The Symbolism in a Catholic Church

With so many distractions, possessions, events, and people to encounter in our lives, it is hard to keep our eyes on the prize that is eternal salvation. We hope to eventually end up in heaven and to that end, we must recognize that earth is merely a temporary home. It is a vehicle to heaven and nothing more. While it is easy to lose sight of this fact, the Church gives us the tools to remind us of our destination and our purpose in this material world.

Recently on Morning Air, John had guest Father Burke Masters on the show to talk about the common symbolism we see in Catholic Churches and the significance and usefulness they provide to the Faithful.

Even before one enters the church, Father Burke says that a lot goes into the preceding plaza, parking lot, and walkways. There should be, on arrival, a feeling that we have just entered a different type of place. We are no longer occupying a sacred or “profane” place, but a sacred one, a house of God. And then looking up to the façade of a church we can see distinguishing features like holy statues or scriptural passages. It’s a giveaway that this is something special.

Holy Land Pilgrimage with Drew Mariani

Moving onward, we enter the outside doors into the church itself. Now we are enveloped. The noise from the outside is blocked out. “What we’re trying to do is to help raise awareness for people to see you know, this isn’t like going to a movie theater or going shopping. This is a sacred place where Jesus is present in the Eucharist and it’s this place where heaven meets earth.” The entrances from the secular world to the plaza, to the narthex, and to the church itself should be like climbing stairs. We are ascending an incline to be closer to Our Lord.

Another unassuming symbol present in many churches that may just resemble a common fountain is the Baptismal font. Aside from the occasional Baptism, we probably don’t give the font very much thought, but it represents an important pillar in the stage of every Christian. Regardless of our birthday, our baptism marks the birth of our spiritual life. We become sons and daughters of God. Imprinted in many baptismal fonts are symbols of the Resurrection, whether that be in how many sides it has or its shape. On whole, the font is intended to direct us towards the idea of new life.

After the font, John pointed us to the main aisle, which represents our life’s journey. The altar at the end of the aisle is our destination, heaven. The processions that take place along that aisle should serve as reminders that we are not long for this world in the grand scheme of things. We do not stand stationary in that aisle, but we move forward as we should in life, forever striving to grow closer to God.

We see these processions toward the altar in our reception of the sacraments. In Communion, we go forward from the pew to the altar to meet God in the accidents of bread and wine. In Confirmation, we approach the altar to receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit and a marking of oil. In Holy Matrimony, we see the groom await his bride at the altar as she processes forward to meet her spouse before God.

As Father Burke himself processes up the aisle, he said because the crucifix is pointing forward, he can’t see Christ in front of him, but he knows He is leading him to the altar. That’s a poignant metaphor for our journey in life. While we cannot see God, we must remember and know He is always in front of us, silently guiding us.

Listen to the full conversation below:

Tune in to Morning Air weekdays at 5am CT

Holy Land Pilgrimage with Drew Mariani
John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.