The Sign of the Cross

Simon Fe Dolor

“The sign of the cross is the most terrible weapon against the devil. Thus the Church wishes not only, that we 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.”
-St John Vianney (1786-1859)

The holy priest St. John understands the power of the sign of the cross. Reminding us to make it a point to remember its capacity to bring the necessary grace and protection, especially from the devil.

The Holy Cross is one icon, image or form that Catholics and Christians will always recognize. It strikingly express the sacrifice Our Lord Jesus Christ that day in Calvary. Every Catholic homes, hospitals and schools usually have crosses to show their affiliation to Christ. Catholic families learn early the special sacramental act of making the sign of the cross. A child would be taught and impress this simple act or gesture by their parents the sign of the cross before any other prayer.

Catholics are expected to pray all the time of the day. Especially in the morning when we ask for essential graces to start the day. We instinctively do the sign before we pray. By making the sacramental sign, we make a prayer, ask the blessing and protection from God, the Holy Trinity.

Making the sign of the cross were universally all part of early tradition and practices. But there is one manner in which everyone is most familiar with.
The sign of the cross is made by positioning together all thumb, index and middle finger upright, while the ring and little finger down were preserved and practiced both in the the Byzantine rite and western traditions. The Roman Catholic Church also does the same gesture while saying the prayer to the Holy Trinity with the sign, the words:

“In the name of the Father (placing the fingers at the forehead), and of the Son (at the stomach) and of the Holy Spirit (across the shoulders). Amen”

“In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen” (in Latin)

Others would do the sign with an open hand, still showing reverence and faith for the blessing desired.

It is part of our public act of worship and devotion. Catholics would always make the sign of the cross when passing over a Catholic church. Before entering a church, it is customary to look for the holy water to dip one’s hand or finger before kneeling upon entry while making the sign. Before and after meals after the prayer of grace and thanksgiving. Even during baptism, god parents were asked to make a sign of the cross on the child, a blessing and protection being part of the christian community. Some would instinctively make the sign in times of distress, anxiety or fear, but also it is a done in great joy, in excitement and thanksgiving.

Other denominations are hostile towards this custom since they cannot fully comprehend the faith involve. But the sorrow and sufferings it brings is also the same Christ who brought salvation thru this sign, making it a source of comfort, healing, peace and joy to Christians who the Spirit of God has shown faith with it.

“For the word of the cross, to them indeed that perish, is foolishness; but to them that are saved, that is, to us, it is the power of God” — I Corinthians 1:18 Douay-Rheims Bible

“He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.” – Philippians 2:8 Douay-Rheims Bible

It is foolishness for those who have interpreted the message of Christ differently. When in fact, the apostles and their disciples have already passed on this great mystery of faith. On how important the cross is as a symbol in life and more so in death.

For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.
– John 3:16 Douay-Rheims Bible

For Jesus so loved the world that He faced and embraced the Cross for us to completely redeem each and everyone of us. This is a mystery of faith of the cross, the symbol, the sign, the action are all part of our tradition and will be kept until the end of time.

The Sign of the Cross is used in public worship. Some examples of this are the 50 times it is used during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass [Traditional Roman Mass, not the Novus ordo, which eliminated most of them], at the beginning, end and during the Divine Office, in all Blessings by Bishops and Priests, in the administration of the Sacraments——such as 14 times in Baptism [Traditional Roman rite] and 17 times in Extreme Unction [not the Novus Ordo “Sacrament of the Sick”], and on everything blessed for the service of God, such as altars, linen, holy water, etc.

The Sign of the Cross should always be used before our chief actions and undertakings in order to sanctify them and obtain God’s blessing. Indulgences are given of 50 days for making the Sign of the Cross saying the words, and 100 days for the same when using holy water.  [Changed to a simple partial indulgence, since 1968].

The Sign of the Cross rightly made unites the soul to God, gives the spirit of recollection, drives away the devil, and powerfully dissipates temptation; it gives to the Christian the spirit of faith, and preserves him from distraction and from worldliness; but if made with negligence, it loses all its influence and virtue.

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