There is nothing so natural to Catholics as making the sign of the cross. We cross ourselves before and after we pray; we cross ourselves in the liturgy of the mass; we make the sign of the cross when we bless ourselves with holy water. Yet, while we often make this sign unthinkingly, it is one of the most powerful spiritual weapons we have at our disposal.
Why We Should Use the Sign of the Cross
The signum crucis, the sign of the cross, is powerful because it marks us as children of God who have thrown off the slavery of Satan and embraced the Cross of Christ as the way to salvation. The Cross destroyed death and hell, and through it, Jesus redeemed the world. By make the sign of the cross, we acknowledge that he has redeemed us, and that through baptism we have become the children of God.
Because the sign of the Cross is the mark of our redemption, Satan hates it. Demons flee from the sign of the cross when it is devoutly made. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 386), Bishop of Jerusalem, says the following of this powerful sign:
Let us, therefore, not be ashamed of the Cross of Christ; but though another hide it, do thou openly seal it upon thy forehead, that the devils may behold the royal sign and flee trembling far away. Make then this sign at eating and drinking, at sitting, at lying down, at rising up, at speaking, at walking: in a word, at every act.
How to Make the Sign of the Cross
How do we make the sign of the Cross? Most Catholics know, of course, but it can’t hurt to repeat it anyway.
First, the position of the hand. There are several ways to do this, but the most common are the completely open hand, the five fingers representing the five wounds of Christ, or using three fingers to represent the Holy Trinity (see illustration).
The sign is then made by touching the forehead, chest, left shoulder, and right shoulder. When the forehead is touched, we say, “In the name of the Father,” when the chest is touched we say, “and of the Son,” and when the left and right shoulders are touched, we say, “and of the Holy Spirit/Ghost. Amen.”
Keep in mind, there are different traditions in Eastern Christianity, such as touching the right shoulder first. There is no one right method of making the sign of the Cross, so employ whatever method is most comfortable to you.
One way to connect ourselves to our forebears in the faith is to say the Name of the Holy Trinity in Latin while making the sign. The words are: “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.”
When to Make the Sign of the Cross
How can we put the sign of the Cross into practice? Here are some ways you can make the sign of the Cross a part of your daily life.
1. Immediately after waking and before sleeping - Making the sign of the Cross immediately after waking and before sleeping is as ancient as Christianity. It is a powerful way to consecrate our day to Our Lord.
2. When passing a Catholic Church - There is a beautiful Catholic tradition of crossing oneself while passing a Catholic Church in order to recognize Jesus present in the tabernacle and to show him honor and dignity.
2. At the Name of the Holy Trinity - In Catholic prayer, the name of the Holy Trinity is often invoked. To show honor to the Holy Trinity, it is a good idea to Cross yourself when saying the Glory Be or any other time the Name is invoked.
3. In reparation for blasphemy - The name of God is abused frequently in daily conversations. If you want to make an act of reparation to God for this abuse of his Name, you can quietly make the sign of the Cross.
4. Before entering a room or house - G.K. Chesterton, the famous Catholic convert and all around genius, was said to have made the sign of the cross before entering any room. This Catholic custom also applies to entering a house, and many (including this Catholic gentleman) have Holy Water fonts next to the door for blessings oneself when entering or leaving the home.
5. Blessing people or things - A small sign of the cross can be traced on the forehead of a child or upon an object which you wish to bless.
6. When afraid - In old movies that involve Catholicism, you will often see people cross themselves when in the presence of death, upon receiving bad news, or when generally afraid. Sadly, this custom has fallen out of use, but it is an excellent way to drive away fear and to inspire courage.
There are countless other ways to employ the powerful sign of the Cross. The point is, we should use this powerful sign frequently and reverently, paying attention to what we are doing.
Finally, I want to close with one more beautiful quote from St. Cyril that summarizes why we should make use of this powerful sign.
“Let us not then be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the Cross our seal made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat, and the cups we drink; in our comings in, and goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are in the way and when we are still. Great is that preservative; it is without price, for the poor’s sake; without toil, for the sick, since also its grace is from God. It is the Sign of the faithful, and the dread of evils; for He has triumphed over them in it, having made a shew of them openly; for when they see the Cross, they are reminded of the Crucified; they are afraid of Him, Who hath bruised the heads of the dragon. Despise not the Seal, because of the freeness of the Gift; but for this rather honor thy Benefactor.”
– St. Cyril of Jerusalem
What bout you? What are some of the ways you employ the sign of the cross?