List of Catholic Symbols and Meanings
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