Religious Objects and Artifacts

Symbols of Christ's suffering, representations of the Blessed Virgin, and other religiously significant medals‚ pictures, and statues comprise another type of sacramental, which has a special place in both the church and the home. It's important to understand that Catholics do not worship these items but rather use them as a reminder of Christ, Mary, and the saints.

The Crucifix

The crucifix, one of the universal symbols of Catholicism, venerates Jesus' suffering on the cross. The plain cross — two pieces of wood, a smaller length set about the third of the way down on a longer length at right angles — did not appear until the fourth century, at the end of the persecutions.

The crucifix, which is a cross with the body of Christ figured on it, did not appear until the fifth century. It was frequently decorated with jewels during the fifth and sixth centuries, a highly glorified symbol. Nowadays it is usually much plainer and simpler, and it can be fashioned from any type of wood or metal. The crucifix is a symbol of hope and power. It is worn by many as a symbol of belief in their religion and a sign of rejoicing in their spirituality. You can also find crucifixes in Catholic homes and — of course — at any Catholic church.

Other Images and Statues

Catholics show their devotion not only through the crucifix. Images and statues honor Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as well as many saints. Usually, each saint is represented by a specific characteristic or symbol. Statues of St. Peter show him holding keys, to represent his authority as the first Bishop of Rome. Mary is frequently pictured as the Madonna, given her religious significance as the Mother of Christ.

Saintly Relics

Another way of venerating the saints is through relics. The word relic comes from the Latin reliquiae, “remains.” Relics are material objects left behind after a holy person has passed away. They include personal possessions, such as clothing, or even actual human body parts of a departed saint. These objects have a purpose similar to that of other religious symbols, to help the faithful recall their union with the saints and to inspire them to lead lives of prayer and service.

In earlier times, a relic of a patron saint might actually be embedded in the altar of a particular parish. Now they are usually kept in holy places or in very special churches in the Holy Land, in Rome, and in other centers of early Christianity.

Scapulars: In Veneration of Mary

Catholics wear scapulars to show how devoted the wearer is to Mary, the Mother of God. The scapular is made of two pieces of brown cord made from woolen cloth and has pictures of Mary at either end of the cord. The bands rest on the shoulder and the pictures are laid on the breast and the back at an equal distance from the shoulder.

Here is where the practice of wearing scapulars came from. In the thirteenth century, St. Simon Stock saw an apparition of Mary, who told him that all who wore the scapular would be saved from Hell, for on the Saturday after their deaths she would take them to Heaven.

Holy Cards

Holy cards are not intrinsically holy objects, but once a priest blesses a holy card, it becomes efficacious. Holy cards are meant to be inspirational. They are often given out to commemorate someone who has died, participation in an event, or a pilgrimage. They may also be handed round as small gifts to mark religious occasions, for instance, during Baptism, First Communion, or Confirmation. A holy card may feature a picture of a saint on one side and a prayer on another; some holy cards include inspirational quotes or the Ten Commandments.

  1. Home
  2. Catholicism
  3. Devotional Practices
  4. Religious Objects and Artifacts
Visit other About.com sites: