What is the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

By Fr. Michel Mulloy, Vicar General

The Year of the Eucharist will begin on June 23, 2019.  I thought it would be good to share with you some insight concerning the celebration of the Eucharist.

I think we need to begin by asking, why do I go to Mass? Years ago, a professor answered that question in a way that was clear and simple. We go to Mass to encounter God. We are seeking an experience of God. The bishop’s pastoral letter reminded us that God is also seeking an experience with us. We often speak of this desire on our part and on God’s part as encountering Jesus. So how do we encounter God (Jesus) in the Mass? The answer to that question will take a while to unpack but it is worth the journey. We begin in the depth of God as Jesus revealed God to us.

In our faith tradition, our understanding of God is that there is one God in three divine persons. There has been a lot of ink spilled over trying to explain that understanding. Every explanation is bound to be incomplete in some way and yet each explanation can open new insight for us as well. This is the insight I have learned over the years. For some of you reading this, my insight will be familiar. For others it will be new. For all of us, I believe it bears repeating.

I believe that Jesus told us two things about God. First, in God there is real relationship. In other words, within the life of God there is a dynamic dialogue, an interaction, a communication between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Second, Jesus told us that this real relationship is so complete and so intimate, that there is a total oneness in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There are parameters for thinking about and speaking about the Trinity. So, what does this relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit look like? How can we characterize it in a way that makes sense?

To answer this question, we need to look at Jesus’ life. God became man in Jesus of Nazareth. We can then assume that the way Jesus the Son related to God the Father in his life on earth reflects the relationship within God. Jesus’ life is best understood as sacrifice. In his life and ministry on earth, Jesus sacrificed himself to God the Father. This was made clear in his death on the cross. His words in the garden express the essence of his life. “Father … not my will but yours be done,” (Lk 22:42). Jesus’ relationship to the Father was one of sacrificial giving.

Jesus lived this life of sacrifice through, with and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit, Jesus was conceived. Through the Spirit, he was gifted with wisdom and teaching authority. The Spirit descended on him at his baptism and he lived his public life in the power of the Holy Spirit. Finally, in his death, he gave us his Spirit. The Holy Spirit enabled and empowered Jesus to give himself to the Father.

The Father’s response to his Son’s sacrifice was to give life back to the Son. Both at Jesus’ baptism and at the transfiguration, Jesus is revealed as the beloved Son. The Father’s pleasure in his Son’s life and teaching enlivened Jesus’ life on earth. Ultimately, the Father gave life back to his Son in the resurrection.

The relationship of God reflected in Jesus is one of mutual giving. The Son sacrifices his life to the Father. The Father responds by giving the Son new life. The Holy Spirit empowers this exchange as the advocate, the counselor, the guide.

If this is confusing, I would encourage you to read it again. Our understanding of God is vital for us to understand how we encounter Jesus and his Father in the Eucharist. We will continue these reflections in the coming months of the Year of the Eucharist. Consider clipping this article out and saving it as a reference for future months.