Since the earliest times, the concept of symbolism has been prevalent in every human culture, social structure, and religious system. Signs and symbols play a vital role as objects upon which thoughts and prayers can be focused. They point a way through the spiritual world, act as badges of faith, teaching tools, and aids on the journey towards understanding complex philosophies.
Below is a list of 10 Catholic symbols, along with descriptions and meanings of each.
10 Catholic Symbols and Their Meanings
- Alpha and Omega
- The Cross
- The Sacred Heart
- IHS and Chi-Rho
- The Fish
- Fleur de Lis
- The Dove
- Crossed Keys
- The Lamb
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.
What Is the Meaning of the Crucifix?
The crucifix is a symbol of sacrifice and atonement, since, according to the Bible, Jesus died for the sins of the world. His crucifixion and his death soaked up systematic injustice, personal evil, violence and other wrongs, and continue to do so for Catholics everywhere.
Unlike other Christian denominations, which use only the cross, the crucifix is a powerful symbol of Catholicism, representing the focal point of the Catholic belief: that Jesus died on the cross to redeem humanity.
What Do the Letters "INRI" Stand for on the Cross?
A crucifix often has the letters "INRI" carved into the wood of the cross. These letters are short for the Latin phrase, "Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum," which translates to "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews."
These are the words which Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea who sentenced Jesus to death, ordered to be written on the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.
2. Alpha and Omega
Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. They are used at various times in the Church liturgical year. The alpha and omega have been used by Catholics since the fourth century as symbols expressing the confidence of orthodox Christians in the scriptural proofs of God.
What Is the Meaning of Alpha and Omega?
In the book of revelation 22:13, Christ refers to himself as the alpha and the omega. That is, the first and the last. These two letters symbolize the fact that Christ is the beginning and the end of all creation.
3. The Cross
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 an instrument of torture and public humiliation, and criminals were put to death on crosses.
What Is the Meaning of the Cross?
For Christians, the cross has become a symbol not only of Jesus' death, but also of his resurrection. While the cross has been around long before the advent of Christianity, the Easter story (that is, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ) has made the cross one of the most recognized icons in the world. The cross symbolizes sacrifice, suffering, repentance, solidarity, and exclusion. These are only a few ways to interpret the cross. Every Catholic applies their own significance to this perennial symbol.
4. The Sacred Heart
In Catholic art, the Sacred Heart is usually depicted as a flaming heart. It is also usually shining with divine light, pierced (presumably from a lance), encircled by a crown of thorns, surmounted by a cross, and bleeding. Sometimes it is shown in the bosom of Jesus Christ. The wound, thorns, and blood represent Jesus' crucifixion, and the flames represent the transformative power of divine love.
What Is the Meaning of the Sacred Heart?
The Sacred Heart represents Jesus' physical heart and represents divine love. It is a devotional of Catholics everywhere and encapsulates the message of Jesus' long-suffering love and passion towards humanity. On its own, the heart is a symbol of love. But the Sacred Heart, pierced and wrapped in thorns, shows the depth of Jesus' love. It indicates that he was prepared to suffer and die for all people, and that his love is eternal.
5. 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, which is "IHΣΟΥΣ."
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 and are sometimes enclosed within a circle, becoming both a cosmic and a solar symbol.
6. The Fish
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 during the time when the Christians were persecuted for their faith by the Romans.
What Is the Meaning of the Fish?
The fish 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. The Latin, "Iesous CHristos THeou Uios Soter" translates in English to, "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," which means "fish."
The fleur-de-lis is a stylized lily composed of three petals bound together at their base. The lily has been used in many places throughout history, serving formerly as the emblem depicted on the royal arms of France (a historically Catholic nation), and has always represented divinity.
What Is the Meaning of the Fleur-de-Lis?
In one interpretation, the flower is a symbol of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. The whiteness and beauty of the lily is symbolic of the purity of Mary Immaculate.
In another interpretation, the lily depicts the Holy Trinity, which consists of the Father (God), the son (Jesus Christ), and the holy spirit–or one God in three divine persons. The band which hold the three pedals together represents Mary, since it was she who bore the child of God.
8. The Dove
The dove is a white bird often depicted in the Catholic Church as flying gracefully before a shining aura of light. Sometimes, the dove is carrying an olive branch in its beak.
What Is the Meaning of the Dove?
The dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. When Christ was baptized by John the Baptist, a dove descended on him, according 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 when, in Noah's story, he sent out a dove to search for dry land after the rain stopped? It returned carrying an olive branch from the Mount of Olives, which was a sign and symbol of God's forgiveness.
9. Crossed Keys
In Christian art, crossed keys, sometimes known as the Keys of Heaven, are a pair of keys that overlap and interlock, creating an "X." The keys are used as ecclesiastical heraldry, papal coats of arms, and symbolic images in holy places.
What Is the Meaning of the Crossed Keys?
The crossed keys represent the metaphorical keys that Jesus promised to St. Peter, empowering him to take binding actions in leading the institution of the Catholic Church. In short, they are a symbol of the Pope's authority. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says to Peter:
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth shall be loosed in heaven.
St. Peter was the first pope, and those who succeed him share in the power Jesus gave him.
10. The Lamb
One of the most important symbols of Christ is the Lamb. Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God is mentioned in John 1:35-36 and Revelation 5:6-14, and always in the words of the Mass.
What Is the Meaning of the Lamb?
The whiteness of the Lamb symbolises innocence and purity. Lambs are also often associated with sacrifice in the Old Testament. Christ, the sacrificial lamb, died for the sins of humanity. The lamb can also symbolize subservience to God.
The lamb is sometimes portrayed with a flag. This is symbolic of Christ's victory over death in his resurrection.
What Are the Seven Catholic Sacraments?
A sacrament is a religious rite, ceremony, or act that is regarded as an outward, visible sign of inner divine grace. In the Roman Catholic Church, there are seven sacraments that are performed throughout one's time as a member of the Church. The sacraments are divided into three categories, which are:
- The Sacraments of Initiation
- The Sacraments of Healing
- The Sacraments of Service
Each of the sacraments is listed in the tables below.
Sacraments of Initiation
This sacrament is usually performed while one is an infant, although baptisms can be carried out at any time. During this sacrament, the priest welcomes the baby to the Catholic Church and wipes away the sin it was born with. The priest anoints the child with oils, holy water, and prayer.
This sacrament, when performed for the first time, is called First Communion. Eucharist takes place during Mass and consists of consuming the body and blood of Christ, which has been transubstantiated from bread and wine.
This sacrament completes the sacrament of baptism, and is performed when a person is coming-of-age. The sacrament is meant to give a person a chance to reevaluate their faith and decide if they want to continue their religious journey with the Catholic Church.
Sacraments of Healing
This sacrament, also knowns as the Sacrament of Penance or Confession, consists of confessing one's sins to a priest to receive absolution in return. Through Reconciliation, Catholics are absolved of the sins they have committed since their baptism. A Catholic can perform Reconciliation whenever they want, and as often as they want.
Anointing the Sick
This is a sacrament of the Catholic Church that is administered to a Catholic "who, having reached the age of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age." This sacrament is administered by a priest, who applies oil to the forehead (and sometimes other body parts) while reciting prayers.
Sacraments of Service
This sacrament occurs when a man becomes a bishop, priest, or deacon.
This sacrament is the "covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring."
© 2008 MM Del Rosario
Leave a Comment
Joseph from Nigeria on July 26, 2020:
Nice write up...now I know the meaning of does symbols
KindHeartForever on May 22, 2020:
God is great ❤️
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on May 06, 2020:
Cool. although I have a few Catholic friends, I understand we don't need a priest to forgive us of our sins, we can go straight to Jesus ourselves. No confession fees from me for sure.
Christy Nanayakkara on October 24, 2019:
This is very interesting. Somethings, we christians just accept. To have them explained in simple words, inspiring to christians, understanding to others. I live in Sri Lanka. Most priests' sermons go over our heads. I hope they will follow these classic examples. (If not published will I know why?)
amos maria igba on August 11, 2013:
i love GOD and our mother mary
Matt on February 24, 2013:
The Fish is my favourite symbol.
Gaganator on October 24, 2012:
i love this website, thanks for all the help :)
madlife on October 03, 2012:
i need more symbols
Dieudonne on July 19, 2012:
Thanks so much for the inside it has opened me to understanding the symbols used by the Church. I am not Oliver twist but i will be glad to read on more symbols.
Amofah on June 19, 2012:
Am proud to be catholic in the catholic church everything is in order.
Ricki on May 22, 2012:
What does the circle around the centre of the cross (as displayed on catholic churches etc) represent.
Ifeanyi Agu on May 08, 2012:
Is good for one to act what he/she believe & believe what he/she act. i love catholic.
Andrew paul on May 04, 2012:
I love catholic church.i wil like to be a priest presenly am a minor seminarian if u went to help jus contect me on facebok Andrew Paul on facebook.
tate on April 03, 2012:
my project is now complete
Theresa on March 29, 2012:
I love th Catholic church and its teachings are so pure.
bernst19 on March 27, 2012:
Thank you for this explanation. Do you or any one reading this know what the capital 'M' with a cross above it, surrounded by an oval or circle of dots mean?
It's hard to describe in words,but its on the back of a cross necklace my husband owns, that I got from a catholic store.
cheese on February 25, 2012:
thanks, this helped me with my r.e assesment!:D
gregorytenia on February 21, 2012:
thankyou very much it helped alot about my religion (roman catholic) and my project thankyou very much!! :)
Bobby on February 04, 2012:
Thank you for all the work! This helped sooo much
nana on February 01, 2012:
were are the candles , 10 commandments ,the cup and the bread
Kathy N on January 26, 2012:
Thank you so much for your beautiful work. It's very helpful. May God reward you.
I've tried to be a good catholic and feel so blessed to attend holy masses. Now I understand the signs in the churches.
GuyfromNorway on January 26, 2012:
Thanks for help for my homework! :D
Hy on December 16, 2011:
What do the beads on the cross necklace mean?
Cynthia on December 15, 2011:
Everything is Jesus Then why need meaning for specific things. but the meaning for every image and letters are really clear and every christian must know it well to share with non catholics
emt on December 09, 2011:
thanks man that help me a lot
francis on December 08, 2011:
Am really proud to be a catholic am really proud
CRISSYBELIEVERluvsENRIQUE IGLESIAS on December 05, 2011:
Thanks so much for your help!
lily therese on November 20, 2011:
I go to a private catholic school and we take our faith REALLY seriously (which of course is a good thing. my teacher just gave me an assignment to look up symbols and write an essay this really really helped thank you :)
sarah on November 14, 2011:
thank, you very much my home work is now complete :D
keelan on November 13, 2011:
Supplex on November 12, 2011:
As a new convert, I am often amazed and pleased at the richness of Catholic tradition.
Seb-Mary on November 07, 2011:
I love the church's teaching
Samuel Ejika on October 30, 2011:
This site has opened my eye, Thanks so much.
Joseph Orabu on October 16, 2011:
On December 2011, we (YOUTHS)have yes retreat Nangina parish. I was given the topic to discuss about signs of the church. Thank you to sana.
punitha on October 14, 2011:
thank you somuch..................
nike2010 on October 13, 2011:
ok thank you this answerrs my question
Student 1 on October 11, 2011:
Thanx so much... this helped me heaps in re !
Mark, South Pacific on September 28, 2011:
Symbols helps. We are living in the world of symbols.
shepi on September 03, 2011:
Jesus said i am the way the truth and the life. Why is it Catholics pray through Mary?
student on August 21, 2011:
Recommended for You
thank you so much this site has helped me so much with my school assignment =)
Fatima on July 21, 2011:
It is always good for the Church to explain and teach it's faith
Xhoxho on July 06, 2011:
I believe that symbols don't mean anything to our Christian faith what God real wants is the we believe as the bible says in Romans1:17 "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith." W can only be justified in our walk with through faith and not symbols again the bible says in 2Corinthian5:7 "For we live by faith, not by sight" and symbols are sight not faith
lois on June 21, 2011:
I am trying to find out the meaning of the slanted cross on catholic cemetary headstones and so far am not able.
Owera on May 08, 2011:
Thank you very much for the information.I'm a Catholic and I've never understood some of the symbols in the church.This site has really opened my eyes.
rtyu on May 02, 2011:
emily on March 22, 2011:
this website needs more viewers. it is an awesome website. ill tell you this. ADVERTISE!!!!!!!
Francis on March 11, 2011:
Well presented. Symbols are in our prayer life. It reminds of of the God who loved us so much. Thanks.
deepa on March 09, 2011:
great photos and very , to the point informative hub, keep writing and join helium.
Guillermo on March 01, 2011:
This helps us understand the meaning of symbols!!
Nana Mbroh Joshua on January 27, 2011:
I am just in love all that I have read. A proud Catholic.
Jackie Paulson from USA IL on December 28, 2010:
I love this hub and the topic and the layout. I love that you have symbols and words to make understanding so easy.
kary on December 08, 2010:
very well done explains the means great
Babe on December 05, 2010:
sweet. helped me stufy for RE exam. :P
Fernando on December 04, 2010:
i am a catholic, very nice hub
Saili on November 24, 2010:
thans alot, this knowledge will me defend my catholic faith.
lea86 on November 17, 2010:
Hi, I want to add about the symbol of cross; besides what has you mentioned, a cross is also a symbol of victory over death and sins. To catholics, a cross with Jesus attached bring an important meaning, where it refers Jesus's victory and as accomplishment of the Father's Word. Usually for protestant point of views, they claim that Jesus should be put down, because it hurts Him.But Catholic believe that it is a sign of Jesus's great faith to His Father and also His love upon humanity.
catholic girl 102 on November 06, 2010:
i am catholic and i think this website was okay but i didn't get what i needed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
rsagbersab on October 16, 2010:
exellent job. i learned a lot.
susan.dawson45 from UK on October 14, 2010:
This is a wonderful post. The Church is full symbolism. This is the beauty of the Catholic tradition - http://bit.ly/c8ddcs
tony nou on October 11, 2010:
Thanks for the info, helps me alot on my faith experience project. I am a protestant and am visiting a catholic church for my project. God Bless You
Andrew on September 21, 2010:
I feel it would be have been more insightful if you had also explained the pagan origins of these symbols and their translation to the catholic church.
Bernard price on September 20, 2010:
I notice during the recent papal visit a symbol being worn . It is a circle with a bar through it
in the form of a pendant. Anyone know what this is?
Pagan on August 16, 2010:
Key word it's 'Catholic' symbols, they are not Christian symbols...
Thomas Tay on July 17, 2010:
Good information for Catholic like mr
oscar on July 05, 2010:
when did the chi rho cross get replaced with the latin cross?
thecatholicexpert on June 28, 2010:
thanks for explaining all the different symbols and the Latin words in all of them. really useful stuff! God Bless!
ron on May 18, 2010:
great page fantastic
Nzenze Epie on May 09, 2010:
Thanks a lot for this information. i once read these from a book but could no longer lay hands on it again. But i would love to read more on the developments if any. God bless you. Thanks again
Obembe joseph on May 08, 2010:
Thanks, but we still need more symbols
brock on May 06, 2010:
yor website rocks
tyler on May 05, 2010:
your website rocks
Lor on April 06, 2010:
this website helped me alot! thank you.
Michael Shane from Gadsden, Alabama on March 18, 2010:
Very informative hub! Good job!
on March 17, 2010:
great advice on the easter symbols ill definetly be coming back to this site late on in life thanks
steph on March 04, 2010:
i love this site i use it everyday! thanks heaps for this
boo on March 02, 2010:
nomical17 on February 21, 2010:
very informative ^_^
ern on January 31, 2010:
Thank you so much for this information. You answered many questions I have had for years. I have a couple rosary beads I purchased from Rome when I lived in Naples (was in military). I am not a Catholic and have been wondering what the symbols are on the rosary. When I traveled Italy, I noticed on the outside of the churches it would have the letters IHS and now I know what it means! I also have wondered what INRI was. On my rosary it has the alpha symbol as well as the omega symbol, which I knew, but it also had a 'P' with an 'x' at the bottom of the P overlapping it. Now I know what it means. My daughters rosary has the sacred heart so I will let her know exactly what it means. The backside of the rosary with the alpha, omega, and chi-rho symbol has what looks like a shield with a cross and a M and a helmet on top of the shield. It reminds me of the armor of God, but if anyone knows what this means, please let me know. Thank you so much for the information you have provided and God bless you.
birdy on January 15, 2010:
im baptist but my boyfriend is catholic i see no wrong in it just the diff. in them i want to know more... how can i know more besides keep going to church with him ...i already do that...but i want to do it on my own time too
david brown on January 11, 2010:
i would like to know how when priests make the sign of the cross and say the words the son spirit and holy ghost across their body how is it signed left to right right to left up down how? please send explanation
on December 02, 2009:
why cant we have info on all the symbols
Illum on November 26, 2009:
if you do your research, all of these symbols are based in pagan ideas and practices. interesting thing about mainstream christianity, they fail to read their history books. Edict of Milan for example. Truth stands on the four pillars.
School girl on November 10, 2009:
me and my friend used this site even though im not catholic (go chuch of england) and the fish was on my old school logo it was a lutheran school
Soccer Chick on November 10, 2009:
i think this site was good.
i had to use this for work at school (Merici Colleage Camberra the cool school) and it was great thanks
ruby on October 17, 2009:
the Chi-Rho was developed by Constantine for his battles. IN THIS SIGN SHALL YE CONQUER was the motto for the Chi-Ro.
Mike on October 16, 2009:
EDWARD MENSAH on October 08, 2009:
This site is just too great and wonderful.
stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on October 08, 2009:
Absolutely Fantastic article with wonderful photos. GBY Dear Heart.
obel on September 29, 2009:
I'm not a christian, but i really love and believe in jesus. i want to convert to christian can anyone guide me what should i do. I pray to jesus everyday but don't know it is in the correct way or not. christianity is a beautifully peace religion , it gave us faith and gave the power how to love other.. i feel very good and feel god's love when i was in the church near my home..
on September 26, 2009:
great sighns of the church
pamela edison on September 11, 2009:
good hub....very very informative...
can't wait to read more...
Marcus on September 04, 2009:
Deuteronomy 4:15 Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire:
Deuteronomy 4:16 Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female,
Deuteronomy 4:17 The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air,
Deuteronomy 4:18 The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth:
Deuteronomy 4:19 And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.
student on September 01, 2009:
thankyou. i am doing a project on religious symbols and have been stuck for a while. Thankyou for all your help.
thecatholicexpert on August 06, 2009:
Great job, I appreciate the explanations behind all the different symbols it was interesting to read about them all!
PRINCE on July 20, 2009:
I AM A CATHOLIC BUT I DONT KNOW THE MEANING OF THE CATHOLIC SYMBOLS TILL I VISITED THIS SITE. WILL DONE KEEP THE CATHOLIC FAITH BURNING
Jenny on June 18, 2009:
What is greek symbol for faithful?
Sam on June 14, 2009:
this really helped
BoReD on June 05, 2009:
thanks for that wonderful piece of information. I'm studying for a test and this will hep a lot
Carl on May 29, 2009:
thanks for that, it really helped.
Make Money from Ontario on May 23, 2009:
Very nice Hub MM Del Rosario. I should write some Hubs like this myself instead of spending all my time in the HubPages forums. It's fun too though.
Tim Bourdon I also happen to be wearing one of those medals myself attached to my scapular. It is called the Medal of the Immaculate Conception or more popularly known as the Miraculous Medal. It has quite the history to it. So this spurred me on to writing a Hub about the Miraculous Medal. You can get this medal for free from a link on my new Hub.