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VOICES - Vol. XX No. 2 - Michaelmas 2005
The Holy Trinity and the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Michael McShurley
For Catholics, the Church’s teaching about God as the Holy Trinity may come to mind whenever we make the sign of the cross, pray a “Glory be”, or recite the Nicene Creed during the Eucharistic liturgy. We may also hear trinitarian teaching during a baptism or in a sermon we hear on the Feast of the Holy Trinity. For most Catholics this is the extent of their attention to the Church’s teaching about the Triune God. This would not be a problem if we have a lively sense of the reality of the Trinity in our devotional life even if we may not know how to speak of the Trinity in more precise, doctrinal ways.
Nevertheless, it would be easy to establish two points about contemporary Christianity: There is a widespread ignorance of the Church’s teaching on the Trinity; and also a prevailing absence of a lively sense of the Trinity among practicing Christians.
One problem is pervasive incorrect images and notions of God as a kindly grandfather, a harsh judge, an impersonal force, a mostly unknown ground or cause of all things, or a mysterious absolute Person who is above all the messiness of religion. These mistaken ideas often predominate in our minds and motivations, instead of images and concepts of Jesus who saves us, the Father who cares for us, and the Holy Spirit who lives within us.
The secularity of modern society, the alleged clash between the natural and social sciences and religious truth, the separation of sexuality from its sacred meaning, and the alleged incompatibility of truth with tolerance all have contributed to this together with the world, the flesh, and the devil, the perennial enemies of God.
This situation is especially troubling considering the exalted status of the doctrine of the Trinity in Christianity. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234 - emphasis added) and, “The whole Christian life is a communion with each of the Divine Persons, without in anyway separating them”. (CCC 259 - emphasis added)
The Trinity is not only the central teaching of Christianity but it is also the mystery of the Catholic faith that should pervade our lives of faith. The whole Christian life should be a lively sense of relating to each of the Three the Lord Jesus, the Father Almighty, and the Holy Spirit without in any way separating one from another.
In other words, the core of Christian life should be devout attention to the Divine Persons individually as well as to the one God that each Person is, and that all three are together.
As we can see, developing a lively faith in God as the Holy Trinity is the issue of reform and renewal in the Church. This is a vast subject that we cannot fully address here. But we can suggest one way by which we could cultivate a lively sense of the Holy Trinity: to meditate on the relationship of the Holy Trinity with the Blessed Virgin Mary and to live spiritually in this relationship as we express our devotion to her. In this way we can develop better understanding of both the distinctness and the unity of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity and of their relationships to us in our life of faith.
The relationship between the Holy Trinity and Mary is alluded to in Scripture. The account of the Annunciation in the Gospel of Luke suggests how the Trinity is involved in the conception and birth of Jesus Christ.
The Angel Gabriel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High [the Father] will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born [from you] will be called holy, the Son of God”. (Luke 1:35, RSV CE, emphasis added)
The coming upon Mary is the Holy Spirit, acting to bring the humanity of the Son into being in the womb of Mary. The overshadowing of Mary is the Father, willing the Incarnation through providentially directing everything to this event as the purpose and goal of creation. The birth from Mary is the Son “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” humbling Himself and “becoming obedient unto death … on a cross”. (Philippians 2:7-8) The child that is born of Mary is called holy, not only because He is consecrated to God but also because He is God in the flesh.
Grace, Love, Fellowship
How can devotion to Mary encourage a lively sense of the Trinity? Let us look at perhaps the most beautiful passage about the Trinity in Scripture.
In the conclusion of his Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul expresses his heartfelt wish that his readers remain within the beneficent activities of the Holy Trinity: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”. (II Corinthians 13:14, RSV CE, emphasis added)
This verse could really be a summary of Christianity in a nutshell and the sum total of its message. What news could be better, if it is really true that the Holy Trinity exists, than the news that the Lord Jesus Christ is grace for us and with us, God is love ahead of us and toward us, and the Holy Spirit is fellowship with us and in us?
Let us look more closely at this impressive verse.
The first and the third phrases of II Corinthians 13:13, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”, and “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”, are exactly parallel in structure to its second phrase, “the love of God”. This parallel and balance of the three phrases suggest that the names, “the Lord Jesus Christ” and “the Holy Spirit” refer to the divine reality as much as “God” does in the middle phrase. Also, “Jesus” is called “Lord” and “the Spirit” is called “Holy”; it so happens that both “lordship” and “holiness” are qualities that belong most properly to God. The parallel and balanced structure of the phrases, and their vocabulary, indicate that God is the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit as well as God the Father therefore, God is the Holy Trinity.
The same characteristics of these phrases also indicate that God relates to us through the personal modes of grace, love, and fellowship, and therefore, they are the threefold or “triune” relationship of God to us.
Both the Trinity of divine Persons and their triune relationship of grace, love, and fellowship in II Cor. 13:14 could more easily be understood if we correlate the two “sets of three” with the three great articles of the Nicene Creed.
The Lord Jesus Christ is “the only Son of God”, and His grace is becoming man, dying, and rising for us, according to the second article of the Creed.
This grace is incarnate because the favor and divine gifts that the Son gives to us come only through the Son becoming flesh as Jesus and dying and rising in His humanity. God is “the Father, the Almighty”, and His love is creating us and “all that is, seen and unseen”, according to the first article of the Creed.
The work of creating is love because God as the Trinity needs nothing. God is complete as the three Persons in their eternal relation with each other. God creates, not to benefit Himself, but to benefit what and who He has created. This love is providential because He creates, directs His creation, and accomplishes all His plans for creation out of the love He has had since before the foundation of the world.
The Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life”, and His fellowship is filling the Church so that through it He forgives sins, raises our bodies, and brings us to life everlasting, according to the third article of the Nicene Creed. This fellowship is poured out and overflowing because the Spirit descends upon us, inspires us, and dwells within us.
Mary a Sign
Because of Mary’s role in the life of Jesus, she receives the extraordinary gifts of freedom from sin, virginal motherhood, and union of her body and soul in heaven. These gifts are special signs that the providential love of the Father, the incarnate grace of Jesus Christ, and the outpoured fellowship of the Holy Spirit are realities that are meant for all those called by God to be His own.
The Immaculate Conception of Mary is a sign that the Father from His providential love has chosen and elected Mary to eternal life in a greater manner than any other human creature. The Father shows through this privilege given to Mary that sin was in no way part of His original intent in creation and that His original intention will be fulfilled in heaven where eternal life will be completely free from sin, suffering, and death.
The Motherhood of Mary is a sign that the Son through His incarnate grace has given her an intimacy with His being and mission in a greater manner than to any other human being. Through this privilege given to Mary, the Son shows that He, as the man Jesus, is the original reason, purpose, and goal of creation, and we are created to grow in the likeness of Christ as well as to be redeemed by Him.
The Assumption of Mary is a sign that the Spirit in His outpoured fellowship has shared the life of the world to come with Mary in a greater manner than any with other human being. The Spirit shows through this privilege given to Mary that all things that are divided, separated, and in conflict especially symbolized by the separation of body and soul in death are reconciled, united, and resolved in the incomparable peace of eternal life.
Mary is not only the recipient of extraordinary gifts from the Trinity; she is also a giver of extraordinary gifts from them. There is no greater love after the Father’s providential love than Mary’s loving nurture of those called to be His adopted children. There is no greater grace after the Son’s incarnate grace than Mary’s gift of herself to those called to be the brothers and sisters of Jesus. There is no greater fellowship after the Spirit’s outpoured fellowship than Mary sharing her life and the riches of divine life intimately with those who are called to be friends and even “spouses” of the Spirit.
Mary “The excellent masterpiece of the Most High”
This explanation of the Trinity’s relationship with Mary through the use of the verse from Second Corinthians dovetails with the explanation that Saint Louis de Montfort, a great apostle of Mary, gives of the same relationship in his True Devotion to Mary. He says Mary is “the excellent masterpiece of the Most High” since the Father imparted to Mary His fruitfulness in order to enable her to bring forth His only Son into the world.
As a consequence, we may say, the Father wills that Mary be the spiritual mother who brings forth His adopted children through her nurturing influence until the end of time. She is “the admirable Mother of the Son”, since the Son became incarnate was made flesh through Mary and in Mary. As a result, the Son gives Himself to His spiritual brothers and sisters through His mother; and in a manner of speaking, through her will become incarnate for them as their Eucharistic food, and in them as an ever-greater likeness to Himself.
Finally, Mary is “the faithful spouse of the Holy Spirit” since the Spirit formed Jesus Christ within Mary’s womb, and remained with her in raising the child Jesus. It follows, then, that the Holy Spirit wills to fashion Jesus in His chosen ones and unite them to God by giving all of His gifts in and through Mary. As Saint Louis de Monfort wrote: “Mary is the sanctuary and the repose of the Holy Trinity, where God dwells more magnificently and more divinely than in any other place in the universe”. (This quote, and his titles for Mary are from “Preliminary Remarks” in True Devotion, Father Faber edition.)
A way to take to heart these reflections is to recall the Trinity’s relationship with Mary when we pray the “Hail Mary”. Two sets of three phrases in the prayer could act as mental hooks for our attention to this relationship.
The set of phrases: “full of grace”; “the Lord is with thee”; and “blessed art thou among women”.
The first phrase is links to the Holy Spirit, since His indwelling in Mary His fellowship with her from the moment of her conception to her queenship in heaven is the chief reason she is “full of grace”.
The second phrase links to Jesus the Son, since His grace is His physical presence in Mary’s womb, His spiritual presence in her mission in the world, and His supreme presence to her in heaven all of which indicate that truly “the Lord is with” Mary.
The third phrase recalls us to God the Father, since His love is the source, above all, of Mary being “blessed … among women” for bearing the Son of God who has become man.
The second set of three phrases: “blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”, “holy Mary”, and “Mother of God”.
The first phrase of this second set is a another hook for God the Father, since His love is the chief reason Mary is fruitful in this extraordinary way; she has brought into the world the Father’s supreme blessing to us and the clearest proof of His love: His Son and our Savior.
The second phrase again recalls the Holy Spirit since Mary is “holy” because of the singular fellowship of the indwelling Spirit with her from the moment of her conception; she is also “holy” because she furthers our fellowship with the Spirit by giving His gifts to us.
The last phrase also links to Jesus the Son since Mary is the “Mother of God” precisely because her Son is also the only-begotten Son of God. Because of her virginal motherhood, she is the bearer to us of the grace of Jesus Christ beyond any other person.
O most gracious Virgin Mary, Help us to know and live our faith through the liberating grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, from the generous love of the Father, and in the intimate fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate, lead us at death into the beatific light that discloses to us the transfigured Christ, the blessed love that immerses us in the glory of the Father, and the blissful life in us that springs forth from the indwelling Spirit.
Hear and answer our petitions, O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary! Amen.
Michael McShurley has a Master’s degree in Religious Studies, and has served as a high school religion teacher and as a parish coordinator for RCIA. He has recently completed a book on the Holy Trinity, and presently is involved in the Catholic homeschooling apostolate. He lives in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.
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