Do you say a blessing over your food every time you eat? Even when you go out to eat? I sincerely hope that you do. Now, do you make the sign of the cross before after the blessing? If you are Catholic, and you don’t use the sign of the cross, let me explain why it is so important.
I know it is awkward to make the sign of the cross. Non-Catholics don’t usually understand it. They think it’s an odd and unnecessary practice. Doing it in public can have the effect of making you feel like you’re on display. Maybe some people think you’re trying to draw attention to yourself. In any case, making the sign of the cross is very important for several reasons.
The practice of making the sign of the cross stems from the Early Church. During the various persecutions that rocked the Church for the first three centuries of Its existence, Christians had to be very careful. It was illegal to be Christian. So, Christians needed a secret way to identify one another. An ingenious method known as the sign of the cross was invented. Basically, a Christian, when in public, would make the sign of the cross to someone they were unsure was a Christian. If the person made the sign back, you knew they were Christian, too.
After the persecutions stopped with the victory of Constantine, the tradition of the sign of the cross continued; but for different reasons than previously. Now the sign of the cross continued because in part because it is the sign of our redemption. Jesus redeemed us by dying on the cross for us. Every time we make the sign of the cross it reminds us what Jesus did for us. It reminds us just what the price of our redemption was.
The sign of the cross was also continued because it expresses the most basic Christian belief. When a Catholic makes the sign of the cross, he isn’t just silently outlining the cross on his body. He is verbally or mentally expressing the most basic belief in Christianity. The Catholic is declaring his belief in the Most Blessed Trinity.
While making the sign of the cross the Catholic says, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
- It is precisely our belief in three distinct Persons in one God, that allows us to believe in the Incarnation. There is only one God, but three Persons in God. The sign of the cross expresses this belief. Yet, there is more to it.
The sign of the cross invokes the Most Blessed Trinity. It isn’t merely an expression of belief in the Holy Trinity. It is a calling on the Trinity to hear and answer our petitions and prayers. The sign of the cross is simple, beautiful, and powerful. So, before you pray, make the sign of the cross.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity