I was recently asked in an RCIA session what the letters IHS stand for and I didn’t know. I assume they are Latin, but I am curious to know the meaning. Any help?
Q: I’ve seen the acronym IHS all over the place – on altar cloths, holy cards, vestments, and prayerbooks – but I have no idea what it stands for. A friend signs his letters “IHS” and says it means “In His Service.” What’s the scoop?
A: IHS is the anglicized rendering of the first three Greek letters in Jesus’ name. In the early Church, especially during the time of Roman persecution, this became a popular way of writing Jesus’ name as a sort of code. Since then it has become a universally-used insignia and shows up on all types of Catholic religious art and accoutrements. After a few centuries, when the monogram was integrated into the general Latin usage of the Church, many were unacquainted with the original meaning and wrongly believed it meant, in Latin,* Iesus Hominum Salvator* (Jesus, Savior of Humanity), *Iesus Hierosolyma Salvator *(Jesus, Savior of Jerusalem), and even the exquisitely banal English version your friend favors, In His Service (source; Q&A #1).