Why do Catholics make the Sign of the Cross? This action of blessing oneself with the Sign of the Cross dates back to the early Church with the new Christians using this sign traced on their forehead to identify others of the faith. Today celebration of the Sacraments begins and ends with the Sign of the Cross. As members of the Body of Christ, we should begin and end our days and our prayers with a reverent Sign of the Cross.
Using the Sign of the Cross not only witnesses to others our Catholic belief but it also serves as a reminder to us of our faith in Christ as our Savior. The cross is the sign of His death and of our redemption from sin. We are reminded, too, that we should share in His sufferings by taking up our cross daily and following Him.
Every time we pray the Sign of the Cross we reiterate our faith in the fundamental truths of Christianity: we believe that there is a God, He is only one God, for He has only one name – “in the name of God.” Yet there are three distinct persons Who possess the divine nature – “Father, Son (Whom we know also as Jesus Christ) and Holy Spirit.” We signify our acceptance of the Trinity of three Divine Persons as we say “Amen.”
By making this sign we call God’s attention to our needs as followers of Christ and particularly ask for help against our constant enemy who prowls about us like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). St. Cyril of Jerusalem as early as the 3rd century said, “Let us make the Sign of the Cross boldly and courageously. When the demons see it, they are reminded of the Crucified; they take to flight, they hide themselves and leave us.”
Saint Ephrem the Syrian (306 – 373 A.D.) wrote: “My son, mark all you do with the sign of the life-giving cross. Do not go out from the door of your house until you have signed yourself with the sign of the cross. Do not neglect to make that sign whether you are eating or drinking, or going to sleep, whether you are at home, or going on a journey. There is no habit to be compared with it. Let it be like a wall that protects you and your conduct; teach it to your children so that they may faithfully learn the custom.”
The way that we make the Sign of the Cross reflects on how seriously and meaningfully we regard our Christian faith. A swift pass over one’s head and chest hardly demonstrates strong belief in God. Rapid multiple signs of the cross seem to say that one’s faith in God’s protecting power is weak and needing many booster shots. Automatically and quickly making the sign of the cross without reverently saying the words when passing a church, or facing danger, or ‘just because’ denigrates this sacred and powerful sign into a superstitious action, having no connection to the power of God.
With a reverent Sign of the Cross, we not only reinforce our belief in God and the Holy Trinity, we express publicly His Lordship over us and witness to others that we do believe and that this faith is important to us.
It has been said that “actions speak louder than words”. When we make the Sign of the Cross, what words do others hear? Reprinted from the Dec’90-Jan’91 KAPATIRAN.