Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cross, Sign Of

Father Arthur Tonne
Copyright 1950 Didde Printing Company Emporia, Kansas

"God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Galatians, 6:14

In April of 1945 American artillery in the town of Siegburg, Germany, was shelling a nearby village, in which there were about 20 German soldiers. The natives were in constant danger of being hit by bullets from either side. Toward evening of April 12 the people persuaded the German soldiers to cease fire.

Next morning the village priest carried a white flag to the American outpost to inform the commander that the German soldiers had gone and the civilian population had no desire to resist further. Instructions were given to fly white flags from all the houses.

The question uppermost in the minds of the towns-people was: How will the Americans treat us? They had heard terrible tales of cruelty on the part of the Russians. How would these conquerors act?

The Americans began a thorough search for weapons and German soldiers. Two soldiers armed with pistols came to a certain three-room home. They stopped short in the living room before a hand-carved family altar. Into the bedroom they went, to find there a beautiful crucifix.

The soldiers noticed the cross. They stopped, took off their steel helmets, changed their automatics from right hand to left, and respectfully made the sign of the cross. As a member of the family related, the members of that household feared no longer.

Yes, the sign of the cross is the salute of the true follower of Christ whether he is conqueror or conquered, whether he is German, Chinese, American or Australian. It is the countersign of the Christian. In particular, it is the special salute of the Catholic.

The sign of the cross is one of the most important and one of the most frequently used of the sacramentals. It is the sacred sign first taught to the feeble fingers of the child at its mother's knee; it is the sacred sign traced by the faltering fingers of the dying Catholic. From birth to death it is the holy sign, the holy ceremony that continually reminds the Catholic of the source from which all spiritual blessings come—the cross.

The two most common forms of this sacramental are the large sign of the cross made by touching the forehead, the breast, and the left and right shoulders. The cross thus covers the body—at least the most important members—the head and heart. The smaller sign of the cross is traced upon the forehead, lips, and breast.

1 Why do we make the sign of the cross?

a. To remind us of the Blessed Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Ghost. We repeat their names.

b. To remind us that the Son of God died on a cross for all men. Before Calvary it was a sign of disgrace. Christ made it a thing of glory and power.

c. To stir up our faith. It recalls that God is one and God is three; it recalls that the Second Person of the Trinity died for all men; it professes our faith; it identifies the Catholic. That is why the family of our story felt so secure, so much safer, as soon as they saw those American soldiers make the sacred sign.

d. To strengthen our hope. By making this sacred sign we express the hope that through the cross all blessings will come to us.

e. To kindle and feed our charity. Making this sign recalls the limitless love of Him who died upon the cross. We determine to return love for love.

2. The uses of this sacred sign in the Catholic Church are practically without limit:

a. According to many our Lord and the Apostles used it. Many affirm that our Lord blessed the Apostles with the sign of the cross on the day of His Ascension. Certainly the early Christians used it constantly.

b. It is used in all the public worship of our Church:

i. The sign of the cross in some form or other is made about 54 times during Holy Mass.

ii. It is used frequently in the Divine Office or daily prayer of the priest.

iii. It is used in all blessings bestowed by bishop and priest.

iv. It is used in all the sacraments: 14 times in Baptism; 17 times in Extreme Unction. Yes, even in the semi-darkness of the confessional the priest makes the sign of the cross over you.

v. It is used in everything blessed for the service of God—altars, linens, holy water, etc.

c. It is used frequently in personal devotions:

i. In the morning and evening to seek God's help.

ii. Before and after prayer, against distractions.

iii. Before and after meals, asking God's blessing.

iv. In dangers of soul, like temptation and occasions of sin.

v. In dangers of body like storms, sickness, travel.

vi. Before our chief actions and undertakings, to make them pleasing to God and to obtain God's help in performing them properly.

Let me quote the instructive words of St. Gaudentius:

"Let the sign of the cross be continually made on the heart, on the mouth, on the forehead, at table, at the bath, in bed, coming in and going out, in joy and sadness, sitting, standing, speaking, walking—in short, in all our actions. Let us make it on our breasts and all our members, that we may be entirely covered with this invincible armor of Christians."

An indulgence of 100 days is granted for making the sign of the cross and saying the words. An indulgence of 300 days for making the sign of the cross, with holy water.

A love and devotion toward this sacred sign is the mark of a true follower of Christ. Just as it identified those two American soldiers as genuine Catholics, so the sign of the cross will identify you. Use it frequently, use it thoughtfully, use it lovingly. It will bring you countless blessings. Amen.

Sacred Music Volume 117, Number 4, Winter 1990


(This is reprinted from "Faith," a bi-monthly published in London, England. It was originally given as an address to a youth group at John Fisher School, Purley, Surrey, England.)

The Sign Of The Cross

A logical place to start, since it is a very ancient Christian habit, is to begin and end prayers with the sign of the cross. Yet the only recognizable biblical reference is in Matthew 28:19 when Our Lord tells His apostles, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

The practice of making the sign of the cross dates back to at least the second century. It was said to recall the blood of the lambs marked on Jewish doorposts in Egypt on the night of the Passover (Ex. 12:7) and to foreshadow the seal set on the foreheads of the saints in heaven. One of the earliest references to the sign of the cross is found at the end of the second century in these words of Tertullian: "at every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and all the ordinary actions of everyday life, we trace the sign" (of the cross). Whether such diligent self-crossing was generally observed is impossible to tell, but it does illustrate the importance that the early Church attached to the cross. Another important thread is drawn out by Saint Thomas Aquinas who said: "by making use of bodily signs of humility, our desire to submit ourselves to God is aroused."

So, how does the above apply to us in the present day and age? When we make the sign of the cross, it is a reminder of our baptism. It also brings to mind the general vocation that we as Catholics are called to, as illustrated in the rite for adult baptism when the priest signs the recipient with the cross saying:

"Receive the cross of Christ on your forehead. Christ Himself will guard you by this sign of love. Learn to know and follow that cross...Receive the cross on your breast, that by your faith Christ may find a dwelling place in your heart. Receive the sign of the cross on your shoulders so that you take on the sweet yoke of Christ. I sign you in your whole being 'in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit' that you may have life in eternity."

Let us not underestimate this "sign of love," for when we reverently make the sign of the cross, it is not only a confession of faith. It is also a reminder of the price that Christ paid for our healing and redemption so that we can call God "Abba! Father!" and eventually come into His presence in the glory of the kingdom of heaven.


Ann Ball

Published by Our Sunday Visitor Press

The making of the sign of the cross, professing faith both in the redemption of Christ and in the Trinity, was practiced from the earliest centuries. St. Augustine (d. 430) mentioned and described it many times in his sermons and letters. In those days, Christians made the sign of the cross (Redemption) with three fingers (Trinity) on their foreheads. The words "In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost" were added later. In the third century, Tertullian had already reported this touching and beautiful early Christian practice: "In all our undertakings—when we enter a place or leave it; before we dress; before we bathe; when we take our meals; when we light the lamps in the evening; before we retire at night; when we sit down to read; before each new task—we trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads" (Weiser, p. 256).

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