The Sign of the Cross
"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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."Matthew 28:19-20
There are many sacramentals within the Catholic Church. A sacramental is any sacred sign which the Church states helps prepare us to receive the grace of God, whereas sacraments are gifts of the Holy Spirit as instituted by Jesus Christ. "Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by Church's prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1670)
The sign of the cross is considered both a sacramental and a prayer and is the only prayer that can be performed without words. Patricia Ann Kasten's Linking Your Beads states "The motions alone used to make the sign speak of God's own actions in Christ: coming down from heaven to become human upon earth, stretching himself out to give to others, to suffer and die, and then to pass through death and to rise up again". Each time we motion the sign we are reminded to walk hand in hand with Jesus and His cross.
It is further recognized as an outward sign representing one's' faith in Jesus. Although it is thought the fish symbol was first used to distinguish oneself as a Christian, Kasten's research reveals Hippolytus of Rome (2nd century) and St. Cyril of Jerusalem (4th century) both mention the sign of the cross in their writings. Matthew's gospel shows Jesus himself connecting the sacrament of baptism to the sacramental of the sign of the cross (again, as preparation for receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit). Think of when you pray the sign of the cross the most or when you feel most comfortable or at peace with the prayer...do you use it for glorification of Jesus or for His intercession?
Lastly, there are different ways to hold your hand during the sign of the cross. Some follow the sign of the cross by touching their right side in remembrance of Jesus being stabbed on the cross. Using an open hand recognizes the five wounds of Jesus. Some prefer to use only the index finger to make the sign of the cross to show the oneness of Jesus and God. I gravitate towards my index and middle fingers being together and almost forming a fist with the rest...according to Kasten this is the most common hand position in the Roman Catholic Church and both symbolizes the divinity and humanity of Jesus (index and middle) and the Trinity (the other three fingers together). I did not know our hand positions had meaning, but it adds to the reverence of Jesus and an understanding of the traditional teachings of the Church.
This all may seem rather basic as the sign of the cross is probably the first prayer you ever learned. I would argue it is also the most important prayer and encourage each of you to reflect on how you incorporate this sacramental into your lives. How does the sign of the cross bring you closer to Jesus?
Sources: Linking Your Beads Patricia Ann Kasten, 2010
Prayer for Holiness
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me so, O Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy. Amen.
The Sign of the Cross
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.