Vatican Corner 05-20-18


Making the Sign of the Cross is one of the most common things Catholics do. We make it when we begin and end our prayers, when we enter and leave church, when we start Mass etc., but do we know why? In the Sign of the Cross, we profess the deepest mysteries of the Chris”an Faith: the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the saving work of Christ on the Cross on Good Friday. Our words and actions when making the Sign of the Cross are a statement of belief, and mark ourselves as Chris”ans. On April 18, 2018, at his weekly Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis spoke about the sign of the cross. He said that it is something we should do often to remind ourselves that we belong to God. He said “the cross is the badge that shows who we are: our speaking, thinking, looking, working (are) under the sign of the cross, that is, the love of Jesus to the end.” “Making the sign of the cross when we wake up, before meals, before a danger, to defend against evil, (at) night before sleep means to tell ourselves and others who we belong to, who we want to be.” Pope Francis also noted the importance of the Sign of the Cross in the Baptismal Rite. Parents and godparents demonstrate their desire for the child to receive the sacrament by tracing the Sign of the Cross on the child’s forehead. It is the seal of Christ placed on the one who is about to belong to him, and signifies the grace and redemption Christ has acquired for us through the Cross. Francis explained that adult catechumens are marked with a cross on each of the senses. They are crossed with the following words: “Receive the sign of the cross on your ears to hear the voice of the Lord; On the eyes to see the splendor of the face of God; On the mouth, to answer the word of God; On the chest, because Christ dwells through faith in your hearts; On the shoulders, to support the gentle yoke of Christ.”

Yet because we make the Sign of the Cross so often, we may rush through it, to say the words without listening, and ignore the profound symbolism of tracing the shape of the Cross – the instrument of Christ’s death and our salvation on our own bodies. The Sign of the Cross is more than a statement of belief, it is a vow to defend that belief, even if it means following Our Lord and Savior to our own cross. The cross is powerful because it marks those who have thrown off the slavery of Satan and embraced the Cross of Christ as the way to salvation. The Cross destroyed death and hell, and through it, Jesus redeemed the world. By making the Sign we acknowledge that Jesus redeemed us. Satan hates the cross and demons flee from the Sign of the Cross when it is devoutly made. Do non-Catholics make the Sign of the Cross? All Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox make the Sign, but their tradition is to reverse the order, touching their right shoulder on the word “Holy” and their left shoulder on the word “Spirit.” Many high-church Anglicans and Lutherans and a few Protestants also make the Sign of the Cross, so it is not just for Catholics.