Opening the Word: What's in a name?

When we name our newborn children, we don’t choose any old one. We find names that we love that represent the beauty of our child. We search the lives of saints for those names that signify holiness. We name our children after other loved ones, locating our child in the history of our family.

On the feast of the Holy Trinity, we discover that we are not the only ones who care about names. God has a name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This name, so familiar to those of us who regularly mark ourselves with the sign of the cross, reveals the triune God’s marvelous plan for the salvation of history itself.

Moses knew about the holiness of the divine name. In the Book of Exodus, God reveals the divine name (I AM). God is outside of all time and space. God is the reason for creation — the ground of being that makes all existence possible. And this very God has become involved with a particular people out of love: “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you” (Ex 3:15).

The holiness of the divine name is discovered in God’s patient and merciful action in history.

God doesn’t just speak the divine name in Exodus 3 but expands upon it in Exodus 34: “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” (Ex 34:6). Moses bows down in worship, manifesting to us the proper posture to assume before the name of God.

Through this act of worship, we, too, become God’s own people, joining the angels in praise: “Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever” (Dn 3:54).

God did not cease revealing further dimensions of the divine name throughout salvation history. In Jesus Christ, we come face to face with the living and breathing name of God: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father, the Word made flesh, who reveals to us the face of God. God is a communion of love, the Father begetting the Son, the Son giving everything back in love to the Father.

This is not an abstract claim! We come to see this divine name (Father and Son) as we gaze upon the face of our crucified and risen Lord, on the face of Jesus Christ, who loved unto the end.

As Christians, we don’t simply know the name of God. We share in this name, becoming sons and daughters of the triune God through baptism.

Like what you’re reading? Subscribe now in print or digital.

We are capable of participating in the communion of this name because of the Spirit that dwells with us: “Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor 13:11).

The Trinity, for this reason, is not some abstract doctrine unrelated to our lives. Instead, it is the revelation that the God who created the world out of love is nothing less than total self-giving love.

And when we’re baptized in the name of this God, we are called to share in the very communion of love made possible by this name.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor 13:13).

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.