Skip to comments.St. Francis de Sales: How to make the Sign of the Cross [Ecumenical]
Posted on 08/01/2013 6:42:32 PM PDT by Salvation
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” These words roll off every Catholic’s tongue so frequently that we often forget the significance of what we are saying. Sometimes we make the Sign of the Cross at Mass so haphazardly that we look like a coach on the first base line at a Major League Baseball game. Worst of all, sometimes we don’t even make the Sign of the Cross because we are afraid we will bring unwanted attention and judgment upon ourselves. All of these are bad, and I am ashamed to admit that I have been guilty of each transgression at various points in my life. It is time we reconnect with this most ancient of prayers and discover the power behind these fifteen words.
St. Francis de Sales’ little treatise entitled The Sign of the Cross begins by explaining how to make the sign of the Cross. It may seem like a no-brainer at first, but I’d bet that very few Catholics know why we make the Sign of the Cross the way we do. To summarize St. Francis de Sales, we use our right hand, because it is “the more worthy of the two.” With our right hand, we use either three fingers to represent the Trinity or five fingers to represent Jesus’ five wounds. We begin the prayer by placing our right hand on our forehead to acknowledge that God the Father is the one from whom all things originate. Next, we move our hand down to our stomach as a sign that Jesus proceeded from the Father. Lastly, we cross ourselves from left shoulder to right shoulder to show that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son and that He is the bond of love between Father and Son. Let that information sink in, and reflect on it going forward each time you make the Sign of the Cross.
The rest of this book deals with the origins, history, uses, and benefits of the Sign of the Cross. For example, did you know that in early times the Sign of the Cross was made on the forehead? It eventually evolved to its present form, but early Christians put the Sign on their forehead both as a profession of faith and an invocation of God’s assistance in every aspect of their lives. The most fascinating chapter to me was entitled “A Defense against Demons.” In this chapter, St. Francis de Sales quotes various Church Fathers, from St. Athanasius to St. John Chrysostom, all of whom speak about the power of the Sign of the Cross over Satan and his minions. It is truly a simple but powerful weapon that so many fail to realize they possess. So, in the words of Origen, “Let us rejoice, my beloved friends, and lift holy hands to heaven in the form of the Cross; when the demons see us armed in this way they will be crushed.”
If you are looking for a simple way to deepen your prayer life, then pick up a copy of The Sign of the Cross. You will gain a wealth of spiritual benefits from reading this book, but you must not stop there. You must then act upon what you have read. Slow down when crossing yourself. Think about each word as you say it. Also, start using the Sign of the Cross in every aspect of your life! You don’t have to just use it at the beginning and ending of formal prayer. You can use it when starting and ending a task at work. By doing this, you will make your entire day a prayer to God. These fifteen words can transform your life, if you only let them.
Sign of the Cross Ping!
Mexicans (but not many other central Americans) tend to follow the sign of the cross with a smaller (it happens so fast) gesture which ends with what looks like a kissing of the thumb. I had a Mexican ex girlfriend slow down and show me in greater detail but that was a while ago. What is that and where did it originate?
That should be ‘other north or central americans.’
Bless you! A prayer answered.
I didn’t know that history mentioned in the article.
They cross their thumb and forefinger to make a cross.
I was taught that you moved to the heart, as in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I've never heard the stomach version.
Watch a priest, though. They make the vertical part longer.
I usually would touch just above the belt.
Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch.
That’s how they taught it at the Irish church. At least that’s how the older kids taught it.
Very religious Jews affix a scroll with a portion of Torah to their doors. When they enter the room, they touch it and kiss their hand. In addition some prayers are supposed to be said with tefillin tied to their heads and left arm; tefillin are small black boxes (sort of). In each box is the same passage. I would guess the latter tradition prefigures making the sign of the Cross. I realize this doesn’t answer your question, but I thought of this when I read it.
A possible cause would be the attempt of the Mexican Government to destroy the Catholic church about a century ago. The Catholics would make the sign of the cross really fast so they could do it without being seen. The kiss might represent a request that God enter you.
"Sometimes we make the Sign of the Cross at Mass so haphazardly that we look like a coach on the first base line at a Major League Baseball game."
This is so true. I am amazed at the haphazard way some people exercise this upon entering mass and during it. It is like there is an award for the most obscure or fastest method of crossing themselves.
Yes, that makes me want to read the book!
I’ve heard that before ... what I cannot figure out is if its said by southpaws or what.
Watch for a righty goes on left arm and wallet in right rear pocket which with that saying would produce an Orthodox cross not a Catholic one.
Or am I just confused tonight.
Orthodox move to the right shoulder first, then to the left shoulder.....so it makes sense that way.
The Greek and Russian Orthodox “ways” are cool, too. Very slow and deliberate. (To my knowledge; from what I have seen).
I think it had to do with where you would keep a billfold and pocket watch in a jacket. But pocket watches were before my time, so I wouldn’t be able fathom a guess.
Actually, that’s how I remember where I actually left my wallet and watch and glasses... by doing the sign of the cross. Still the same, it’s a good thing my testicals are permanently attached.
Sometimes we make the Sign of the Cross at Mass so haphazardly that we look like a coach on the first base line at a Major League Baseball game.
Great image. I guess we all have been guilty of that, at some time or another.
Good post. Thanks, Sal.
I was taught that you moved to the heart, as in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I’ve never heard the stomach version.
Same here. And I was also taught to keep my left hand at my heart until the “amen”, at which point the hands are brought together in the classic prayer gesture.
When I was first teaching the Sign and Grace Before Meals to my eldest grandson, before he was 2, he would often say “yay-men” for “amen”.
My kids are just getting out of college. I cannot wait to get my testicles back after the final tuition payment.
Now that actually makes sense.
I have heard that in Mexico during the persecution of the Church, the Cristeros War, etc., symbols of the Faith were not allowed so after the Sign of the Cross was made one put one’s thumb over the first finger to form a cross. As an Act of Faith, they then kissed the cross. This would be the only cross they probably had and certainly the only one they could safely have.
thank you for posting- the writings of St Francis de Sales are my favorite...