Catholic Boot Camp: The Sign of the Cross

Why do we make the Sign of the Cross?  What is the right way to do it? What does it mean?

Here are some basic facts:

  • The Sign of the Cross is made in some form or another 54 times during Mass (My count, though, never gets that high).
  • The Sign of the Cross has been a part of Christian piety from the earliest days of Christianity.
  • There are several ways to make the Sign of the Cross.  Different Christian communions make the Sign differently.

How Does One Make The Sign of the Cross?

In western Catholicism, the Sign of the Cross is made as follows:

It is literally as simple as 1-2-3-4.  When you are making the Sign of the Cross, there is a proper, although not mandatory, way to put your fingers:

How to place your fingers to make the Sign of the Cross

Of course, there are many other Signs of the Cross.  This is a liturgical Sign  of the Cross:


Pope Benedict XVI, center, makes the sign of the cross during the weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Wednesday July 4, 2007. (AP Photo/Plinio Lepri)

Sometimes, the Sign of the Cross is made on the forehead as we will see on Ash Wednesday:

Ash Wednesday Sign of the Cross

The priest or Bishop makes the Sign during every sacrament:  Baptism, Reconciliation, the Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick.  We Catholics make the Sign of the Cross a lot.

Why Make The Sign of The Cross?

The Sign of the Cross is a prayer and a dedication.  The Pinoy Catholic posted an interview (courtesy of the news agency Zenit) with Bert Ghezzi, author of “Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer” (Loyola Press).  Mr. Ghezzi explained:

The sign means a lot of things. In the book, I describe six meanings, with and without words. The sign of the cross is: a confession of faith; a renewal of baptism; a mark of discipleship; an acceptance of suffering; a defense against the devil; and a victory over self-indulgence.

When you make the sign, you are professing a mini version of the creed — you are professing your belief in the Father, and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit. When you say the words and pray in someone’s name you are declaring their presence and coming into their presence — that’s how a name is used in Scripture.

As a sacramental, it’s a renewal of the sacrament of baptism; when you make it you say again, in effect, “I died with Christ and rose to new life.” The sign of the cross in baptism is like a Christian circumcision, which united Gentile converts to the Jewish nation. The sign links you to the body of Christ, and when you make it you remember your joining to the body with Christ as the head.

The sign of the cross is a mark of discipleship. Jesus says in Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” The word that the Fathers of the Church used for the sign of the cross is a Greek word that is the same as what a slave owner put on a slave, a shepherd put on a sheep and a general put on a soldier — it’s a declaration that I belong to Christ.

Self-denial is not just giving up little things; to be a disciple you are under Christ’s leadership and you don’t belong to yourself. By doing the sign of the cross, you’re saying to the Lord, “I want to obey you; I belong to you. You direct all my decisions. I will always be obedient to God’s law, Christ’s teachings and the Church.”

When suffering comes, the sign of the cross is a sign of acceptance. It’s remembering that Jesus became a man and suffered for us and that we participate in Christ’s suffering. The sign of the cross says, “I am willing to embrace suffering to share in Christ’s suffering.”

When you’re suffering, when you’re feeling like God is not there, the sign of the cross brings him there and declares his presence whether you feel it. It is a way of acknowledging him at that time of trial.

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. When you sign yourself, you are declaring to the devil, “Hands off. I belong to Christ; he is my protection.” It’s both an offensive and defensive tool.

In the end, the Sign of the Cross is a prayer.  Pray unceasingly!



Agree or Disagree: Freedom Of Religion Means Freedom From Religion

Brent Walker at Associated Baptist Press makes an interesting assertion:

Myth #3: We have freedom of religion but not freedom from religion.

No, this is not true. We have freedom of and from religion. If we don’t have both, then we have neither. Forced religion is simply a violation of conscience, not a voluntary response to God.

To be sure, one does not have freedom from religion in the sense of insisting that your neighbor not preach a sermon on the street corner, or that religious programming be banned from television or the radio, or that our culture secularize itself to suit one’s worldview. But one most certainly has the right to insist upon freedom from state-sponsored religion.

That’s what the First Amendment is all about. Freedom from religion and freedom of religion parallel the two religion clauses: no establishment (freedom from religion), and free exercise (freedom of religion). It also parallels the coming together in history of Enlightenment thought and religious piety conspiring in colonial times to ensconce protections for religious liberty in the Constitution.

We must have both, or else we have neither!

Do we Catholic Church Guys agree or disagree?  Comments are open!