We all know that good communication is a never-ending struggle. For most of us, the word, written and oral, is the most common tool of communications. In addition to the word (which is itself a symbol!), there are other tools to assist in moving an idea from one person’s brain to that of another. On that list of alternate forms are symbols. In the Medieval world before widespread literacy came among us various shops and trades would have their own symbol placed over the door and visible from the street. The barber pole, the three balls over the pawn shop. These instruments were devised and understood by the general public.
The Catholic Church has always understood the importance and value of symbols and used them from the very first generation of Catholicism. One of the earliest and most common was the Greek word ichthus, which means fish. It was taken from the first letters of the expression “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” Early Christians would mark their houses with the symbol of a fish indicating that Christians lived here and telling the Roman authorities nothing. The use of the fish as a symbol of the follower of Jesus fits in very well with some of the bible scenes relating to the Sea of Galilee – these are abundant monumental and literary witnesses to the popularity of this formula. With the passage of time and the cessation of persecution, this particular symbolism is seldom seen today.
Naturally, the most widespread Christian symbol is the cross. It dominates almost everything we do. We cross ourselves on entering the church. We cross ourselves when beginning or ending prayer. It is marked on our buildings – on our bodies. We are constantly adverting to the cross and it is, of course, the symbol of our redemption. It provides us with an opportunity to continually recommitting ourselves to Jesus.
We walk into a church, tip our fingers into a bowl of holy water, a symbol reminding us of our baptism. We should try to remember to say in a meaningful way, “I am here in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. If we are conscious of that, it provides us with a constant recommitting of ourselves to our faith, to our Lord, to our coming salvation.