This coming weekend, the priest may ask you during his homily, “What number did you hear several times in today’s readings?” Assuming that the long form of the Gospel was used, you can raise your hand and respond “the number seven.” Remember that you read it here first, because after you hear the fate of the brothers in the first Scripture reading, you may not remember much else!
This column serves to connect readers with particular sights, sounds or actions that surround the liturgy. However, today’s article is simply one for fun as we consider what I like to call the “divine conspiracy of the Holy Spirit.” Numbers, either written or in symbolic form, have become part of the faith tradition and, in varying degrees, are found everywhere in liturgy, art and literature. The number that is used most often is seven. Returning to the Scriptures for this weekend, the number seven is used as a numerical place holder. We are being told the number of people involved in the story. On a deeper level, however, the number seven holds special significance, not only in the world of math and science, but also in the world of religion.
As I began my research, I found an interesting theory. We speak of the four corners of the earth and when we unite the earth with her creator; the Holy Trinity — Father, Son and the Holy Spirit — we have the number seven. When we are united to the Holy Trinity we find wholeness and perfection, thus seven is considered the number of perfection.
Patterns of sevens run through Bible with the Old Testament containing 77 references to the number. In Genesis we are told of the seven days of creation, with the seventh being the day God saw that all was completed and God rested. The rainbow, which God set into the sky as a sign of the covenant with us, contains seven colors. In the genealogy of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is 77th in a direct line. We are taught by tradition that Mary as Jesus’ mother, and Joseph as his foster father, each experienced seven joys due to their relationship with Jesus, and each suffered seven sorrows. During his public life, one of Jesus’ miracles centered on seven baskets of food, which when multiplied to feed a thousand, resulted in seven baskets of leftovers and fragments. When asked how often we should forgive Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven.” And from the cross, Jesus spoke seven last words.
In our church, we celebrate seven sacraments. We pray to be filled with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we may stand strong against the seven deadly sins. We are challenged to live the Gospel by practicing the seven works of corporal mercy and to grow in holiness through our practice of the seven spiritual works of mercy. However, the pattern of seven seems to be broken because there are only three theological virtues, until we realize they are closely associated with the four cardinal virtues. It seems some divine addition took place.
The Our Father contains in itself, seven distinct petitions: hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses, lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.
If you would like to take on a particular challenge during the next week (seven days) take time to read the Book of Revelation and count how many times the number seven will be used. I can guarantee it will be more than seven!
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.