Copyright © 2021 US Catholic. As Catholics, it’s something we do when we enter a church, after we receive Communion, before meals, and every time we pray. We make it when we begin and end our prayers; we make it when we enter and leave a church; we start each Mass with it; we may even make it when we hear the Holy Name of Jesus taken in vain and when we pass a Catholic church where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle. Since my wife and I spent two years in an Eastern Rite Catholic parish, I find myself on occasion making the Sign of the Cross in the Eastern manner, especially when praying prayers that I learned in the Eastern Church or when venerating icons. Pray the sign of the cross often and be mindful of what it means in the life of the Church and in your own life! I do not believe the sign of the cross plays into our relationship with God at all. I do tend to make the Sign of the Cross when I hear an ambulance or pass an accident – basically to ask God to help the victims and responders. Why Do Catholics Make the Sign of the Cross? What’s the difference between bowing between these man-made objects or bowing before a golden calf? But when we learn to take this act seriously, signing ourselves frequently with faith and reverence, remarkable results can take place. From the first Easter morning through the present, the sign of the cross makes the devil cower and flee. Let it take in your whole being—body, soul, mind, will, thought, feelings, your doing and not-doing—and, by signing it with the cross, strengthen and consecrate the whole in the strength of Christ, in the name of the triune God. With the sign of the cross, we Catholics, for the most part use the same hand gesture which has the same exact meaning of the Orthodox Churches; that is the index finger pointing strait up forming the Greek I, the middle finger crossing the thumb forming the Greek Χ; while the middle finger curving forming the Greek Ϲ (Capital Lunate Sigma). A catholic priest makes the sign when blessing someone and a follower of the religion makes the sign when receiving a blessing in church or passing by a church or even when feeling thankful or frightened. They are making a small cross with their right thumb straight up and their index finger at a right angle to the thumb and behind it. The shape of the sign is a reminder of the cross of Christ. In other words, doing the sign of the cross does not make you closer to God or a better Christian in any way. There are several theological interpretations of that difference. 2. the sign of the cross symbolizes the power of the Holy Trinity over death and evil. It is frequently used in movies to show that a character is a devout Catholic. This “lay blessing” is common in Catholic cultures, made by parents on their children before bed or before going out or on a trip. Where did the custom of signing with the cross originate, and what does it signify? St. Cyril of Jerusalem expresses the power of the Cross very well: Be the Cross our seal made with boldness by our fingers on our brow, and on everything; over the bread we eat, and the cups we drink; in our comings in, and goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we rise up; when we are in the way, and when we are still. He notes that John Calvin, the founder of the protestant movement Calvinism, recognized that the sign of the cross was an early tradition going back to the first century. Before making the sign of the cross it is better for the communicant to wait a second for some distance to open up between himself and the minister. Sometimes Catholics make the sign of the cross, with or without words, at other times as well. Priests make the sign not only during the sacraments but use it to impart blessings on people or objects. The sign of the cross is a powerful way of making us mindful of the Trinity and inviting God into our prayer and into our daily lives. Jesus’ death on the cross was the action by which he destroyed death, so the sign of the cross is a constant reminder of our salvation. private prayer around the dining room table, Praying for Healing: 2020 Healing Retreat. Offbeat — 01 July 2013. Ghezzi: Yes, the sign of the cross is used by Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians, particularly in baptisms. Sometimes Catholics may make a quick Sign of the Cross when receiving bad news, or when sirens pass, as a way of praying for those involved. The thumb is often bent to touch the ring finger in the two-finger position. The sign of the cross permeates a Catholic’s prayer life, from the public prayer of the Mass to private prayer around the dining room table. Despite its simplicity, the Sign of the Cross is an ancient prayer rich in meaning. They are not kissing their hand. You’ve probably seen your Catholic friends do it or at least you’ve likely seen it on TV as it is often referenced. This blessing is made by the tracing of an upright cross or + across the body with the right hand, often accompanied by spoken or mental recitation of the trinitarian formula: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Tommy999 August 1, 2014, 1:26am #3. A husband and wife, no matter how closely united, are still two separate beings. But it actually goes all the way back to the Apostles. Stop violating God’s Word by usurping it with man-made tradition. Why do Catholics make the sign of the cross? The sign of the cross speaks and confesses. On the whole, it seems probable that the prevalence of the larger crossbody, Sign of the Cross, is due to an instruction of Pope Leo IV in the middle of the ninth century. One of the main teachings of the early Church Fathers is that the sign of the cross is a declaration of defense against the devil. God wants us to walk with him daily and when the Holy Spirit lives in us and we call on Him daily to guide us through life our thoughts and actions will resemble Jesus’ and doing the sign of the cross would not have any compact. Catholics are so accustomed to making the sign of the cross that we seldom stop to ask what the gesture means. What is the sign of the cross all about? Why Do Catholics Make the Sign of the Cross? Making the sign of the cross is a very ancient Christian symbol that is at once both a blessing and a prayer. According to the book on the catechism of the Catholic Church, making the sign of the cross is a prayer for deliverance from their enemies. … At the end of the Mass, he blesses the people “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and they cross themselves as he blesses them. I belong to Christ; he is my protection." It is a way of acknowledging him at that time of trial. Those who are in holy orders bless by making the sign of the cross in the air toward the persons or things to be blessed, but layfolk bless others only by using their finger, usually the thumb. Why do catholics make sign of the cross? "In all our travels and movements", says Tertullian (De cor. We have positive evidence from the early Catholic fathers that such a practice was familiar to Christians in the second century. (Hebrews 10:18). Moving priests make solemn signs over newly dead persons or penitents in the confessional, boxers make clumsy signs with their gloved fists, tonsured monks in medieval garb make the same gesture as a shorthand way of indicating that they are either superstitious or in the presence of some eerie portent, and there is nothing like a vivid sign of the cross (made preferably with a raised crucifix) to get Bela Lugosi as Dracula to turn away dramatically from a previously inviting neck. Just as it identified those two American soldiers as genuine Catholics, so the sign of the cross will identify you. We begin our prayers with the sign of the cross. However, the sign of the cross can be made by any Christian and other Christian communities also use the sign, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians. 60, No. Amen." A common Byzantine formula used while signing oneself is, “Blessed is our God at all times now and always and forever. . Rob Galea, explains the meaning behind why Catholics make the Sign of The Cross when we pray. Some may make the sign as they drive past a cemetery as a quick prayer for the dead who are buried there. At the liturgy and in various sacramental rites, the priests trace the sign of the cross over persons and objects. Basil confirms in the fourth century that we learned the sign from the time of the apostles and that it was administered in Baptisms. While our words in the prayer of the sign of the cross are an invocation of the Trinity, the shape of the cross we make during this prayer are a reminder of the cross of Christ. We also make the sign in the name of the Holy Trinity by invoking Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. First, every religious tradition incorporates bodily gestures to “thicken” the power of religious language. The sign of the cross both reminds us of who God is and invites God into our prayer and into our lives. In our experience, one human person each possesses one human nature. But we are so accustomed to making the sign of the cross that we may have never stopped to ask what the gesture means. If Catholics want to bring to mind the cross an it’s meaning, why not seek the Scriptures that tell if it’s blessings? Here are 21 things: Moving priests make solemn signs over newly dead persons or penitents in the confessional, boxers make clumsy signs with their gloved fists, tonsured monks in medieval garb make the same gesture as a shorthand way of indicating that they are … In his small catechism, Martin Luther recommends making the sign of the cross at bedtime and first thing in the morning. 8). Sometimes Catholics may make a quick Sign of the Cross when receiving bad news, or … Since Catholics use the sign of the cross so commonly, the gesture itself is considered synonymous with the Catholic Christian faith. Why Do We Make the Sign of the Cross? We use the thumb sign of the cross on forehead, lips, and breast before the reading of the gospel. The sign of the cross often introduces and closes other prayers, but it is a prayer in itself and can also be prayed on its own. It has and always will be the relationship itself. Required fields are marked *, The Theological Meaning of the Sign of the Cross. These are the core of why Catholics do the sign of the cross. … It is the Sign of the faithful, and the dread of devils… for when they see the Cross they are reminded of the Crucified; they are afraid of Him, who bruised the heads of the dragon. While the Bible does not instruct us to cross ourselves, the sign of the cross is not without biblical symbolism. Tertullian (see above) recommended that the faithful mark themselves with the sign of the cross at all times because of its power in bringing Jesus’ sacrifice into their daily lives. A “substance” or “nature” is what something is. We only know that God is a Trinity because God revealed this to us. Along this thought, this gesture has been used since the earliest times of the Church to … In this video international Catholic speaker, Fr. [touching one shoulder, then the other]Amen.”. (Catechetical Lecture 13). That helps fill in the gaps for me some. It would be great if this custom could be revived. Obviously making physical movements with the body is not prayer. A final point: Making the sign of the cross, in whatever form (think of the lovely custom of a parent tracing the cross on the forehead of an infant who readies for bed or an older child who goes off on a journey), is so common as to be a routine. The first “sign of the cross” that early Christians made was tracing a small cross on their foreheads. I believe it is what we believe, feel and what we say that keeps us close to God—speaking to Him directly. While many religions teach belief in God, Christianity is unique in its belief that the one God is a Trinity of Persons. From childhood, Catholics are taught to make the sign of the cross, saying: “In the name of the Father, [while touching the right hand to the forehead]and of the Son, [moving the hand to the chest]and of the Holy Spirit. As the Baltimore Catechism explains, “The sign of the cross is a profession of faith in the chief mysteries of our religion because it expresses the mysteries of the Unity and Trinity of God and of the Incarnation and death of our Lord…[i Lots of Christians actually do make the sign of the cross when they pray. God, as a Trinity, exists in three Persons. I wasn’t aware of its ties to baptism. If a person raises his hand too quickly to cross himself, he risks striking the ciborium or chalice, which could cause an accident with the Eucharist. This is a great mystery that not even the most intelligent theologian or the holiest saint could ever fully comprehend. In his evocative book Sacred Signs the late Romano Guardini made the point so beautifully that I will give him the last word: It is the holiest of all signs. Making the sign of the cross is a gesture that says, in shorthand, that a person is Catholic. When we pray “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” we are invoking the Trinity. It appears as an icon in popular culture, and as a gesture it is scattered throughout film history. A love and devotion toward this sacred sign is the mark of a true follower of Christ. It appears as an icon in popular culture, and as a gesture it is scattered throughout film history. But what exactly are we doing when we make the Sign of the Cross? Roman Catholics make the sign of the cross in the following order: The right hand moves from top (forehead) to bottom (chest) and then from left (left shoulder) to right (right shoulder). The priest opens Mass by leading the congregation in the Sign of the Cross. But more importantly, the sign is also an offensive weapon, helping us reclaim with Christ all that Satan lost at the cross. The sign of the cross that Catholics make before prayer or any other activity is not meant to be a superstitious act, but an outward profession of faith. So on one level, making the sign is a defensive move, declaring our inviolability to the devil’s influence. Catholics should not even be doing it because it is wrong. Quite obviously, signing ourselves is a mark of our belief in the saving actions of Jesus Christ. One practical strategy for our common Christian spiritual life is to relearn what we are doing when we sign ourselves. Second, powerful symbolic gestures, when examined up close, say more than one thing. In that sense, the sign of the cross is a form of body language like the gestures of raising the hands in prayer, kneeling, bowing, and so on. When you sign yourself, you are declaring to the devil, "Hands off. Others raise the index and middle fingers together, symbolizing Christ's divine and human natures. Historically, the sign has also been viewed as representing the trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This essay was originally published in the August 1995 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. Make a large cross, taking time, thinking what you do. What does it mean to say that Eve is Adam’s ‘help meet’. Around the year 200, Tertullian, an early Christian theologian, wrote about this sign: “In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our forehead with the sign of the cross.” By the fifth century, other Christian writers reveal that the sign of the cross was also being made on the lips and on the chest. A person is “who” someone is. Many other hand shapes are also in use. It is unknown exactly when and how that developed, but the sign of the cross as we know it today is probably about 1000 years old. They kiss that. .” is common and universal in the Catholic Church. The following is taken from the May/June 2003 issue of the Oblates magazine, by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate "The Sign of the Cross is probably the most often used prayer of Christians and most likely the first prayer we learned as children. Not to mention the familiar sight of superstitious athletes doing so before free throws or penalty kicks. Let’s examine these both in more detail. From the earliest days of the Church, Christians understood that the cross of Christ has great power. Over time, Christians began making large crosses over their bodies as Catholics do today. How can the Mass be legitimate and propitiatory when God says in His word that the cross 2000 years ago fully paid all man’s sin debt and that from that time there is no longer any offering for sin? > Why don't Christians make the sign of the cross when they pray? Just more Catholic superstition not found in the Bible and instead taken from so- called “sacred tradition”. For Roman Catholics, there is a quick gesture that can often go unnoticed before the recitation of the Gospel reading at Mass. Making the Sign of the Cross may be the most common of all actions that Catholics do. Catholics often make the Sign of the Cross casually, just as a nice gesture for beginning and ending their prayers. By this time there was also a widespread custom of blessing in the form of a cross using the eucharist, the gospel book, or a reliquary. Your email address will not be published. At least in the Byzantine tradition, where it is stipulated that the sign be made either with two fingers (symbolizing the two natures of Christ) or three fingers (symbolizing the Trinity), a theological statement is being made. All Rights Reserved |, Simone Weil, a kindred spirit for church outsiders. The sign of the cross that Catholics make before prayer or any other activity is not meant to be a superstitious act, but an outward profession of faith. 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