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Catholic Dictionary




Investing outward things or actions with an inner meaning. Its effectiveness depends on the depth of personal commitment to the interior truth symbolized and the ability of a symbol to convey its inner meaning. Early Christian symbolism arose partially as a result of persection. It was necessary to veil beliefs under emblems and figures. Another contributing factor was the instinctive religious desire to envelop the personal and collective life of the people in expressions and reminders of their faith. In time, every detail of Church art and architecture, of the liturgy and private devotion, acquired definable religious meaning. Symbolism is the universal language of every living religion. It is especially rich in Catholic Christianity because of the Church's encouragement, but mainly because the mysteries of the faith are too profound ever to fully understand. Symbols enable the mind to dwell on these mysteries with prayerful reflection and ever greater comprehension.