The Sign of The Cross

posted by Webmaster on October 16, 2023

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  • In this article we'll describe the WHY, HOW, and WHEN to make the Sign of the Cross.
  • Plus, Catechism of the Catholic Church, The Origins of the Sign of the Cross, and Variations When Making the Sign.

The WHY:

Being "Catholic" isn't just a system of beliefs or a formal manner of worship. It's actually that of a lifestyle, lived both spiritually and physically. A part of that physical lifestyle we live as Christians is by making the Sign of the Cross -- an outward physical gesture which manifests an inward love for God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As the instrument Christ chose to bring about His ever-memorable and life-creating death, the Cross holds a special place in the heart of every Christian. We understand that this symbol, once a primitive means of torture and capital punishment, now reminds us of Christ's victory over death. Christians make the Sign of the Cross because it affirms what we believe in Christ as the Incarnate Son of God and all that He did for us. The Sign of the Cross is thus an outward manifestation that illustrates our inward faith of God as a Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and our belief in the two natures of Christ (fully God and fully Man). It is, both in essence and substance, a physical form of prayer.

The Sign of the Cross means a lot to Catholic Christians. It symbolizes a crucial event in the story of mankind's salvation. And it allows the faithful to commune with God in a way that transcends understanding. So if you are not yet Catholic nor considering become one, please don't feel as though you must make the Sign of the Cross. But we, as Christians, do make the Sign out of our deep love for God as a way of expressing with our bodies our faith in Him. You need not make the Sign until you, too, feel such conviction.

Within the Roman Catholic church, the Sign of the Cross is a sacramental, which the Church defines as "sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments". Code of Canon Law, Canon 1166 states: "Sacramentals are sacred signs by which effects, especially spiritual effects, are signified in some imitation of the sacraments and are obtained through the intercession of the Church."

But you don't have to be Catholic to make the Sign of the Cross. Anyone can make the Sign. And you can make the Sign of the Cross when you pray, too.

Because of love for the Sign of the Cross, you should use it daily. Not only do Christians use it during liturgical worship, but also before and after meals, during personal prayer, and in moments of worry or need. We use it all the time throughout our day.

The HOW:

Using your RIGHT HAND, touch your forehead and say,
"In the name of the Father,"

then move down to the middle of your chest, saying
"and of the Son,"

and to your left then right shoulder stating
"and of the Holy Spirit, Amen."


ILLUSTRATION:

Looking at the illustration below, take a few moments and begin to slowly practice it now.

During this practice time, say the words out loud while crossing yourself.

Listen carefully to your voice. Try it a few times. But don't forget, this is a prayer.


Sign of The Cross illustration

The WHEN:

In the Catholic Christian tradition, the Sign of the Cross is a physical gesture that holds significant spiritual meaning and is typically made at specific times or during specific occasions. Here's some examples when Catholics commonly make the Sign of the Cross.

  • Beginning and ending prayers: Catholics start and conclude their prayers by making the Sign of the Cross, invoking the presence and blessing of the Holy Trinity.
  • Entering and leaving a church: Upon entering and exiting a church or chapel, Catholics often make the Sign of the Cross as a sign of reverence and to seek God's presence.
  • Passing any building which there's a Tabernacle: Passing by a church, religious Shrine, Catholic school, Catholic hospital, etc. Catholics often make the Sign of the Cross.
  • Before and after meals: Catholics make the Sign of the Cross before and after meals as a way of giving thanks to God for the food and seeking His blessing.
  • During Mass: The Sign of the Cross is made at various points during the Catholic Mass, such as during the introductory rites, before the Gospel reading, and at the final blessing.
  • Personal devotions: Catholics make the Sign of the Cross during personal devotions, such as when first awakening in the morning, before or after personal prayer, when facing a challenging situation throughout the day, and before climbing into bed at night.

It's important to note that while these are common occasions of "when" for making the Sign of the Cross, the practice can vary among individuals and cultural traditions within the Catholic Church.

CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH:

Within the Roman Catholic church, the sign of the cross is a sacramental, which the Church defines as "sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments"; that "signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church"; and that "always include a prayer, often accompanied by a specific sign, such as the laying on of hands, the sign of the cross, or the sprinkling of holy water (which recalls Baptism)."

Section 1670 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, "Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church's prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God."

Section 1671 of the CCC states: "Among sacramentals, blessings (of persons, meals, objects, and places) come first. Every blessing praises God and prays for his gifts. In Christ, Christians are blessed by God the Father 'with every spiritual blessing.' This is why the Church imparts blessings by invoking the name of Jesus, usually while making the holy sign of the cross of Christ."

Section 2157 of the CCC states: "The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: 'in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.' The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior's grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The sign of the cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties."

THE ORIGINS OF THE SIGN OF THE CROSS:

The first mention of Christians making the Sign of the Cross dates back to the 2nd Century. In the early Church, sources explain that the Sign was only made upon the forehead and other objects, with only one finger, until at least the 4th century. Around this time, Christians then began to use two fingers to make the Sign of the Cross, each finger representing one of the natures of Christ – fully God and fully Man. Historians believe they made the Sign this way to guard against the heresy of Monophysitism. We still do not know if this was a universal custom, or something confined to the region of Antioch, the location from which this primary heresy came.

Around the 9th century, the practice of using three fingers became prevalent in most of the Catholic East and West. The exact point of origin for the three-fingered Sign of the Cross remains a mystery. However, we do know it was present because of the writings of several Popes during those periods.

By the 12th century, most Christian churches had adopted the practice of making the Sign of the Cross with three fingers. Interestingly, the Monophysites, Copts, Syrians, Armenians, and Ethiopians also adopted this practice.

Iconographic illustrations of the saints and Christ Himself are frequently depicted with making the ancient Sign of the Cross by using three fingers. We love the cross because Christ used it to bring about our salvation. Christians today, too, use the Sign of the Cross (a prayer invoking blessing) to outwardly express our love and devotion to Christ.

VARIATIONS WHEN MAKING THE SIGN:

Orthodox practice in making the sign of the Cross is the opposite of Roman Catholics and some Protestants. Orthodox often go from right to left during the "and of the Holy Spirit" and use only three fingers. Roman Catholics typically use both the three- and five-finger method to Cross themselves. This practice follows a decree set forth by Pope Pius V in 1569 A.D. Protestant practice in making the Sign of the Cross, but much like Protestantism itself, varies. They do not expressly prohibit it. But they do not encourage it either.

You may also have noticed some Christians make the Sign using large sweeping motions, while others keep things simple and small. All these variations! But which way is the right way?

Put simply, there isn't one. Crossing yourself is not an issue of dogma (belief necessary for salvation) in Christianity. Instead, it is a matter of personal piety. In other words, aside from the arrangement of the fingers and direction of the movement, all else is up to you. If you feel moved to always make the sign of the cross in large sweeping motions or small ones, you may do so. If you wish to show reverence with the Sign in a slightly different manner than another parishioner, you can.

Christians can express his or her faith using the Sign of the Cross during any moment of their day. But the Sign should be used out of love for God. (If you do things instead to bring attention to yourself and feed your pride, you should reflect upon that.)


We hope you've enjoyed this article, The Sign of The Cross. We pray that by its practice it produces much fruit in your life, and in the lives of those around you. Have a blessed day! +


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