Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy
We are staying a couple of days in Bellagio, a village perched on a peninsula reaching into the center of Lake Como. Ocher roofs nest against green, forested mountains, and you can see in three directions from our hotel’s gardens, south toward Como, across the lake to Menaggio and Tremezzo, and north to the snowcapped Alps. Most Italian villages have churches, and this basilica’s belltower chimes the time in the misty air.
Today being Santissima Trinita, Holy Trinity Sunday, I looked forward to visiting the basilica for Mass and seeing what our Heavenly Father would show me. The stone basilica (12th century, Romanesque) is nearly next door and we planned to attend the 11:30 Mass, following the Italian as best we could. I have found that the liturgy of the Divine Office, the Holy Eucharist, is the same everywhere – Scripture, Sermon, Offering, Consecration, and Communion with Our Lord and one another. As we stepped across the threshold I opened my heart and mind, waiting and watching, to see what I might see, to see what our Heavenly Father might show me. It was 11:15 and we were the first to arrive, but it was soon packed.
The church itself is a work of art. The tabernacle and high altar are golden and gleaming against the dark stone of the vaults and pillars. There is a large stone pulpit that the preacher used to full advantage, high above us, gesturing with bright-eyed enthusiasm. The pews are the expected hard wood and the kneelers even harder slats. Folks stood to pray more than they knelt. Kneeling was saved for the Consecration. The nave flooring was uneven, sloping down from the chancel to the entry, as though the church were indeed an ark parting the seas.
While I understand the structure of the Mass and many of the liturgical prayers, Italian being close to Latin, I usually struggle with the sermon in a foreign tongue. In this case the pastor had kindly provided an English translation in a leaflet. I scanned it as he spoke from his marbled loft.
The mystery of the Trinity is one that has long been debated and prayerfully considered. Analogies are given: St. Patrick’s three leaf shamrock is one and three; a tree has trunk, branches, and leaves, one and three; H2O can be solid, liquid, and gaseous, one and three. There has been an assumption that the Trinity is a difficult concept, those three Persons of God: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.
My late bishop often said the Holy Spirit was the love between God the Father and God the Son.
But today, it seemed clear, after reading the little leaflet in the Basilica of St. James (San Giacomo) in Bellagio. “All liturgical celebration, indeed all Christian prayer,” it read, “is Trinitarian: to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.”
Growing up Presbyterian I was told to pray to the Son, to Jesus. Nothing wrong there, of course, except, I always wondered where the Father came in, and assumed He was watching from above, distant. As I grew in the Anglo-Catholic faith, I came to understand that prayer is addressed to God the Father, but in the name of Jesus Christ His Son, for we are told by Christ to pray in His name not to Him but to His Father. All prayers end with “in the name of…” and this is why. And all Anglican prayers (or most) address God the Father. For, I came to understand, Jesus is the Way to the Father. We pray through Jesus. They are both the same person, in this sense. Christ is the fleshly form of God on earth, and it is His humanity, this incarnation, that allows us to touch God. This is the only Way to God.
But what about the Holy Spirit. While I understood that the Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son, today a new dimension entered my soul. In prayer, the Spirit is where we are dwelling. We are in the Spirit, as we pray through the Son, to the Father. And so in prayer we enter another state, a cloud of knowing rather than unknowing as the mystics like to say, for we are on the way to God, being in God, and traveling through God.
St. Benedict said that life is a pilgrimage into God with God. Yes. A pilgrimage into God the Father, within God the Spirit, and through the name (and Eucharistic union) of God the Son.
And so I left the gilded stone sanctuary a different being than the one I was when I entered. I was given a gift today, this Trinity Sunday 2016 in this village on the shores of Lake Como. I have been given many gifts, over many years of Sunday Eucharists, but this one I will not forget. Now each time I pray I shall think of that golden tabernacle and the true nature of the Santissima Trinita. I shall realize that as I enter my prayer with those first words, “Our Father who art in Heaven…” I enter into the Holy Spirit of God. He prompts me, He leads me, and He gives me the words to say, the desires to express. I am in the Holy Spirit, in Heaven on earth already. This the magnificent gift of the Santissima Trinita.