Free Republic
Browse · Search
Religion
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

The Sign of the Cross
Catholic Exchange ^ | June 12, 2014 | FR. WILLIAM SAUNDERS

Posted on 06/14/2014 2:29:20 PM PDT by NYer

Q: My friend is Greek Orthodox. In his Church, they make the sign of the cross crossing themselves from the right shoulder to the left, but we do the opposite. Why is there a difference? When did this come into practice?

The sign of the cross is a beautiful gesture which reminds the faithful of both the cross of salvation while invoking the Holy Trinity. Technically, the sign of the cross is a sacramental, a sacred sign instituted by the Church which prepares a person to receive grace and which sanctifies a moment or circumstance. Along this thought, this gesture has been used since the earliest times of the Church to begin and to conclude prayer and the Mass.

The early Church Fathers attested to the use of the sign of the cross. Tertullian (d. 250) described the commonness of the sign of the cross: “In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross” (De corona, 30).

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) in his Catechetical Lectures stated, “Let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in our goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are traveling, and when we are at rest” (Catecheses, 13). Gradually, the sign of the cross was incorporated in different acts of the Mass, such as the three-fold signing of the forehead, lips, and heart at the reading of the gospel or the blessing and signing of the bread and wine to be offered.

The earliest formalized way of making the sign of the cross appeared about the 400s, during the Monophysite heresy which denied the two natures in the divine person of Christ and thereby the unity of the Holy Trinity. The sign of the cross was made from forehead to chest, and then from right shoulder to left shoulder with the right hand. The thumb, forefinger, and middle fingers were held together to symbolize the Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Moreover, these fingers were held in such a way that they represented the Greek abbreviation I X C (Iesus Christus Soter, Jesus Christ Savior): the straight forefinger representing the I; the middle finger crossed with the thumb, the X; and the bent middle finger, the C. The ring finger and “pinky” finger were bent downward against the palm, and symbolize the unity of the human nature and divine nature, and the human will and divine will in the person of Christ. This practice was universal for the whole Church until about the twelfth century, but continues to be the practice for the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches and the Orthodox Churches.

An instruction of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) evidences the traditional practice, but also indicates a shift in the Latin Rite practice of the Catholic Church: “The sign of the cross is made with three fingers, because the signing is done together with the invocation of the Trinity…. This is how it is done: from above to below, and from the right to the left, because Christ descended from the heavens to the earth, and from the Jews (right) He passed to the Gentiles (left).” While noting the custom of making the cross from the right to the left shoulder was for both the western and eastern Churches, Pope Innocent continued, “Others, however, make the sign of the cross from the left to the right, because from misery (left) we must cross over to glory (right), just as Christ crossed over from death to life, and from Hades to Paradise. [Some priests] do it this way so that they and the people will be signing themselves in the same way. You can easily verify this — picture the priest facing the people for the blessing — when we make the sign of the cross over the people, it is from left to right….” Therefore, about this time, the faithful began to imitate the priest imparting the blessing, going from the left shoulder to the right shoulder with an open hand. Eventually, this practice became the custom for the Western Church.

In the classic work, The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite by Adrian Fortescue and J. B. O’Connell, the sign of the cross is made as follows: “Place the left hand extended under the breast. Hold the right hand extended also. At the word Patris [Father] raise it and touch the forehead; at Filii [Son] touch the breast at a sufficient distance down, but above the left hand; at Spiritus Sancti [Holy Spirit] touch the left and right shoulders; at Amen join the hands if they are to be joined.” Although this practice may have evolved from the original and still current practice of Eastern Rite, it nevertheless has been the standing custom for the Latin Rite Church for centuries.

No matter how one technically makes the sign of the cross, the gesture should be made consciously and devoutly. The individual must be mindful of the Holy Trinity, that central dogma that makes Christians “Christians.” Also, the individual must remember that the cross is the sign of our salvation: Jesus Christ, true God who became true man, offered the perfect sacrifice for our redemption from sin on the altar of the cross. This simple yet profound act makes each person mindful of the great love of God for us, a love that is stronger than death and promises everlasting life. For good reason, a partial indulgence is granted to a person who devoutly signs himself with the sign of the cross, saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Enchirdion of Indulgences, No. 55). Therefore, may each of us make the sign of the cross with purpose and precision, not hastily or carelessly.


TOPICS: Catholic; History; Orthodox Christian; Prayer
KEYWORDS:
Editor’s note: This article is courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.
1 posted on 06/14/2014 2:29:20 PM PDT by NYer
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Tax-chick; GregB; Berlin_Freeper; SumProVita; narses; bboop; SevenofNine; Ronaldus Magnus; tiki; ...
This practice was universal for the whole Church until about the twelfth century, but continues to be the practice for the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches and the Orthodox Churches.

Not true for the Maronite Church which follows the Latin practice of left to right. Ping!

2 posted on 06/14/2014 2:30:41 PM PDT by NYer ("You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears." James 4:14)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: NYer

I’m not sure the direction is that important, but I always use three fingers to represent the Trinity. (There was a big dispute a couple of centuries ago about the number of fingers among the various Orthodox in Russia - all of them a little too tightly wrapped, IMHO!)

I think the American style can be a little sloppy. Latin Americans and many Europeans tend to cross themselves with one or three fingers and kiss their fingers afterwards. I often make a tiny sign of the cross with my thumb on my chest when a regular one would be impossible or ostentatious.

That said, I don’t think it’s that important. But it should be careful and respectful, unless you’re at the point of death...in which case, cross your arms.


3 posted on 06/14/2014 2:41:19 PM PDT by livius
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: NYer
The thumb, forefinger, and middle fingers were held together to symbolize the Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Moreover, these fingers were held in such a way that they represented the Greek abbreviation I X C (Iesus Christus Soter, Jesus Christ Savior): the straight forefinger representing the I; the middle finger crossed with the thumb, the X; and the bent middle finger, the C. The ring finger and “pinky” finger were bent downward against the palm, and symbolize the unity of the human nature and divine nature, and the human will and divine will in the person of Christ. This practice was universal for the whole Church until about the twelfth century, but continues to be the practice for the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches and the Orthodox Churches.

************************************

This is what I've always done. Is it incorrect? I am not Eastern Rite or Orthodox.

4 posted on 06/14/2014 3:37:10 PM PDT by trisham (Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: NYer
The Sign of the Cross

The Biblical Roots of the Sign of the Cross
St. Francis de Sales: How to make the Sign of the Cross [Ecumenical]
The Sign of the Cross [Catholic and Orthodox Caucus]
The Sign Of The Cross [Catholic Caucus]
Sign of the Cross, Sign of All Time (User's Guide to Sunday)
Cross, Sign Of
The Sign of the Cross
In the Name of the Father . . .[The Sign of the Cross]
The Sign of the Cross
The sign of the cross capable of killing microbes

5 posted on 06/14/2014 3:38:18 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: NYer
Greek clothing traditionally has the watch pocket and wallet pocket reversed.... Spectacles and testicles are the same however.

</sarc>

6 posted on 06/14/2014 3:42:25 PM PDT by Rodamala
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: NYer

In Australia and New Zealand, they make this sign upside down.


7 posted on 06/14/2014 3:49:10 PM PDT by aMorePerfectUnion ( "I didn't leave the Central Oligarchy Party. It left me." - Ronaldus Maximus)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: livius

My mother taught me to use my forefinger and my middle finger, and the sisters in school taught me the same way. I can’t be the only one here who learned that way.


8 posted on 06/14/2014 4:53:31 PM PDT by Bigg Red (31 May 2014: Obamugabe officially declares the USA a vanquished subject of the Global Caliphate.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Salvation

ping


9 posted on 06/14/2014 5:33:25 PM PDT by Rumplemeyer (The GOP should stand its ground - and fix Bayonets)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: livius
The Sign of the Cross always designates NOT PROTESTANT as much as it designates Catholic. I'm not sure that too many Protestants, know OR care WHICH way the Sign of the Cross is made. They don't do it so why should they care?
10 posted on 06/14/2014 6:05:34 PM PDT by cloudmountain
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: trisham

Perfectly OK. Sometimes I will do that, but sometimes I forget.

At the Gospel, though, with the three little signs of the Cross on my forehead, lips and heart, I always do it that way.

God bless.


11 posted on 06/14/2014 6:09:16 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: lightman

Any views here?


12 posted on 06/14/2014 6:10:18 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: cloudmountain

I deeply respect my brother’s and sister-in-law’s making the sign of the cross. Jesus loves us all.


13 posted on 06/14/2014 6:15:41 PM PDT by Ace's Dad (Proud grandpa of a newly born "Brit Chick" named Poppy Loucks!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: Salvation

Thanks, Salvation. God bless you, too.


14 posted on 06/14/2014 6:17:49 PM PDT by trisham (Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: Salvation
In the Small Catehcism, Luther prescribed beginning the daily morning and evening prayers with the sign of the cross.

Daily Prayers

How the head of the family should teach his household to pray morning and evening

Morning Prayer.

1] In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

2] Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

3] Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn, as the Ten Commandments, or what your devotion may suggest.

15 posted on 06/14/2014 6:24:07 PM PDT by lightman (O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, giving to Thy Church vict'ry o'er Her enemies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: lightman

Thanks for that addition.


16 posted on 06/14/2014 6:25:40 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 15 | View Replies]

To: Salvation
How the head of the family should teach his household to pray morning and evening

A very important reminder for Fathers' Day concerning their most sacred task!

17 posted on 06/14/2014 6:31:17 PM PDT by lightman (O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, giving to Thy Church vict'ry o'er Her enemies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 16 | View Replies]

To: lightman

**A very important reminder for Fathers’ Day concerning their most sacred task! **

Amen!


18 posted on 06/14/2014 6:34:26 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

To: NYer

At Mass this evening, Rev Ted Lawson, a visiting Redemptorist priest in his homily asked how to describe God?

His response was the Sign of the Cross... “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”

It is directed as a prayer to God, but in the manner of not pointing outward toward Heaven instead it reflects back to us.

He called it the perfect prayer and that he liked to see at meals and even when a basketball player shoots at the free throw line.


19 posted on 06/14/2014 6:37:30 PM PDT by ADSUM
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Ace's Dad
1. I deeply respect my brother’s and sister-in-law’s making the sign of the cross.
2. Jesus loves us all.

1. Good on you!
2. Yes, He does.

O Lord, I am not worthy...

20 posted on 06/14/2014 6:50:02 PM PDT by cloudmountain
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: ADSUM

Most basketball players in college would rather slap each other’s hands after a FT than make the sign of the cross. I have seen Catholic football player make the sign after scoring a touchdown.


21 posted on 06/14/2014 6:52:39 PM PDT by NKP_Vet ("Truth is like a lion. You don't have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 19 | View Replies]

To: NYer
This is more feel goodism teaching.

We have no Biblical support for making the sign of the cross as we see a lot of people do.

22 posted on 06/14/2014 7:07:23 PM PDT by ealgeone (obama, borderof)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: ealgeone

Oh, really?

Where are the references to the Holy Trinity in the Bible?

Paul in 2Cor

READING 2 2 COR 13:11-13
Brothers and sisters, rejoice.
Mend your ways, encourage one another,
agree with one another, live in peace,
and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet one another with a holy kiss.
All the holy ones greet you.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.


23 posted on 06/14/2014 7:10:22 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: ealgeone
Oh, really?

Where are the references to the Holy Trinity in the Bible?

Matthew 28

Gospel mt 28:16-20

The eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them,
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
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.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”


24 posted on 06/14/2014 7:18:33 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: ealgeone
the final blessing at Mass given by the priest every Sunday: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
25 posted on 06/14/2014 7:19:48 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: Salvation
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

I have no problem with this ending. In fact, it's one of the most biblically based things I've seen on this board.

However, the crossing of the body is not Biblical.

26 posted on 06/14/2014 7:28:56 PM PDT by ealgeone (obama, borderof)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 25 | View Replies]

To: Bigg Red

I think most people over a certain age were taught that (in the Latin Rite churches, at least). It’s kind of depressing to see how hesitant and shaky many young people are with it now, though. Of course, they’ve no longer been taught to genuflect or do much of anything, so I guess that’s not surprising.


27 posted on 06/14/2014 7:29:43 PM PDT by livius
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: Salvation
Oh, really? Where are the references to the Holy Trinity in the Bible?

Never denied the Trinity.

Just crossing the body.

28 posted on 06/14/2014 7:29:59 PM PDT by ealgeone (obama, borderof)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 23 | View Replies]

To: Salvation
Oh, really? Where are the references to the Holy Trinity in the Bible?

I am encouraged that catholics are appealing to Scripture and not Tradition for a change!

29 posted on 06/14/2014 7:31:25 PM PDT by ealgeone (obama, borderof)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 23 | View Replies]

To: ealgeone

Thank you.


30 posted on 06/14/2014 7:33:07 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 29 | View Replies]

To: cloudmountain

The Sign of the Cross existed in both the East and the West long before Protestants even came on the scene. It was not meant to distinguish Catholics.

Protestantism arose almost 1500 years after the founding of the Church, and because Protestantism is very similar to Islam in rejecting traditional images and symbols, it was the Protestants who rejected the Sign of the Cross.


31 posted on 06/14/2014 7:33:41 PM PDT by livius
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: livius

We were always complimented when in a restaurant, making the Sign of the Cross (yes, all five children and mom and dad) and saying the Prayer before Meals.

People would always stop by our table and say how impressed they were with our family.


32 posted on 06/14/2014 7:37:34 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 31 | View Replies]

To: cloudmountain

Many Lutherans make the sign of the cross, and most people consider Lutherans to be Protestant.

I can’t speak to other denominations.


33 posted on 06/14/2014 8:11:46 PM PDT by CraigEsq
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: CraigEsq
Many Lutherans make the sign of the cross, and most people consider Lutherans to be Protestant.
I can’t speak to other denominations.

Google reports that the Methodists do too.

Also: Reformed Tradition
In some Reformed churches, such as the PCUSA and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the sign of the cross is used on the foreheads during baptism or during an Ash Wednesday service when ashes are imposed on the forehead. The sign of the cross in some instances is used during Communion.
In some instances during a Benediction, when the minister concludes the service using the trinitarian blessing, a hand is extended and a sign of the cross is made out toward the congregation. This type of benediction is seen in quite a few High Presbyterian congregations, especially on the East Coast of the USA and in Scotland, (The Church of Scotland) which is Presbyterian as in St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

=======================================

Apparently the Apostles first used it.
From: THE SIGN OF THE CROSS - Catholic Tradition http://www.catholictradition.org/Classics/signum-crucis.htm

It was first instituted by the Apostles themselves, who, invested with the authority ... The Gospel also declares to us that when He shall come at the last day to judge the world, the sacred sign of the Cross shall appear in the heavens, ... be the disciples of the Cross, and none but they, whom He will acknowledge for His Own.

====================================
So we are following a 2000 year old tradition.
Good to learn that.

34 posted on 06/14/2014 8:20:45 PM PDT by cloudmountain
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 33 | View Replies]

To: Bigg Red

Oops! I meant to say my forefinger, my middle finger, and my ring finger. Those three fingers represent the 3 Persons of the Trinity.


35 posted on 06/14/2014 8:58:58 PM PDT by Bigg Red (31 May 2014: Obamugabe officially declares the USA a vanquished subject of the Global Caliphate.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: CraigEsq
Many Lutherans make the sign of the cross, and most people consider Lutherans to be Protestant.

This devotion is one of many customs and teachings among Lutherans which validate the description offered half a century ago by (then) Lutheran World Federation President Rev. Dr. Franklin Clark Fry:

Lutherans are bridge church; not truly Catholic and not really Protestant.

36 posted on 06/15/2014 7:23:59 AM PDT by lightman (O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, giving to Thy Church vict'ry o'er Her enemies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 33 | View Replies]

To: livius

I would say much of Protestantism embraces the Iconoclastic heresy which was condemned in 787AD at 2nd Nicea. Even before that, Pope Gregory III condemned the iconoclastic movement around 731 [which would be affirmed at the 7th Council in 787AD]. Saint John Damascene, the last of the Church Fathers, wrote against the Iconoclastic supporters. If you read the canons and decrees from 2nd Nicea in 787, one clearly sees that rejection of icons was seen as an attack on the Doctrine of the Incarnation [of which both Jews and Muslims reject]. And while Protestantism does not reject it, you still have a segment of Protestantism that has Nestorian tendencies, which I can attest to given my time here and comments made by numerous FR protestants in thread and after thread.

http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Councils/ecum07.htm


37 posted on 06/15/2014 7:54:19 AM PDT by CTrent1564
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 31 | View Replies]

To: Salvation

In the fifth grade was the first time I ever saw someone make the sign of the Cross. Rural Oklahoma. A kid stepped up to the plate, did so, and promptly hit a home run. I was impressed no end. I was too scared to ever try it, but I did convert 20 years later. God Bless


38 posted on 06/15/2014 8:09:35 AM PDT by GopherIt
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 32 | View Replies]

To: GopherIt

Welcome Home!


39 posted on 06/15/2014 8:18:21 AM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 38 | View Replies]

To: CTrent1564
I would say much of Protestantism embraces the Iconoclastic heresy which was condemned in 787AD at 2nd Nicea

Aye.

The descendants of Calvin, Zwingli, and the radical reformers changed the numbering of the Ten Commandments--combining 9 & 10 on coveting so to allow for a new # 2 "Thou shalt not make any graven image".

Catholics, Orthodox, and Lutherans have retained the historic numbering.

40 posted on 06/15/2014 11:41:48 AM PDT by lightman (O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, giving to Thy Church vict'ry o'er Her enemies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 37 | View Replies]

To: livius

Angelicans Lutherans make the sign. Both Protestant faiths.


41 posted on 06/15/2014 12:42:59 PM PDT by NKP_Vet ("Truth is like a lion. You don't have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 31 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Religion
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson