According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the ‘hierarchy of the truths of faith.’ The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God reveals himself to men ‘and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin.’ ”
Catholics — and every other christian religion — believe in a triune God. In other words, we believe in a God whom exists as three separate persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
“Perhaps the deepest, the most profound of all mysteries is the mystery of the Trinity,” Rev. William G. Most wrote in an article for EWTN, a Catholic news station and website. “The Church teaches us that although there is only one God, yet, somehow, there are three Persons in God.”
We know that God exists as three persons because Jesus revealed it to us. In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of having been sent by the Father. Jesus also states that he will send the Holy Spirit to be with the disciples after he is gone. Obviously, he is speaking of two distinct persons — and places himself as separate from each of them.
The Three Persons of the Trinity
In the beginning, God revealed himself to the Israelites as God the Father. God as the Father is the creator, the protector, the ultimate authority, and the loving caretaker of his children. He is often depicted in artwork as stern, with a long, flowing head of white hair and an equally flowing white beard. He is like a force of nature. A thundercloud, or a hurricane. But God the Father is also loving, gentle, and tender — like the mother hen who gather her chicks beneath her wings.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “By calling God ‘Father,’ the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.”
God the Son, of course, is Jesus Christ. Jesus is perhaps the best known of the three persons of the trinity. Jesus is God the Father’s “only begotten son.” He is the person of God who was revealed to us in human flesh, who taught the disciples, performed miracles, died for us on the cross, and rose from the dead. In relation to the Father, he is beloved. He receives the love of the Father. In relation to man, he is the lover — the bridegroom. It is we who receive love from him.
Before the Passover, Jesus mentions that he will send the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, down to be with us during his absence. The Catechism explains that “at work since creation, [and] having previously ‘spoken through the prophets,’ the Spirit will now be with and in the disciples, to teach them and guide them ‘into all the truth.’ The Holy Spirit is thus revealed as another divine person with Jesus and the Father.”
The best explanation I have ever heard of the Holy Spirit, is that the Holy Spirit is the love that proceeds from the Father to the Son. The essence of the Holy Spirit quite literally is love. The love between the Father and the Son is so powerful that generates a third person.
The human family, is perhaps the best model we have of the Holy Trinity. When a man and a woman are married, two distinct people join together and become one person. In this model, the husband is the lover — love proceeds from him to his wife. The wife is the beloved. She receives the love from her husband. Between them, by the love which proceeds from one to the other, a third person is born.