By Anne Metz
Explaining the Holy Trinity to a classroom full of 7- and 8-year-olds tends to bring up a lot of questions.
“Jesus and God are not two different beings,” I find myself saying over and over again to my 2nd grade CCD class. When I explain to them they are One, and what’s more, are part of a Trinity including the Holy Spirit, well, that brings on a whole new host of questions.
The Holy Trinity is referred to as the central mystery of the Christian faith. The key word here is "mystery," meaning we can never fully comprehend it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) itself states, “The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the ‘mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God’” (CCC 237). That gives me peace when teaching about the Holy Trinity; it really takes the pressure off of trying to explain it perfectly.
When preparing to teach, I ask God the Holy Spirit to guide me. With the prayer said and the trust in place, I ready my lesson plan. In terms of practicality, I use a combination of 3 methods to explain this high-level theology concept to children. I’ll start with my favorite.
One Person, Three Roles
My favorite way of explaining how God is three persons in one is the Three Roles Example. This is not a perfect example, but I do love it because I think it helps kids understand how God reveals Himself to us in different ways. To us God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I use the example of a person with different roles.
To begin, I ask for a volunteer to give me the name of their mom or dad. Let’s say the mom’s name is Janice. Janice is mother to my student, a wife to her husband, and an aunt to her nieces. I find this is easier to understand as a visual, so I write on the board:
- “Mom” to her son
- “Janice” to her husband
- “Aunt Jan” to her nieces
Then I ask the kids the following questions:
- Does Janice Smith go by three different names? Yes!
- Is Janice Smith related to each of these people in 3 different ways? Yes!
- Is Janice Smith 3 different people? No!
This certainly isn’t a perfect way to explain the Holy Trinity, since we are talking about people and not God, but we’ve already established we won’t be able to do this perfectly. This exercise seems to turn on the most light bulbs with my students and helps them grab the concept.
The shamrock is a great way to explain the Holy Trinity to kids. It’s simple and lends itself to crafts quite easily. It’s also said that Saint Patrick was the originator of this teaching method so it has a built in bonus lesson about one of our cool Catholic saints.
The lesson is simple, show your child a picture of a three-leaf clover. It is one clover, but it has three leaves, one to represent the Father, one for the Son and one for the Holy Spirit. Three leaves, one clover.
A fun way to follow up the lesson is to go for a shamrock hunt in the back yard or cut out a shamrock out of paper, label the parts of the trinity and color it in.
A Language Lesson
Add a simple language lesson to help your child understand that the Holy Trinity means three persons in one God. In the classroom I show slides of objects that have the prefix “tri” in them - triangle, tricycle, triplet, triceratops, and triathlon for example. We try to figure out what those items have in common.
Most kids easily identify that they all start with the same three letters- tri. If the kids don’t figure it out on their own, I then reveal that each item has a set of things. A tricycle has three wheels, a triangle has three sides, a triceratops has three horns, etcetera.
Finally, we talk about the Holy Trinity, another word with tri in it to signify that God is three persons in one.
The Holy Trinity, albeit a mystery that we may never completely understand, is central to our faith. The more we learn about the Trinity, the more we learn how God reveals Himself to us and how well He loves us. It’s never too early to start learning about God’s love for us; your children will never be too young to begin to unravel this beautiful mystery.
When she’s not writing about faith, Anne Metz works for Growing Catholics, whose mission is to bring Scripture to all, especially tweens and teens.