September 11, 2009

The Sign of the Cross

In an earlier post, I shared a little about the Sign of the Cross. (See

Because it is so important and so overlooked, I would like to return to this theme again. From ancient times, Christians have blessed themselves with the Sign of the Cross. In the West, this is done by touching with the fingers of one's open right hand the forehead, then just below the chest, then the left shoulder and finally the right shoulder before folding one's hands in prayer. This action is accompanied with the words, "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

Why does prayer start with this action in Roman Catholic spirituality? It is an action that can renew the grace given to us at baptism, if we make this action in faith. Let me explain.

When we are baptized, we are always baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus commanded the disciples to do -- and he never commanded them to do anything other than act in the authority and power of God. Whenever something is done in the Name of God one is claiming to something from God, by his authority and in his power. This is precisely what a minister of baptism claims to be doing when he baptizes in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He is not acting on his own human authority or giving something which is within the mere human ability. He is doing something in the power of the Holy Spirit, by the authority of Christ Jesus, for the glory and honor of the Father.

And what does Baptism do? Through this action we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit: He dwells in us as in a temple so that all the riches of Christ can be ours. This Gift is like a living waters constantly cleansing us and healing of our sins - not only those sins for which we ourselves are responsible, but also the original sin that we inherited from our forefathers. This Gift is like a pillar of cloud hiding us from those spiritual powers and principalities which had once captured us and robbed us of our true freedom. This Gift is a consuming fire which burns up the selfish, arrogant and prideful impulses which characterized our former way of life.

By faith and baptism, the Lord and Giver of Life always comes in unrepeatable ways giving more and more new divine life, moving us in ever new and unimaginable ways to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God. His living presence radically identifies us with Christ Jesus whenever we permit him to. At each moment, He is ever ready to join us to Christ's death that we might rise with Him through his resurrection.

The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal or indifferent guest within our hearts. He never runs out of room because He constantly enlarges our hearts: purifying them, ordering them, and expanding them. His fire and light makes us burn to love God and our brothers and sisters with a love greater than any limited natural love. He deifies us, makes us partakers of the divine nature, so that we love with the love of God. He also respects us - and will only do what we permit Him to.

But He is never passive. He is ever alive, ever ready to increase whenever we say yes to Him in faith. The more we say yes, the more He is there to help us - even when all seems dark and lost this Divine Presence is with us in our hearts. If we are not to drown in our own weakness, the constant attacks of the Evil One, and in the anxieties and fears of the world, we must cling to the Spirit's presence like the shipwrecked cling to life-preservers. We must cleave to His Presence, hold firm to it, believe in it, stand fast in it. Yet, our own frail humanity is always forgetting, always letting go to cling to things we think more firm. But they are an illusion. We can only cleave to the Presence of God in our hearts through the strength and the certitude that He alone provides.

This is where the Sign of the Cross comes in. When we make the Sign of the Cross, it is a sign that we are choosing to cling to the Living God who dwells in us through the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Making this sign can actually be a moment of actual grace in which the promises of faith made at our baptism are renewed and the Gift of God remembered. And with the renewal of our faith, the Lord grants us a new strength to hold fast, a certitude and confidence that ever comes from Him.


  1. I held an inquiry session for some folks interested in the Catholic Church on Thursday night. The first thing I taught them was the sign of the cross and WHY we make the sign of the cross. I also told them that as a child in Catholic School I was taught to make the sign of the cross every time I heard a siren or saw a police car or fire truck or ambulance driving with the lights flashing, as a quick prayer for those in jeopardy. Since I am a retired Sheriff's Deputy, this began an interesting conversation on how often I made the sign of the cross when I was working in law enforcement! Thanks for a review of this important sacramental!

  2. You could've given some information about how the east crosses themselves from the right to the left and why. The thing about Baptism was off subject.

  3. Its a Mexican custom to kiss our thumb to complete making the Sign of the Cross. Its a sign of reverence for the Cross and our love for the Blessed Trinity.

  4. Thanks, nice post. I think you should mention the Eastern style, which isn't just right-to-left, but holds the first three fingers together, as a symbol of the Trinity; and the fourth and fifth fingers against the palm, as a symbol of the two natures of Christ.

  5. I am a catechist and I teach 7-14 year olds during RCIC. When I teach the Sign of the Cross, we always talk about Baptism, but I also remind them that not only are we saying that we believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. But we are telling the evil one (and others) that if you "want to get to me, you have to go through these Guys!" It helps them to remember how important it is to say this prayer and to say it often.