By Lucinda Herrick
The mystery and sacredness of the number three is repeatedly displayed during each Mass. When are these moments and what do they mean?
At the beginning of each Mass, the priest gathers believers with the Sign of the Cross representing the great Three, the Trinity: God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Sign of the Cross has been used since the 1st Century and at this moment reminds us that the Mass is a prayer. We are at the beginning of the prayer which will not end until the Sign of the Cross at the end of Mass. We are invoking the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit through the prayer of the Mass. At this moment, making the Sign of the Cross, we are uniting ourselves and our prayers with all Christians throughout time and the world.
As we stand for the Penitential Act, we strike our breast three times, asking mercy from God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We confess our sins and acknowledge that we have grieved the Trinity by our sinfulness and failure to do His will. Striking our breast is a public display in which we acknowledge our faults and should make us deeply aware that “my sin is my fault.” *
As we sit during Mass, we see and hear the altar server ring the bells three times, again representing the presence of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Today some churches do not continue this practice since the Second Vatican Council declared the ringing of bells at consecration of the Host to be optional, but many parishes continue to use it as a reminder for us to pay attention as Christ is here on the altar and will soon be present within us as we consume the Holy Eucharist.
If incense is being used during Mass, the thurible is swung three times before the Most Blessed Sacrament, the altar cross, the offerings, the Book of the Gospels, the Paschal Candle, the priest, the people and sometimes images of Saints. Incense is symbolic of purification and sanctification, and its smoke is a symbol of our prayers being raised to heaven. In Psalm 141:12, David prayed, “May my prayer be set before you like incense.” When we see the smoke of incense ascend, we can be comforted to know our prayers are going up to God, and as holy supplications due to Christ’s sacrifice they are pleasing to God.
Now, more than ever, an awareness of the symbolic moments in the Mass are important. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Sacramentum Caritatis, “that the faithful be helped to make their interior dispositions correspond to their gestures and words…This is particularly important in a highly technological age like our own which risks losing the ability to appreciate signs and symbols.” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 64)
Are there other significant “3’s” in our Catholic faith? Yes! The number three is repeated many times in the Scriptures and is at the heart of our faith. We believe in one God in three Divine Persons – who are Creator, Redeemer, and Life-giver. Three is the number of completion, containing a beginning, middle and end. It is associated with our Salvation in that Christ fell three times on the Via Dolorosa, was crucified at the third hour and was in the tomb three days. We remember His sacrifice within three powerful events: the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Passion, and His Resurrection. Of the seven sacraments, three of them bring us into the family of God strengthening our faith: Baptism, Communion and Confirmation.
Next time you are in Mass, listen and watch for the 3’s. They will call you deeper into His Presence during this Holy Hour.
www.thecompassnews.org – Fr. Girotti, Vicar of the Curia, Diocese of Green Bay.