Ignatian Priestly Symbol: Pelican

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“According to legend, the pelican, which has the greatest love of all creatures for its offspring, pierces its breast to feed them with its own blood. It is on this basis that the pelican came to symbolize Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, because of His love for all mankind. In this sense, it also symbolizes the Eucharistic Sacrament. This interpretation is supported by Psalm 102: 6 “I am like a pelican of the wilderness,” which is an accepted allusion to Christ. The pelican is sometimes shown nesting on the top of the Cross” ( G. Ferguson, Signs and Symbols in Christian Art)

Thus the pelican has come to stand for self-sacrifice for the sake of one’s offspring. For the Ignatians, it stands for the determination to nurture the souls entrusted to one’s care with one’s own lifeblood. In the footsteps of Our Lord Jesus Christ: “O Good and Love-filled Pelican, Jesus my Lord!/ Unclean I am, but cleanse me in Thy Blood;/Of which a single drop, for sinners spilt,/ Is ransom for a world’s total guilt” – “Adoro Te devote” (St. Thomas Aquinas).  As rendered by Gerard Manley Hopkins, the text runs: “Bring the tender tale true of the pelican;/Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what Thy bosum ran ‒ Blood whereof a single drop has power to win/ All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.”

The Ignatian depiction of the pelican shows him with his wings outstretched, like those of  the phoenix, rising from the ruins to a new beginning, thus symbolizing tenacity founded on the reality of the Phoenix of History, The Resurrected Christ.