For Christians, numerals often have great spiritual significance, repeatedly playing central roles in Scripture and in the meaning of our faith.
Three, for example, is the number of completion that expresses a beginning, middle and an end.
Three is repeated many times throughout Scripture and is at the heart of our beliefs, says Monsignor Arthur Holquin, episcopal vicar for Divine Worship at the Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano.
“At the heart of the Christian faith is our belief in a God whose self-revelation as Creator, Redeemer and Life-giver is expressed in our dogmatic belief in a God who is a Trinity of Persons – One God in three Divine Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” Msgr. Holquin explains.
“The number three is also intimately associated with the pivotal moment in Salvation history, the Lord’s dying and rising in the Easter Mystery,” he continues. “The Lord is in the tomb for three days.” The Easter Triduum is the summit of the liturgical year. Though chronologically three days, Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday are liturgically one day as they unfold for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.
“The yearly liturgical commemoration of the Lord’s dying and rising is celebrated in a three-fold manner,” notes Msgr. Holquin, “beginning with the Celebration of the Evening Supper of the Lord, the Lord’s Passion and the Lord’s Resurrection.”
Three appears often throughout the Bible. A three-day waiting period was foreshadowed in the Hebrew Scriptures and Jonah spent three days awaiting liberation from the whale. And, Msgr. Holquin adds, “In the New Testament, the Lord’s dear friend Lazarus was entombed for three days prior to liberation by the Lord.”
The significance of three continues. Among the seven sacraments, three initiate an individual and welcome him or her into the family of Christ – Baptism, Communion and Confirmation. These three sacraments serve to confirm, strengthen and increase one’s faith and closeness with the community of Christ.
Three is a number that indicates inner sanctity. Of Jesus’s 12 Apostles, he loves three of them more than the others, notes an article on ListVerse, “Top 10 Significant Numbers in Biblical Numerology.”
Peter, John and James had strong faith in Jesus and were allowed to witness his Transfiguration. They prayed together on a hilltop and were astounded as Jesus was suddenly arrayed in radiant white clothing and stood talking with Moses and Elijah. Jesus was then addressed as “Son” by a voice in the sky – God the Father.
But the meaning of three doesn’t end there. Samuel is called by the Lord three times before he realizes it and answers. Satan tempts Jesus three times before giving up. It is on the third day of creation that Earth is made. The placard on the cross is written in 3 languages. Jesus raised three people from the dead – Lazarus, a widow’s son, and the daughter of a man named Jairus.
There are three angels named in the Bible: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Jesus was about 33 when he died. He fell under the cross three times on the Via Dolorosa and was crucified on the cross at the third hour of the day. He rose from the dead on the third day.
“Even the moment of the Lord’s death is haunted by the number three,” Msgr. Holquin says, “as three crosses surmount the hill of Calvary.”