Q & A: The Sign of the Cross
Question: Is making the sign of the Cross an act of prayer?
Answer: This was more of a recommendation for an article than an actual question, but let’s take the opportunity to reflect on the Sign of the Cross. We make the Sign of the Cross when we enter and exit Church, when we cross in front of a Church, at the beginning an end of prayer, and probably more times that I’m forgetting. Making the Sign of the Cross reminds us that we’re in the presence of God, calls to mind the central mysteries of the faith, and prepares us to pray. In fact, it is itself a prayer and something that we shouldn’t just take for granted.
The three central mysteries of the faith are the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Paschal Mystery, and all three of them are called to mind when we make the Sign of the Cross. We literally sign our bodies with the Cross. The Cross is the instrument through which the Lord offered His life to the Father for our salvation, and so the Cross has come to represent our salvation through the death and Resurrection of the Lord. Signing ourselves with the Cross shows that we belong to Christ. In the Rite of Baptism the priests, parents, and godparents sign the infant on the forehead with the sign of the Cross as the priest says, “N., the Church of God receives you with great joy. In her name I sign you with the Sign of the Cross of Christ our Savior.” Likewise, bearing the Cross is the sign of a follower of Christ, as the Lord said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me (Mk 8:34).”
The Cross of Christ also points to another great mystery of faith, the Incarnation. The Lord was only able to take up His Cross and be nailed to it because He had already taken on a human nature. In Himself, God is impassable, meaning unable to suffer, because He is pure existence in Himself. In the Incarnation the Son of God, coequal with God, took on a human nature without ceasing to be God. The person of Jesus Christ is both God and man; as man He is able to suffer the death of the Cross, and as God He was able to transcent the grave. As man He was able to offer atonement for our sins, and as God He is able to make the perfect offering of Himself. As St. Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be seized. Instead, he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of man, and accepting the state of a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death (Phil 2:5-8).”
Every time we make the Sign of the Cross we invoke the Most Holy Trinity, showing that we are speaking and acting “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We call on God Himself and recognize that God is three person united in one Divine Nature. The Sign of the Cross shows that the three great mysteries of the faith, the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s death and Resurrection, are all united in the one Mystery of the Faith. When you make the Sign of the Cross and call upon the Holy Trinity bring all of this to mind. Thank the Lord for the gift of salvation through His death and Resurrection, praise the Lord for His awesome Incarnation, and life your thoughts to God Himself.
ANNOUNCEMENT: Once a month I’ll write an article answering a question from a parishioner on the Church, the Mass and sacraments, the Bible, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints, spiritual theology, or anything related to Christianity. Either write your question down and put it in the collection basket, or email me at email@example.com.
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Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.