Friday, December 17, 2010

Sanctuary Sights and Senses: The Sign of the Cross

The following is from the fourteenth installment of my bulletin insert series:

Sign of the Cross - this topic was brought up in our worship class, and I thought I might cover it in this series.

Often times, the use of the sign of the cross is thought (by those who are not used to using it) to be . . . Roman Catholic. Roman Catholics do, of course, use the sign of the cross, but so do others (e.g., Lutherans, Anglicans/Episcopalians, Orthodox, etc.). In fact, you may occasionally even see United Methodists using the sign of the cross!

The sign of the cross is done in a few different ways. There is the signing of one’s self (forehead, breast, left shoulder, then right shoulder). This is simply a devotional expression of faith in Christ and our redemption through the cross of Christ. It is often done when the Holy Trinity is invoked, or when one is receiving the Holy Sacrament of Communion.

The pastor may make the sign of the cross over the Holy Sacraments during consecration and over the people of God during the Trinitarian benediction or blessing.

Ashes are used to “sign” our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. When anointing with oil, the sign of the cross is used. John Wesley instructed that infants be “signed” with the cross on their foreheads during baptism. This use of the sign of the cross, at least, is quite “Methodist.”

Finally, people in liturgical churches make the sign of the cross on their forehead, mouth and heart when the gospel is announced. By this, they are saying, “May the gospel be in my mind, upon my lips, and in my heart.”

The sign of the cross really is not just a Roman Catholic thing. It is a devotional act that many Christians in many denominations (even some Methodists!) may find to be a meaningful, devotional expression of faith.


Thomas said...

As Catholics we also do the sign of the cross when entering a Catholic church. We dip the tips of our fingers into blessed (holy) water and then sign ourselves as a reminder of our baptism. (Most people have probably seen this in movies or on TV, if not in person.)By doing this we remember that every time we enter into the presence of Christ we do so because we were first baptized into His Body (the Church). As with all symbols, it points to a greater reality.

In more general terms, the sign of the cross can lead us to a deeper understanding of our Christian calling. Every Christian is called to "take up your cross" and follow Jesus. The physical action of crossing one's self points to that spiritual reality. We are all marked with the "sign of the cross." We all bear the cross given to us. It begins at baptism and continues throughout our lives. Making the sign of the cross in all of its various forms points to this Truth.

And why shouldn't we use physical signs such as this? After all, we are *physical* as well as spiritual creatures. When we pray, we do well to use our God-given *bodies* as outward signs of an inward disposition. We use our bodies to worship the God Who created us as physical beings. By using our bodies (and not just our minds and spirit) we use our *whole* selves in prayer. We participate more fully in the mystery of our faith (a faith that is grounded in the Incarnation).

The sign of the cross is a shared physical symbol that all Christians can use to broaden their spiritual experience. There are many other such physical symbols, and I think, Todd, you are doing a marvelous job of making others aware of the physicality of worship. The structure of liturgy (the sights and sounds or "smells and bells" as we say) all help us to engage our bodies in worshiping God.

Todd Stepp said...


Thank you so much for your comments and your added information/testimonial!