The Sign of the Cross
"Let us not
then be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the Cross our seal made with
boldness by our fingers on our brow and in 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 awake; when we are in the way and when
we are still. Great is that preservative; it is without price, for the poor's
sake; without toil, for the sick, since also its grace is from God. It is
the Sign of the faithful, and the dread of evils; for He has triumphed over
them in it, having made a shew of them openly; for when they see the Cross,
they are reminded of the Crucified; they are afraid of Him, Who hath bruised
the heads of the dragon. Despise not the Seal, because of the freeness of
the Gift; but for this rather honor thy Benefactor."
-- St. Cyril of Jerusalem, A.D. 315 - 386
" ..the Cross is the moving manifestation of the act of infinite love with which the Son of God saved humankind and the world from sin and death. For this reason, the sign of the Cross is the fundamental act of our prayer, of Christian prayer. Making the sign of the Cross - as we will do during the Blessing - means saying a visible and public "yes" to the One who died and rose for us, to God who in the humility and weakness of his love is the Almighty, stronger than all the power and intelligence of the world."
-- P. Benedict XVI (Angelus, 11 September 2005, Castel Gandolfo - Benedict XVI)
" ..The Cross is the broken bow, in a certain way, God's new, true rainbow which connects the heavens and the earth and bridges the abysses between the continents. The new weapon that Jesus places in our hands is the Cross - a sign of reconciliation, of forgiveness, a sign of love that is stronger than death. Every time we make the Sign of the Cross we should remember not to confront injustice with other injustice or violence with other violence: let us remember that we can only overcome evil with good and never by paying evil back with evil."
-- P. Benedict XVI (Palm Sunday - XXI World Youth Day- Homily, 9 April 2006)
"Torah-true Jews" to this day wear tefillin ("phylacteries") on their foreheads
and arms as a sign of their identity and devotion. This practice stems from
Hear, O Israel,
the Lord our God is one Lord. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole
heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength. And these words
which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart: And thou shalt tell
them to thy children, and thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house,
and walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising. And thou shalt bind them
as a sign on thy hand, and they shall be and shall move between thy
Compare those words
with the words of St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem (d. A.D. 386)
Let us, therefore,
not be ashamed of the Cross of Christ; but though another hide it, do thou
openly seal it upon thy forehead, that the devils may behold the royal sign
and flee trembling far away. Make then this sign at eating and drinking,
at sitting, at lying down, at rising up, at speaking, at walking: in a word,
at every act.
God speaking, through
Ezechiel, to the remnant of Israel (and don't forget that the Church is "Israel"!), tells the faithful:
And the Lord said
to him: Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem:
and mark Thau upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and mourn for all
the abominations that are committed in the midst thereof. (Ezechiel 9:4)
Crossing one's self
is good public witness! Do not be ashamed of it! To be ashamed of the sign
of His Cross is to be ashamed of Him!
The Catholic Sign
of the Cross is absolutely ancient, rooted not only in the Old Testament
but the New (Apocalypse speaks of those who have the sign of God in their
foreheads -- and those who have the sign of the Beast in their foreheads).
When Catholics undergo the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Bishop (sometimes
a priest) seals the sign on our foreheads with holy chrism. St. John of Damascus
This was given
to us as a sign on our forehead, just as the circumcision was given to Israel:
for by it we believers are separated and distinguished from unbelievers.
to "cross oneself," "sign oneself," "bless oneself," or "make the sign of
the cross" all mean the same thing
self recalls this seal, and the invocation that is said while making this
holy sign calls on our God -- the Father, His Son, and the Holy Ghost --
and is a sign of our of belief; it is both a "mini-creed" that asserts our
belief in the Triune God, and a prayer that invokes Him. The use of holy water when making this sign, such as we do
when we enter a church, also recalls our Baptism and should bring to mind that we are born again of water and Spirit, thanks
be to God.
Because of what the Sign indicates -- the very Cross of our salvation --
Satan hates it, and our using it makes demons flee. Make the Sign in times
of temptation and confusion for great spiritual benefit!
The Sign of the Cross is made thus: First choose your style:
- Option A. With
your right hand, touch the thumb and ring finger together, and hold your
index finger and middle finger together to signify the two natures of Christ.
This is the most typical Western Catholic practice.
- Option B. Hold
your thumb and index finger of your right hand together to signify the two
natures of Christ
- Option C. Hold
your thumb, index finger, middle finger of your right hand together (signifying
the Trinity) while tucking the ring finger and pinky finger (signifying the
two natures of Christ) toward your palm. This is the typically Eastern Catholic
- Option D: Hold
your right hand open with all 5 fingers -- representing the 5 Wounds of Christ -- together and very slightly
curved, and thumb slightly tucked into palm
- touch the forehead
as you say (or pray mentally) "In nomine Patris" ("In the name of the Father")
- touch the breastbone
or top of the belly as you say "et Filii" ("and of the Son")
touch the left
shoulder, then right shoulder, as you say "et Spiritus Sancti" ("and of the
Holy Ghost"). Note that some people end the Sign by crossing the thumb over
the index finger to make a cross, and then kissing the thumb as a way of
"kissing the Cross."
An optional prayer
to pray after signing yourself in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
is this one, said to be favored by St. Benedict:
By the Sign of
the Cross, deliver me from my enemies, O Lord.
Note that Eastern
Catholics (and Orthodox) go from right shoulder to left and end sometimes
by touching their right side, above the hip, to symbolize Christ's being
pierced by the sword. The Bridgettine nuns in their Myroure of our Ladye write of the mystical reasons for the Latin practice, and how it summarizes
the Incarnation, the Passion, and the Ascension:
And then ye bless
you with the sygne of the holy crosse, to chase away the fiend with all his
deceytes. For, as Chrysostome sayth, wherever the fiends see the signe of
the crosse, they flye away, dreading it as a staffe that they are beaten
withall. And in thys blessinge ye beginne with youre hande at the hedde
downwarde, and then to the lefte side and byleve that our Lord Jesu Christe
came down from the head, that is from the Father into erthe by his holy
Incarnation, and from the erthe into the left syde, that is hell, by his
bitter Passion, and from thence into his Father's righte syde by his glorious
Ascension. (Catholic Encyclopedia)
With the Sign,
we send a visible sign to the world and follow the advice of St. Ephrem of
Syria (died A.D. 373):
Mark all your actions
with the sign of the lifegiving Cross. Do not go out from the door of your
house till you have signed yourself with the Cross. Do not neglect that sign
whether in eating or drinking or going to sleep, or in the home or going
on a journey. There is no habit to be compared with it. Let it be a protecting
wall round all your conduct, and teach it to your children that they may
earnestly learn the custom.
When the Sign is Made
A partial indulgence
is gained, under the usual conditions, when piously making the Sign of the
begin and end their prayers with the Sign of the Cross and should cross
themselves when passing a church to honor Jesus in the Tabernacle, upon entering
a church, and after receving Communion. The sign is made, too, in times of
trouble or fear (e.g., when receiving bad news, in times of temptation, when
hearing an ambulance or fire truck go by), when passing a cemetery or otherwise
recalling the dead, when seeing a Crucifix -- any time one wishes
to honor and invoke God, or ward away evil, fear, and temptation.
Just for information's sake, the "Distaff Gospels," a collection of old wives
tales collected ca. 1470, relate the following in its fifteenth chapter.
If in the morning,
when getting up, a person crosses themselves and washes their hands before
leaving the house, the devil will not have the power of harming him or her.
Otherwise, whatever the work is done on that day will not be profitable.
...About that, Geffrine Tost Preste said that the devil sits on the table
of whoever does not say grace before eating, then eats and drinks there.
Other Signs of the Cross
There are other
signs of the Cross that Catholics make, too. One is made by tracing a small
Cross with the thumb of the right hand on people and things. This sign is
especially used by parents when blessing children by tracing the sign on
the children's foreheads..1 Sometimes
the sign is traced by the thumb on a book of Sacred Scripture and then kissed
before reading. The sign is also carved onto loaves of bread before cutting,
Another sign is the large sign made in the air by bishops and priests when
blessing persons or material objects.
Yet another is the series of three small Crosses traced by the thumb of the
right hand -- one small Cross on the forehead, one small Cross on the lips,
and one small Cross on the breast -- just before the Gospel reading at Mass.
The sign on the forehead is to show that we believe the Gospel, the sign
on the lips is to show that we respect the Gospel and desire to spread the
Good News, and the sign on our breast is to show that we love the Gospel
and want it kept in our hearts. 2
Make the Sign of the Cross and make it often! Teach it to your children --
even the tiniest of children. If they're infants, take their hands and make
the movements for them! Making the Sign should feel as natural as
1 The use of "bless"
here refers to a parental blessing -- i.e., a prayer for God's grace for
a child. Priests alone have the power to bless in the name of the Church and with the power of the Church, to bless liturgically, to bless
objects rendering them sacramentals, etc.
2 When passing by
or upon entering a church, many Mexicans make this form of the sign (with
the thumb laid over the index finger to form a cross) -- on the forehead,
lips, and mouth -- while praying the words, "Por la senal de la Santa Cruz,
de nuestros enemigos libranos Señor Dios Nuestro" -- "By the sign
of the Holy Cross deliver us, Lord, from our enemies." This is followed by
the regular sign of the Cross outlined above (whose words in Spanish are,
"En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espiritu Santo, amen") and the
kissing of the Cross made by the thumb laid over the index finger. They refer
to the first sign as "signing oneself" ("signarse") and the second action