chi_rho CHRISTIAN SYMBOLOGY
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Chapter - Sacraments

All bodies of Christ in some way recognize some or all of the following acts as sacred. As I wish not to get into the differences here, it is best for the reader to seek the council of a pastor/priest to determine how his or her church practices the following sacraments.

ABSOLUTION – Absolution is the forgiveness of one’s sins by a priest. Absolution is symbolized by a bunch of hyssop, based on Psalm 51:7 which reads, “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean.”

BAPTISM – Baptism is an act all believers are to participate in. In the early church, baptism, according to the Didache, was to be performed in cold, living (running) water. As the church progressed and large designated buildings replaced house churches, the practice of baptism evolved as well. Baptism was moved into the church building for both convenience and safety. It was performed in a baptismal font. The font was usually round and very large. Sometimes the fonts were in the floor of the church, covered in beautiful mosaic patterns. A popular pattern was of a fish or dolphin, a symbol of baptism.
Today, fonts take on many shapes and sizes. In liturgical churches, fonts are octagonal in shape and may have large covers in the shape of a pyramid topped with a cross or dove. In evangelical churches, the font has been replaced with some form of container either in the floor or elevated behind the platform for better viewing. The shapes and sizes vary.

BIBLE (The Word)1. The Word is portrayed as an open book. On pages of the open book is sometimes written V.D.M.A. or Verbum Dei Manet Aeternum, Latin for “The Word of God endures forever”. 2. Two scrolls, one representing the Old Testament and the other the New Testament, represent The Word. 3. The Word is symbolized by a candle.

CONFESSION – Confession is the act of publicly or privately confessing one’s sins. It is portrayed by a confessional stole.

CONFIRMATION – In liturgical churches, those who have been baptized are then confirmed. In this process, the person receives the Holy Spirit. The symbol of confirmation is usually the dove, a popular symbol of the Holy Spirit. Another symbol may be that of a clergyman who has placed his right hand upon the head of the child kneeling before him.

EXTREME UNCTION – Practiced in liturgical churches, the act of extreme unction is performed on those who are physically sick and are seeking to be made well. Olive oil, which is blessed by the bishop, is placed on various parts of the body, including the affected part (if practicable). Then certain prayers and formulas are recited. Extreme unction is portrayed as a container of oil.

FOOT WASHING – The practice of foot washing was established by Jesus in John 13:1-15 where He commanded His disciples to wash one another’s feet. Some denominations (Brethren) continue to practice the act of foot washing before the administration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist).

HOLY ORDERS – The act of appointing a person to a position of power and authority within the church. This is symbolized by a stole or a shepherd’s staff.

LORD’S SUPPER (Eucharist) – Jesus commanded his followers to remember Him by eating bread (His body) and drinking wine (His blood) until He comes again. The Lord’s Supper is symbolized by a chalice of wine with the bread (or host) rising above it. In liturgical churches, the chalice is to have a hexagonal base. The six sides represent the six attributes of God. The stem of the chalice is to be gold and is often highly ornate with precious stones. The host usually has the letters I.N.R.I. on it. It also has rays coming from it, symbolizing that the Real Presence of Christ is in the host. In Protestant churches, the Lord’s Supper can be portrayed as a loaf of bread and a bunch of grapes and/or a cup.

MARRIAGE – In the Roman Catholic Church, the act of marriage is considered a sacrament. 1. It is symbolized by two hands being joined together. At times, a third hand is shown above the two. The hand has the first three fingers extended (benediction) and is surrounded by a halo. This represents God’s blessing on the marriage. Inscriptions such as “Fare Thee Well,” “Live in God” and “God Be With You” are often found with the clasped hands. 2. Pure gold, which is indissoluble, symbolizes the indissoluble oneness of marriage. 3. A wedding ring symbolizes marriage. 4. A bridal wreath can be used to symbolize marriage. 5. Some traditions crown the bride and groom, symbolizing God’s crowning them with His glory.

THE OFFICE OF THE KEYS – In Matthew 16:19, Jesus gives the Apostle Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that these keys gave Peter the power to establish the doctrines of the church as well as the ability to grant or withhold salvation. This power is believed to be bestowed upon every pope who oversees the Roman Catholic Church. The office of the keys is symbolized by two keys. One key represents the power to forgive sins (absolution) and thus open up the Kingdom of Heaven to the repentant sinner. The other key represents the power to not forgive the sins of the non-repentant sinner (excommunication).

ORDINATION – In liturgical churches, the sacrament of ordination is the conferring of power upon deacons and priests. In evangelical churches, ordination is an act of consecration, not conferring power. A person who is ordained has the endorsement of the church to administer the sacraments. Ordination is portrayed by hands being placed upon a person’s head or a priest’s stole.

PENANCE – The act of punishing oneself for sins committed. The symbol for penance is a whip.


FOOTNOTES
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