Signing the Cross

We make the sign of the cross, not as a mark of our church politics, but as a sign of our devotion to the person of Christ. From the early second century writers testify to the use of the "sign of the Lord." The signing was used by early Christians as a way to sanctify every action in daily life from rising in the morning to retiring at night. It is no wonder that such a gesture would be constant encouragement to those whose faith made their lives uncertain, even dangerous. Often signing the cross was used as a code of recognition, allowing Christians to communicate their faith without speaking.

The sign was also used in Baptism and in Confirmation, and later as a liturgical blessing of persons and things. In early centuries the sign was drawn upon the forehead by the thumb of the right hand. This is called "signation." If you were an adult when you were confirmed, perhaps you remember that this was done to you.

Later, people started making the sign of the cross on themselves by drawing the right hand from the forehead to breast, and then from shoulder to shoulder, returning to the center. It is usual for the Western Church to make the cross-stroke from left to right. In the Eastern Church the gesture is from right to left.

There are no rules about when to sign the cross during worship. Some make the sign at the mention of the name of the Trinity, or of Jesus or his resurrection. Others sign when prayers for the dead are said, when absolution is pronounced, or when Eucharist is taken. Still others sign three small crosses on the head, lips, and heart when the Gospel is read. Sign the cross at those times when it is most meaningful to you or when you wish to join your faith with that of others. 

Our Patient Merciful God
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