List of Catholic Symbols and Meanings
Since the earliest times, the concept of symbolism has appeared in every human culture, social structure, and religious system. Signs and symbols play a vital role in all of the world's religions as objects on which thoughts and prayers can be focused.
Symbols point a way through the spiritual world. They act as badges of faith, teaching tools, and aids on the journey towards an understanding of complex philosophies.
The crucifix is a cross with the figure of the body of Jesus Christ attached to it. This is a very common Catholic symbol that is often placed on or above the altar where the Eucharist is celebrated.
A crucifix often has the letters INRI written across the top. These letters are short for a Latin phrase which translates as "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." These are the words in which Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, ordered to be written over the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.
A crucifix is a symbol of sacrifice.
Alpha and Omega
These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and are used at various times in the Church liturgical year.
In the book of revelation 22:13, Christ refers himself as the Alpha and the Omega, that is the first and the last: Christ is the beginning and the end of all creation.
The most famous and widespread Christian symbol is the cross. It is found wherever there is a Christian presence.
In Roman times, the cross was seen as an instrument of torture and public humilation. Criminals were put to death on crosses.
For Christians, however, the cross became a symbol not only of Jesus' death but also of his resurrection.
The Sacred Heart
The Sacred Heart is a symbol of the love of Jesus for all of humanity.
The heart is a symbol of love. When depicted as the Sacred Heart, it is shown as pierced with a cross and thorns twisted around it. This shows the depth of Jesus' love. He was prepared to suffer and die for all people. His love is eternal.
IHS and Chi-Rho
The letters IHS often appear on liturgical items, building plaques, gravestones, and sacred vessels. IHS is a shortened form of the Greek word for Jesus.
The letters X and P are often used as another symbol for Christ. The first two letters of Christ's name in Greek are X and P. In the Greek alphabet, X equals CH and P equals R.
Also known as the CHi-RHO cross, the letters are usually inscribed one over the other sometimes enclosed within a circle, becoming both a cosmic and a solar symbol.
One of the oldest Christian symbols is the fish. It was used by Christians to identify themselves and each other, often in times of persecution. It is often found in the Roman catacombs, a secret meeting place when the Christians were persecuted for their faith by the Romans.
It is based on an acrostic of the initial letters of the Greek words for Jesus Christ. To understand this symbol, you need to know the meaning of the acronym. The Greek word for fish is ICHTHUS, which is also an acronym for Jesus. (Iesous CHristos THeou Uios Soter translates as "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.")
Christ also referred to his apostles as "Fishers of Men" while the early Christian fathers called the faithful pisculi (fish).
Fleur de Lis
This is one example of a symbol of Mary. The whiteness and beauty of the lily is symbolic of the purity of Mary Immaculate.
The lily is often used to decorate shrines, chapels, or grottos dedicated to Mary.
The dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. When Christ was baptized by John the Baptist, a dove descended on him (Matthew 3:16 and Mark 1:10).
The dove is sometimes depicted with an olive branch in its mouth as a symbol of peace. It also symbolizes God's grace.
Do you remember how in Noah's story, God sent a great flood and after the rain stopped, Noah sent out a dove to search for dry land? It returned carrying an olive branch from the Mount of Olives, a symbol of God's forgiveness.
Crossed keys are a symbol of the Pope's authority. This is because Christ said to St. Peter that he would give him the key to the Kingdom (Matthew 16:19). St. Peter was the first pope and those who succeed him share in the power Jesus gave him.
One of the most important symbols of Christ is the Lamb. Christ as the Lamb of God is mentioned in John 1:35-36 and Revelation 5:6-14 and in the words of the Mass.
The whiteness of the Lamb symbolises innocence and purity. Lambs are often associated with sacrifice in the Old Testament. Christ, the sacrificial lamb, died for the sins of humanity.
The lamb is sometimes portrayed with a flag, symbolic of Christ's victory over death in his Resurrection.