Trinity and Liturgy  

Posted by Joe Rawls

When confronted with the doctrine of the Trinity, we are probably better off contemplating how a triune God interacts with us during worship rather than trying to imagine how the three persons interact with each other, a task which many learned theologians assure us is is impossible.  A good example of this can be found in an essay by Marquette University theologian Susan K Wood, "The Trinity in the liturgy, sacraments, and mysticism", found in The Cambridge Guide to the Trinity, Peter C Phan, ed, Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp 383-384.


The movement of God's saving action and our response are related to two essential liturgical elements, anamnesis and epiclesis.  Anamnesis, translated as "memorial", commemoration", or "remembrance", actually has the much stronger meaning of making present an event or person from the past.  Anamnesis asks God to remember his saving work in Jesus Christ in order that the benefits of Christ's sacrifice may be made present to the faithful here and now.  These deeds are actually made present in the liturgy in the anamnesis, not as a repetition of his saving deeds or as a mere recollection of them, but as an actualization of them within the modality of sacramental sign.  The anamnesis is accomplished through the work of the Spirit, who "awakens the memory of the Church then inspires thanksgiving and praise."

The epiclesis is a calling on the Spirit to transform the material of creation and make it salvific in its sacramental use.  Sacraments are effective because they are Christ's action, made present through the power of the Spirit.  Although we may think of the epiclesis primarily in terms of the Eucharist, most of the sacraments, as we shall see, have an epicletic moment.  The Holy Spirit brings us into communion with Christ, effects our spiritual transformation into the image of Christ, both individually and corporately, and constitutes Christ's ecclesial body, the corpus mysticum.  Thus the Spirit is the bond of unity in the church and the source of empowerment for service and mission.

The Father as the source and end of all blessings of creation and salvation is the source and goal of the liturgy, which reveals and communicates the divine blessing.  We receive these blessings through the incarnate Word of the Father, who, in turn, pours out the gift of the Spirit.  The liturgy offers adoration, praise, and thanksgiving to the Father by offering to the Father his own gifts, especially the gift of his Son.  The Spirit "recalls and makes Christ manifest to the faith of the assembly",  "makes Christ present here and now", and "unites the Church to the life and mission of Christ."

The end or purpose of all the sacraments is reconciliation with the Father and the Father's glorification (Eph 1:12; 2 Cor 3:18; Jn 17).  The Latin word for sacrament, sacramentum, is a translation of of the Greek word mysterion, which refers to God's plan for salvation (Col 1: 26-27).  This plan is the Father's plan "to reconcile to himself all things through Christ, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, who made peace through the blood of his cross" (Col 1: 19-20).  The paschal mystery is the keystone of the Christian mystery.  All the liturgical feasts and sacraments are referenced to the event of Christ's dying and rising and to this great pattern of reconciliation with the Father through Christ in the power of the Spirit.  Thus the liturgical year is not simply a memesis or imitation of Christ's life.  Christmas is primarily about God's Word becoming flesh and dwelling among human beings in order to bring salvation.  Sacraments are not just seven anthropological markers of lifetime passages such as birth, puberty, sickness, and marriage, but relate to the two fundamental sacraments, baptism and Eucharist, in their functions of reconciliation and building up the church as a messianic saving community.  Sacraments give access to participation in this plan of salvation, anamnesis (memorial) and epiclesis being essential to each of them.