this touching and beautiful early Christian practice:
“In all our undertakings – when we enter a place or leave it; before we dress; before we bathe; when we take our meals; when we light the lamps in the evening; before we retire at night; when we sit down to read; before each new task – we trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads.”
“When we make the Sign of the Cross, we must remember to do it as a prayer: In the name of the Father (who gives us life); and of the Son (we touch our heart); and of the Holy Ghost (each shoulder, left to right).
When we make the Sign of the Cross at the Gospel: The Father touches the forehead – the life; the Son touches the lips – the Word; and the Holy Ghost touches the heart – charity.
There is a deep significance to the prayer contained in the Sign of the Cross and it is one that we should not take too lightly or too thoughtlessly. Perhaps, in the spirit of Tertullian, a small household font can be set up at the entrance of the house and we can bless ourselves on entering and exiting the home.
Francis X Weiser, “A Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs”, Harcourt Brace and Company, New York. Published on Venite Prandete.