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THE SIGN OF THE CROSS? 

"What It Means"


This holy sign, the "sign of the Son of man" is made use of by the Catholic church in all the sacramentals to show us that they derive all their virtue from the cross; that is, from the death and Passion of our Savior Jesus Christ.

The pious custom of signing one's self with the sign of the cross is in frequent use among Catholics.

The sign of the cross is made upon ourselves in the following manner: We first place the extended fingers of our right hand on our forehead, saying: In the name of the Father; then, placing them on our breast, we say, and of the Son; then on our left shoulder, and immediately after on our right shoulder, while we say; and of the Holy Spirit. we then join both hands before our breast, and say, Amen.

It is honorable to disregard human respect, to profess outwardly what we are, namely, followers of Jesus Christ. This is what we do when we make the sign of the cross, as this sign recalls to the mind of all persons present the mystery of our redemption wrought by our Lord and Savior on the cross, and in which redemption we believe and trust.

The cross is the natural emblem, and, as it were, the distinguishing banner of Christians. No Christian, therefore, ought to be ashamed to sign himself with it, but ought, like St. Paul, to glory in the cross of Christ.

Should a feeling of shame come over you while making this sign, banish it by recalling to mind those words of Jesus Christ: "for he that shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, of him the Son of man shall be ashamed, when He shall come in His majesty, and that of His Father, and of the holy angels."

For these reasons, and also for the edification of others, it is commendable and useful for Christians to make the sign of the cross.

The sign of the cross is also an excellent act of faith in the two fundamental truths of Christian religion, namely, in the mystery of the Holy trinity, one god in three Persons, and in the mystery of the Incarnation.

For, by saying in the "name," in the singular number, we profess to believe that there is only one God. By saying, "of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," we profess to believe in one God there are three divine Persons. By the form of the cross, which we trace with our right hand from our forehead to our breast, and then across from the left shoulder to the right, we profess to believe that the Son of God is our Redeemer, who wrought our redemption by dying for us upon the cross.

By the word Amen (so be it), we mean to confirm and seal, as it were, our belief in the said fundamental truths.

The sign of the cross was used in the first five centuries even more frequently than it is now. Passages could be quoted from Lactantius, from Eusebius of Caesarea, from St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Ephrem, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Ambrose, and from St. John Chrysostom, all Fathers of the fourth century, to prove it. But the two following passages should suffice. Tertullian, who wrote in the second century, says: "At every fresh step and change of place, whenever we come in or go out, when we put on our sandals, or wash, or take our meals, or light our lamps, whether we are about to recline or to sit down, and whenever we begin a conversation, we impress on our forehead the sign of the cross." St. Jerome, a Father of the fourth century, addressing the Roman lady, Eustochium, writes: "Before every action, at every step, let your hand form the sign of the cross."

St. Basil asserts as a noted fact that the practice of making the sign of the cross was introduced by the apostles.

Let us, therefore, in imitation of the ancient Christians, be fond of making the sign of the cross before doing anything of any consequence. It will be like directing our intention to do that thing for God. It will be the token of putting our whole trust in the merits of Jesus Christ which He earned on the cross, and of our invoking God's help through these merits.

 

 
 

Prayerbook

A Catholic Religious Site

"A Collage of Catholic Information"

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