Extraordinary Form · Sermon / Homily

The Trinity, Silence, Presence, Traditional Liturgy, and the Truly Beautiful One

Monsignor Joseph Tan with some of the members of the Cebuano Summorum Pontificum Society.

This post features the sermon or homily of Monsignor Joseph Tan, media liaison officer of the Archdiocese of Cebu, for Trinity Sunday 2017. Monsignor Tan offered a Read Mass (Missa Lecta) in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (Traditional Latin Mass) in celebration of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. It was his first time to offer the Holy Sacrifice in this ancient form of the Liturgy. It was also the 26th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. The Cebuano Summorum Pontificum Society organized the Mass. The readings are presented first below, followed by a video, audio podcast, and the full text.

Reading
Léctio Epístolæ beáti Pauli Apóstoli ad Romános (11:33-36). Lesson from the Epistle of blessed Paul the Apostle to the Romans (11:33-36).
O altitúdo divitiárum sapiéntiæ et sciéntiæ Dei: quam incomprehensibília sunt iudícia eius, et investigábiles viæ eius! Quis enim cognovit sensum Dómini? Aut quis consiliárius eius fuit? Aut quis prior dedit illi, et retribuétur ei? Quóniam ex ipso et per ipsum et in ipso sunt ómnia: ipsi glória in sæcula. Amen. Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible and His judgments and how unsearchable His ways! For Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who has first given to Him, that recompense should be made him? For from Him and through Him and unto Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever, amen.
Graduale & Alleluia
Benedíctus es, Dómine, qui intuéris abýssos, et sedes super Chérubim. ℣. Benedíctus es, Dómine, in firmaménto cæli, et laudábilis in sæcula. (Dan 3:55-56) Blessed are You, O Lord, Who look into the depths from Your throne upon the Cherubim. ℣. Blessed are You, O Lord, in the firmament of heaven, and praiseworthy forever. (Dan 3:55-56)
Allelúia, allelúia. ℣. Benedíctus es, Dómine, Deus patrum nostrórum, et laudábilis in sæcula. Allelúia. (Dan 3:52) Alleluia, alleluia. ℣. Blessed are You, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and praiseworthy forever. Alleluia. (Dan 3:52)
Gospel
Sequéntia sancti Evangélii secúndum Matthǽum (28:18-20). The continuation  of the holy Gospel according to Matthew (28:18-20).
In illo témpore: Dixit Iesus discípulis suis: Data est mihi omnis potéstas in cœlo et in terra. Eúntes ergo docéte omnes gentes, baptizántes eos in nómine Patris, et Fílii, et Spíritus Sancti: docéntes eos serváre ómnia, quæcúmque mandávi vobis. Et ecce, ego vobíscum sum ómnibus diébus usque ad consummatiónem sæculi. At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world.
Sermon
Msgr. Joseph Tan
Media Liaison Officer
Archdiocese of Cebu

Watch the video (~50 MB):

Listen to the audio only (~13 MB):

Read the full text of the sermon:

Today we decided, on this holy day, on this solemn day in honor of the Most Blessed Trinity, to celebrate once again, after some time of absence, the Extraordinary Rite of the Eucharist, otherwise known as the Latin Mass or the Tridentine Mass.

It is interesting to note that the reason for this has something to do with our observance of the solemnity in honor of the Most Blessed Trinity.

I’ve heard that when Pope Benedict XVI went to visit England, there were some groups who were trying to do everything they can to disrupt the visit, to make it become insignificant. And, so, they started propagating the idea that the Pope was of traditional disposition and that whatever it was that he said was mostly mostly irrelevant to the times. It went so far as to feature all these as part of the normal dose of news regarding the updates on the Pope’s visit that people can view directly even from the BBC.

The only small mistake that the news producers had in their effort to downplay the significance of the Pope’s visit to England was that they sent a reporter to go to where the brother of the Pope lived in Germany. They sent a reporter to interview Father George.

When they were asking him a lot of things about the Pope, what was captured in the news segment was Father George saying that Pope Benedict believed that what is perhaps considered one of the most important pillars of the Faith is the celebration of the Liturgy.

So, we cannot take for granted the celebration of the Liturgy. And why is that? Because the Liturgy affords us the direct experience of God.

Those of us — including myself — who are participating in the Extraordinary Rite for the first time, will notice that, in the stricter observance of the rubrics or the instructions regarding the how of the celebration, the People of God — those in attendance — are mostly reduced into silence. Of course, to accommodate our entrance into the traditional form of the mass, we who come from growing up attending the New Order or the Novus Ordo, we are used to the dialogical nature of the Eucharist where the priest and congregation speak to each other before God and to God.

But, in the stricter instruction regarding the rubrics for the traditional Mass, there is silence. And, the reason is not only because it’s supposed to be the priest who stands between God and man in prayer, but more importantly it is some kind of mortification — as the older priests would describe it — a mortification imposed on us who are used to noise, who are used to speaking. And, this for the modern man, for the contemporary man, is quite a heavy demand placed on his or her shoulders.

The reason for the silence is not that he has nothing to say but that it is a posture of attention. Attention to what? To a presence that abides within the celebration of the Eucharist so much so that we are focused on that presence.

Much of the rules of this very complicated version of the Eucharist — if we can call it that — is focused on the idea that a lot of our attention is fixed on the Sacred Species. Down to the last minutiae or detail, everything is designed so that people and priest himself will be focused on the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

I speak of presence as essential to the celebration of the Eucharist because I think this is what the celebration of the solemnity of the Blessed Trinity is all about. Normally on this feast day, priests are prone to quote from the lives of the saints, especially their sermons on Trinity Sunday.

We remember Saint Patrick of Ireland describing the Trinity by bringing into his possession a three-leaf clover and asking the people how many leaves there are in his hands. It’s a three-leaf clover, but it’s just one leaf, and he uses that as a metaphor or imagery for the Trinity.

Saint John Vianney was prone to point to the candle at the altar on Trinity Sunday and would say that in the same manner that we look at that candle on the altar as flame, as wax, and as shape — these are just three manifestations or three renditions (for lack of a better word) towards the same candle.

The most famous that we all grew up listening to on this day was the story supposedly credited to the life of Saint Augustine where Saint Augustine tries to ponder on the meaning of the mystery of the Trinity, takes a walk along the shore, comes in contact with a boy digging a small hole in the sand. Then he sees the boy running to the shore bringing a small pail of water and, taking a pailful of seawater, runs back and pours into the hole that he dug into the sand.

When asked what it was that he wanted to do, he said he wanted to transfer the whole ocean into that hole. And, Augustine reportedly said, “Foolish boy! You cannot do that. It’s impossible.” And, then, the boy said, “You all the more foolish because you are trying to understand the Trinity and you are only a human being.”

The more critical scholars of Augustine, especially of the biography of his life, would tell us that this may not have even happened at all. It was like a pious tradition associated with Augustine.

We remember also the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner. When asked about his advice on what to preach in order to explain the Trinity on Trinity Sunday, Father Karl Rahner would say, “Don’t even attempt to do it because it cannot be done.” Luckily Saint Augustine never had that experience, so we are comforted by the thought that it is possible to experience the meaning of the Trinity in our lives especially since it defines what our Christian Faith is all about.

Some of you may remember this, but a lot of you probably will not: We who have been used to reciting the simpler form of the Creed, mostly in the form of the Apostles’ Creed because it is short and brief, may now have forgotten that there is an older form, not the Nicene Creed which is the longer form recited at Mass, but the Athanasian Creed.

The Athanasian Creed begins more or less with these words: “Whoever wants to be saved has to espouse the Catholic Faith.” And, what does the Catholic Faith teach? “We believe in the Trinity, one God in unity,” and so on and so forth. Meaning, we cannot be saved without our convictions regarding faith regarding the Trinity. It is of utmost importance.

Yet, if it is important to us, we do not leave this in the realm of the theoretical; what is in our mind must also affect our day to day lives. And, this is where we go back to scriptures and return to that moment in time when Moses first met God in the burning bush.

During that time, God became present to him because Moses was in trouble. He just killed a man and ran away and lived in the desert. At the same time, the people of God had been left in Egypt. The Israelites were also in trouble because they had been made to suffer and had been made slaves of the Egyptians who had forgotten about what they contributed during the time of the great famine when Joseph was around.

And, it was at this time that the Lord God appeared to Moses and his people. And, when asked what His name was, He gave us the famous four letters to signify the holy name of God — YHWH. Ordinarily we read this as “Yahweh,” but the more polite way to read it is simply to render it as Adonai or Lord and not read the letters because, as human beings, we are unworthy of naming God.

But, what is the significance of the giving of this holy name? When the Lord God said “I am who am,” biblical scholars say that this simply means “I am the presence who will be present to you when and where you need it the most.” Meaning, when we are beyond our wits’ end to defend ourselves from whatever burdens and problems we are facing, God is the presence that appears to us, that comes to us, that comes to our aid. It is a compassionate presence.

So, the Trinity renders us a reminder of a belief in a compassionate God who treats us in a most personal manner, not in a generic sense. He is Father to each and every one of us. He is the Reconciler to each and every one of us and a brother to us in the Son. And, it is He who encourages us to love and to transform our lives for the better in the works of love and sanctification through the Spirit. It is a very personal involvement of God in our lives where it matters the most.

And, that is why the Trinity is celebrated today not as something that hovers above us but as something that goes down deep within each and every one of us. And, it becomes all the more pronounced at the moment of Communion. In Holy Communion, we receive Jesus, and together with Jesus, the presence of the Father and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us so that our life with God becomes palpable.

We know that we are with God even while we are here on earth. And, because we are with God and because we are convinced that we are with God, we are constantly drawn to live better lives.

Notice also that because of that we learn to respect one another because people like us are temples of the Holy Spirit, and of the Father and the Son, as well.

I was telling the group that organized today’s mass that we wanted this Mass today to be some form of reparation for the desecration of the church, of what happened to the church in Marawi. We try to replace something horrendous with something beautiful and solemn. That’s why we have this traditional Mass.

You can see — those of you who have been watching that video on Facebook — people who do not have a sense of God are the same people who are not afraid to mutilate people. People who mutilate anything that speaks of God are the same people who are without qualms when it comes to mutilating lives or destroying lives, including killing them and making them suffer before killing them.

That is why we need the Trinity not only for ourselves but for the survival of the world.

Today therefore, on this solemn day, we offer this little offering, imperfect as it may be, since this is only the first time that I’ve celebrated it. It is an effort for us to move towards the Beautiful, where we will encounter the presence of God who is truly the Beautiful One and is Father, Son, and Spirit to us. ▪

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