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5 Things You Should Know About the Sign of the Cross

So many people make the Sign of the Cross without actually thinking about the meaning, history, and spiritual effects of such a loaded gesture.

We usually begin and end our prayers this way, but the question is, what are we doing?

Anytime we make the sign of the Cross we renew our faith in the Blessed Trinity: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We acknowledge the divine works of creation, salvation, and sanctification. And we bless our whole being as well in God’s name.

We are encouraged to make the Sign of the Cross, not only when we pray but also when we are about to leave the house. When we are afraid of something, or any time we are moved to love remembering the gift of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. By this sign, we entrust ourselves to God and reaffirm our commitment to fight under his banner. We remember we are soldiers who are fighting under the cross. The Cross of Christ has vanquished sin, death, and the Devil.

Never leave your house without making the sign of the cross. It will be to you a staff, a weapon, an impregnable fortress. Neither man nor demon will dare to attack you, seeing you covered with such powerful armor. Let this sign teach you that you are a soldier, ready to combat against the demons, and ready to fight for the crown of justice. Are you ignorant of what the cross has done? It has vanquished death, destroyed sin, emptied hell, dethroned Satan, and restored the universe. Would you then doubt its power?

St. John Chrysostom

5 Things You Should Know About the Sign of the Cross

1. It is a sacramental.

Many of us think of sacramentals only when we think about the Rosary, Scapular or other things we can touch. But the Sign of the Cross itself is a Sacrament. And the Catechism of the Church recommends we sanctify our day-to-day life with sacramentals, the most powerful and most accessible of all is the Sign of the Cross. Other Sacramentals are powerful too and we are encouraged to use them: the Crucifix, medals, rosaries, etc.

2. It is powerful and should be made with attention:

When you sign yourself, think of all the mysteries contained in the cross. It is not enough to form it with the finger. You must first make it with faith and good will. . . . When you mark your breast, your eyes, and all your members with the sign of the cross, offer yourself as a victim pleasing to God.

St. John Chrysostom

The ritual of making the sign of the cross—if we aren’t careful—can become quick and sloppy. Every time we make the Sign of the Cross, in private or in public, we need to be attentive to what it is we are doing…Whether we are at Mass or in a restaurant it should be large and deliberate. Large because it is a witness to our faith and deliberate because it keeps our mind engaged on what we are doing.

Fr. Matthew Pawlikowski, Spiritual Warfare

3. The Sign of the Cross is rooted in ancient tradition.

The Sign of the Cross has its roots as a prayer all the way back to apostolic times. There is evidence from Tertullian who lived from 160 AD – 240AD and this is what he said about the Sign of the Cross:

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

Tertullian,160 – 240 A.D.

And then you bless yourself with the sign of the holy cross. . . . And in this blessing you begin with your hand from the head downward, and then to the left side and after to the right side, in token and belief that Our Lord Jesus Christ came down from the head, that is from the Father into the earth by his holy Incarnation, and from the earth into the left side, that is hell, by his bitter Passion, and from thence unto his Father’s right side by his glorious Ascension.

Mirror of Our Lady (fifteenth century)

And St. Basil (ca. 329 – 79 A.D) said that the Apostles “taught us to mark with the sign of the cross those who put their hope in the Lord,” that is, those who presented themselves for baptism.

Even though the Sign of the Cross was made the way we make at mass with the thumb. This small Sign of the Cross was commonly used by the end of the 4th century and still is in use today at Mass, Baptism, Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick. Even on Ash Wednesday.

Then it continued changing from the thumb to two fingers and three fingers around the 9th century. This became popular because of its Trinitarian significance (the three fingers).

4. It is a Blessing

As a priest does when blessing people, he uses the Sign of the Cross. People also bless their children with the Sign of the Cross and the Church encourages us to do so.

“Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the ‘first heralds’ for their children”

CCC 2225

Even when we make the Sign on ourselves and call on the Name of the Trinity, we bless ourselves as well.

5. The Sign of the Cross is a weapon against the devil.

St. Athanasius wrote that before the coming of Christ, demonic powers used to deceive the pagans into worshipping them and obeying their oracles. “But now,” he observed in the fourth century, “since the divine appearance of the Word (Christ), all this deception has come to an end. For by the Sign of the Cross, if a man will only use it, their deceptions are driven out.”

Paul Thigpen, Manual for Spiritual Warfare

“The sign of the cross is the most terrible weapon against the Devil. Thus the Church wishes not only that we should have it continually in front of our minds to recall to us just what our souls are worth and what they cost Jesus Christ, but also that we should make it at every juncture ourselves: when we go to bed, when we awaken during the night, when we get up, when we begin any action, and, above all, when we are tempted.

We can say that a Christian who makes the Sign of the Cross with genuine religious sentiments, that is to say, when fully aware of the action which he is performing, makes all Hell tremble. But when we make the Sign of the Cross, we must make it not by habit but with respect, with attention and thinking of what we are doing. Ah, dear Lord, with what devout awe we should be filled when we make the Sign of the Cross upon ourselves and recall that we are pronouncing all that we hold holy and most sacred in our religion!

St John Vianney

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