Symbol in Catholic Church


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 our Faith.

Symbols and Their Meanings

1. INRL: The 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 and they symbolize the fact that Christ is the beginning and the end of all creation.

3. IHS: This is a Christogram - a combination of Greek letters that represent the holy name "Jesus." Christians shortened the name of Jesus by only writing the first three letters of his name in Greek, ΙΗΣ (from his full name ΙΗΣΟΥΣ). The Greek letter Σ (sigma), is written in the Latin alphabet as an “S,” resulting in the monogram being commonly represented as ΙΗS. In the early centuries of the Church it was a secret symbol, often etched on tombs of Christians and served as a means of identifying Christians.

4. PX: Though the two letters look like P and X in the English alphabet, they are actually chi (looks like X) and rho (looks like P) from the Greek alphabet. They also happen to be the first two letters of “Christ” in Greek (Christos). Hence the (PX) chi-rho monogram is used as a symbol of Christ, Christianity, and Christians.

5. CROSSED KEYS: In Catholic 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. The crossed keys represent the metaphorical keys that Jesus promised to St. Peter, empowering him to take binding actions in leading the Catholic Church. In short, they are a symbol of the Pope's authority.

The church is full of sacred signs and symbols that tell us about our past - our history - and inform our faith. Each one has some significance and connection to our faith, and each one represents a time in history, a story, and lessons for us to learn.