Why Do Catholics Make Sign Of The Cross


When a group of Christians from different denominations get together to pray, it is easy to figure out who is Catholic. Instead of diving right into prayer by addressing God the Father, the Catholic uses his hand to trace a cross over his forehead. Why is that?


The Sign of the Cross is the most often used prayer of Catholics and most likely the first prayer we learned as children. Despite its simplicity, the Sign of the Cross is an ancient prayer rich in meaning.  The sign of the cross is made by touching the hand sequentially to the forehead, lower chest or stomach, and both shoulders, accompanied by the Trinitarian formula: at the forehead In the name of the Father (or In nomine Patris in Latin); at the stomach or heart and of the Son (et Filii); across the shoulders and of the Holy Spirit (et Spiritus Sancti); and finally: Amen.


It is believed the early tradition of marking one’s body with the cross was inspired by a passage in the book of Ezekiel where it says, “And the Lord said to him, ‘Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it’” (Ezekiel 9:4). The sign of the cross is a very ancient practice and prayer. We don't have any indication of it in Scripture, but St. Basil in the fourth century said that we learned the sign from the time of the apostles and that it was administered in baptisms. 


The Sign of the Cross is primarily a blessing. We use it to call God's blessing upon us. It made by individuals upon themselves as a form of prayer and by clergy upon others or objects as an act of blessing. One of the main teachings of the early Church Fathers is also that the sign of the cross is a declaration of defense against the devil. When we make the Sign of the Cross upon ourselves, we are also expressing our belief in the Trinity. Through it, we remind ourselves of God's love for us, of the sacrifice Jesus made to give us eternal life, and of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. The Sign of the Cross also gives us a way to express our belief in Jesus' death and our hope in the Resurrection. We embrace the cross of Jesus and express our willingness to take up our own cross, all the while bursting with joyful hope in the Resurrection.

The routine at Mass of making the small Sign of the Cross on our foreheads, lips, and left breast before the reading of the Gospel also has meaning. In doing this, we acknowledge our belief in the Word of God, our commitment to spread God's Word in our daily lives, and our awareness of God's presence in our hearts.


Since we make the Sign of the Cross before and after all of our prayers, many of us do not realize that the Sign of the Cross is not simply an action but a prayer in itself. Like all prayers, the Sign of the Cross should be said with reverence; we shouldn't rush through it on the way to the next prayer.

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