The Trinity with Christ Crucified
Egg on silver fir
118.1 x 114.9 cm
The National Gallery, London
Of this work, the Gallery merely comments laconically:
"Originally an altarpiece protected by two shutters (the marks of their hinges are visible in the frame).
It represents the Trinity, with God the Father seated supporting the crucified Christ, and the Dove of the Holy Spirit between them, a type of image known as the Throne of Mercy."
God the Father is holding the Crucified Christ with His hands and between His legs. In some representations of the Trinity, the Dove of the Holy Spirit comes from the mouth of the Father towards the left ear of the Son.
But this work was obviously in a Roman Catholic church and therefore the Holy Spirit does not come from the Father and through the Son but rather from both.
Christ is shown in a standing posture on the Cross and as meek as a lamb
The Holy Spirit is shown as given to reveal the truth and will of God.
One also perhaps remembers the imagery of the Trinity in the Book of Revelation: God the Father on his throne; the Lamb standing and bloodied; and the Spirit which blows and flows through human history. Ar first sight it appears to be a celestial vision and a rather static one at that
But as it is presently displayed the full power of the work is not be appreciated
It would have been attached to and looked down upon the priest making the sacrifice at the High Altar during Mass
The priest and the congregation would have had this image before them before and at the words of consecration and the other most important parts of the Mass
Before the priest, the deacon, the acolytes and the congregation was the Trinity: God of the Old and New Testaments.
The High Altar was the new Altar of the Holocaust and the Altar of Incense as in Old Testament times.
See: Souvay, Charles. "Altars (in Scripture)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 4 Jun. 2012
The painting would not have been visible at all times.
It would only have been made fully visible during the Mass and then probably only after the Mass of the Catuchumens and just before The Mass of the Faithful
The painting was the backdrop to the Canon of the Mass, the central part of the Mass of the Faithful which came after the Mass of the Catuchumens.The fundamental part of the Mass that comes after the Offertory and before the Communion, the Eucharistic prayer that the Eastern rites call the Anaphora
The Mass is of course a celebration of and a participation in the whole of the Paschal mystery. The painting was to be an essential tool to the central part of the Mass
The Canon began with the prayer "Te igitur".
Of the Canon, Adrian Fortescue in The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) says:
"It is now a law that a picture of the Crucifixion should be placed at the beginning of the Canon. Innocent III (1198-1216) notes that in his time this was already the custom. The crucifix grew out of the adornment of the letter T with which the Canon begins. Innocent thinks that the presence of the T at that place is a special work of Divine Providence (Inn. III, De Sacro altaris myst., I, 3, c. ii, P.L., CCXVII)."
The centre of attention of the priest and people would be an image of the Crucifixion
It recalled what was being offered to God: hóstiam puram, hóstiam sanctam, hóstiam immaculátam - Christ
As the new translation has it -
“this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation."
Further on the Canon reminds us again of what is offered: sanctum sacrifícium, immaculátam hóstiam (“a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim”)
The position of the painting was important: above the head of the priest and the faithful. The Canon of the Mass said:
"Supra quæ propitio ac sereno vultu respicere digneris",
Note also the face of God the Father in the painting: sereno vultu.
“Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance.”
God the Father is patriarchal, shall we say, the God of the Old Testament as perhaps we are accustomed to think of these days. But then the Canon in its prayers commemorates the sacrifices in the Old Testament: Abel, Abraham, Melchisedech.
The prayer which is the Canon is first directed towards God the Father.
The priest, standing in persona Christi, is offering the sacrifice of the Son to the Father. The Mass itself is a re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, whereby Jesus was both priest and victim
As the Canon has the celebrant say:
"Oráte, fratres: ut meum ac vestrum sacrifíciumacceptábile fiat apud Deum Patrem omnipoténtem"("Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”)
And the people respond:
"Suscípiat Dóminus sacrifícium de mánibus tuis ad laudem et glóriam nóminis sui, ad utilitátem quoque nostram totiúsque Ecclésiæ suæ sanctæ.""May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.”
After the Consecration, the Canon addresses Christ directly directly as can be seen from what used to be called the “Memorial Acclamation,*”and now“The Mystery of Faith.”:
"Quotiescúmque manducámus panem hunc et cálicem bíbimus, mortem tuam annuntiámus, Dómine, donec vénias.“When we eat this Bread, and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again”
"Salvátor mundi, salva nos, qui per crucem et resurrectiónem tuam liberásti nos."“Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.”
"Mortem tuam annuntiámus, Dómine, et tuam resurrectiónem confitémur, donec vénias."“We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection, until you come again.”
And then the conclusion: the short Doxology that comes at the end just before the Great Amen.
Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso, est tibi Deo Patri omnipoténti, in unitáte Spíritus Sancti, omnis honor et glória per ómnia sǽcula sæculórumThrough him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit
And it is at the end of the Canon and this Doxology that the full extent of the painter`s Vision is on show. It is not a mere picture.
It is an icon of the Trinity