The sign of the cross, one of our most profound and simplest forms of prayer, is falling out of favor among many Catholics. It is ancient prayer, dating back to the earliest years of our faith. Tertullian (De cor. Mil. iiii) commented, “In our coming in and going out … we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross.” And, St. Cyril of Jerusalem remarks in his Catecheses (xiii, 36) “let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in every thing; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in goings; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are travelling, and when we are at rest.”
For most of us, it is the first prayer we learned. Through this simple prayer we learned of Christ crucified and the holy trinity. In repeating the words: “In the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” we commemorate our baptism. In the physical action of crossing ourselves we designate (mark) that we belonging to the God.
We should not shy away from making the sign of the cross. Christ boldly mounted the cross and suffered profound agony for us. We can witness to this fact through a simple, but powerful gesture. If we are embarrassed or ashamed to make the sign of cross in public when we pray, image how embarrassed or ashamed we will feel when we stand before Christ at the moment of our death.
I’ve seen no signs of it falling out of favor here. Granted, I’m the only Catholic I ever see outside of Mass, so I don’t know what other people do in public. I *almost* signed the cross last week at my meeting at the Baptist church. I didn’t quite have the nerve. Next week. 😉
I have not noticed one way or the other at mass, my attention is elsewhere. Where I have noticed is in small prayer groups, the leader will recite the words “In the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and some Catholics will cross themselves and others will not — frequently the nots out number those who do.
My reaction was the same as Joseph’s; I wouldn’t have ever thought of it as falling out of favor. I have to admit I’ve never thought of it as a prayer in the strictest sense, but more as a marking-of self, a profession and a refocusing of my attention Heavenward. Then again, I guess that’s what a prayer is. I don’t think it’s going anywhere.
Kathleen, thank you for your thoughts, they are valued and appreciated. As I had commented to Joseph, I had only noticed the lack of signing during group prayer. So, today at midday Mass at the Cathedral Basilica near where I work I decide to conduct an informal survey. About 15% of those entering (before mass) or exiting (after mass) did not cross themselves, nearly all cross themselves during the blessing before dismissal, and only about half crossed themselves before the reading of Gospel. It is an observation, what it means I do not know. It is just that in last few months I have become aware that persons I knew as baptized Catholics were making the sign of cross when starting or ending of a prayer, such as when saying grace at mealtime. It is something that has troubled me, I wanted to share it with others. I had seen it as yet another loss of our Catholic identity.
When I decided I want to convert to the Catholic church, and started taking RCIA classes, I asked if I could cross myself even though I was not Catholic yet!! I saw it as a sign of Catholic identity, as you say here. I was so excited to make the sign of the cross.
And I still love to make the sign of the cross today, over 20 years later. I love the prayer, and I love being Catholic. And I don’t mind telling the whole world.
Thanks. great article.
I agree with Colleen: the sign of the Cross is uniquely Catholic. It’s how other Christians know which Church I belong to. That realization gave me courage to do the sign of the cross more often in public places, especially before meals in a busy cafeteria. I pray it leads people to ask me, “How is it that a nice, smart guy like you choose to be a Catholic?” I would smile at the opportunity to share the Good News.