Why do Catholics make the Sign of the Cross? Question: Why do Catholics make the Sign of the Cross? What is the symbolism behind it?
As Catholics, we pray the Sign of the Cross multiple times each day. Why do we pray it, and what’s it all about?
First, consider how we make the Sign of the Cross. In the Western Church, we use an open hand—which is used in blessing (hence we say that we “bless ourselves”). In the East, they hold three fingers together, as a sign of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), while the other two fingers are united as a sign of Christ’s Divinity and humanity.
The words we say confess the mystery of the Trinity. Notice that we say, “In the Name of the Father…” and not “In the Names of the Father”—God is one, so we say He only has one Name—and then we go on to name the Three Persons of the Trinity. Every time we begin a prayer, we recognize that the very core of our faith is that we believe in a God Who is One-in-Three: both unity and trinity.
As we say that confession of faith in the Trinity, we seal the sign of the Cross on ourselves. You are marking, publicly, who you are and Who you belong to! The Cross is our ransom, our “price-tag” if you will, so we remind ourselves that we have been purchased by the Cross. So when Satan comes to tempt us, we make the sign of the Cross to show him that we are already marked!
There is an amazing story in the book of Ezekiel, where an angel comes to Ezekiel and tells him that God is going to chastise all of Israel for its unfaithfulness—but there are still some good people left in Jerusalem, so the angel goes around and puts a mark on the foreheads of those who are still faithful to God. The mark he makes is the “Tau”—the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and it is drawn like a cross! God has mercy on those marked with the Tau, and strikes down those without it.
In the same way, those of us who are signed with the Cross will be preserved from the justice of God, and will receive His mercy instead. In ancient Egypt, God had the Israelites put the lamb’s blood over their doors at Passover so that they would be saved from the angel of death. Now, by signing the Cross over our bodies, we invoke the Blood of the Lamb upon us, so that we are saved from the power of death!
But where do we put that Sign of the Cross? We put it on our forehead, our heart, and our shoulders. Why? Because we are put here on this earth to know, love, and serve God, so we ask Christ to be the king of our minds, our hearts (our desires and loves), and our actions. Every aspect of our life is put under the Sign of the cross, that we may know, love, and serve Him.
The Sign of the Cross is an incredibly powerful prayer. Often it’s used as the preamble to a prayer, but it has immense power in its own right. During the persecutions of the early Church, some pagans tried to kill Saint John the Apostle because his preaching was turning many people away from pagan gods to embrace Christianity. The pagans invited John over for dinner, and poisoned his cup. But before he began the meal, John prayed grace and made the Sign of the Cross over his cup. Instantly a snake crawled out of the cup, and John was able to escape unharmed.
Listen to the words of Saint John Vianney: “The Sign of the Cross is the most terrible weapon against the devil. Thus, the Church wishes not only that we have it continually in front of our minds, to recall to us just what our souls are worth and what they cost Jesus Christ, but also that we should make it at every juncture ourselves: when we go to bed, when we awaken during the night, when we get up, when we begin any action, and, above all, when we are tempted.” The Sign of the Cross is one of the most powerful prayers we have—it invokes the Trinity, seals us with the Blood of the Cross, puts to flight the Evil One, and reminds us who we are. Let us make that Sign carefully with devotion, and let us make it frequently throughout the day. It is the outward sign of who we are, and Who we belong to.