+L’s Little Liturgical Lesson: The Sign of the Cross

Why make the sign of the cross?  Read this from the second and third century Christian, Tertullian:

‘At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign on the Cross.’

And that’s before he got to church or participate in worship! For Tertullian making the sign of the cross was a outward sign and a reminder to himself of his desire to unite himself with Christ and shape his life in a Christlike way.

Remember the principle : in liturgy, word and action go together to convey the meaning. Physical acts and signs convey meaning and help us enter into and discover more of the meaning.

The sign of the cross  (generally made by tracing the cross from the forehead, to the base of the chest, to left and then right breast)

  • Is an outward action which reflects a belief in the love that the cross reveals, and it serves to focus the mind and soul of the person who does it. It’s an act of recollection, of calling to mind.
  • Is often made when a Christian enters the sacred space of the church building, perhaps using holy water a reminder of their baptism when the sign of the cross was first made on them, when as St Paul says, we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. Many make it just before receiving Holy Communion, to recollect themselves and as a reminder that at the heart of the Eucharist is the sacrifice of Jesus. 
  • Is a tradition that very early became associated with the invoking of the Holy Trinity: ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’, as we do at the start of mass. It’s also traditionally used when a priest is calling down  God’s blessing on people or things. As he or she makes the sign of the cross, so it’s a custom for the people to trace the same sign on themselves.
  • Some folk criticise the making of the sign of the cross suggesting it’s just ‘outward show’. Yes it is outward show! It is both a message to yourself of what and who matters to you, but it is also a sign to others of what, or rather who you believe or are trying to believe in and trust.
  • TO SUM UP making the sign of the cross is an ACT of FAITH and an ACT of CONSECRATION.

If you don’t make the sign already, why not give it a try. Any self consciousness soon goes, and it might be of help.

BY +LINDSAY