The Sign of the Cross is the most common Catholic prayer. We use it at the beginning and end of prayers, in the Mass, when we pass by a Church, cemetery, or abortion clinic, and when we hear an emergency vehicle siren. But do we know that it is a prayer itself? Or what it means? Watch this video to learn all this and more!

Why Do Catholics Make The Sign of the Cross?

Who Can Make the Sign of the Cross?

Anyone can make the Sign of the Cross! You don’t have to be Catholic. But it would be best if you believed in the trinity and the saving power of Christ as this is a profession of these teachings.

How Do We Make the Sign of the Cross?

We touch our forehead and say, “In the name of the Father,” then move down to the middle of our chest, saying “and of the Son,” and our left then right shoulder stating “and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.” 

Our moving down from our forehead to our chest recalls the incarnation of Christ, his coming down from heaven. Moving from left to right symbolizes moving from the curse to the side of blessing, or from Hades to Paradise. 

If we hold three fingers together while making the sign of the cross, they symbolize the trinity, and the two other fingers together represent Christ’s two natures, that he is fully man and fully divine. If we use an open hand with all five fingers extended, we express an openness to Christ and symbolize his five wounds. 

Where Did the Sign of the Cross Come From?

The practice was already well established in the 2nd century as attested to by Tertullian (ad c. 160-c. 225). He writes of a woman who “signs” her body, and Origen speaks directly of tracing the cross on foreheads. We still see this smaller sign of the cross in Baptism, Ash Wednesday, and before the Gospel is read within the Mass. 

St. Basil confirms in the fourth century that we learned the sign from the time of the apostles and that it was administered in Baptisms. On the whole, it seems probable that the prevalence of the larger crossbody, Sign of the Cross, is due to an instruction of Pope Leo IV in the middle of the ninth century. 

Why Do We Make the Sign of the Cross?

We are both physical and spiritual beings. Therefore it is not through just our words that we pray but also our bodies. Whether this is standing, kneeling, holding hands, laying hands upon someone, or outstretching our hands, or just folding them in front of ourselves. All of these are powerful as we draw our whole being into action. 

What Are the Purposes and Meaning?

Many things go into the prayer of the Sign of the Cross; it is a:

  • Confession of faith in the trinity and saving work of Christ on the cross
  • Invoking of the Power of God’s name
  • Opening to Grace
  • Renewal of baptism
  • Mark of discipleship
  • Acceptance of suffering
  • Asking for support in our suffering
  • Defense against the devil
  • Tool for evangelization 
  • Claiming of ourselves for Christ

When used before a prayer, it helps call Christ into space, the moment, our hearts. When you make the Sign of the Cross at the end of a prayer, you say that you want to go forth in him and for him. 

One tip for incorporating this beautiful prayer into your life is to use the laity blessing. This is how we, as parents, bless our children. We use this specifically before bed every night, and now we also receive nightly blessings from our children. We trace a small sign of the cross on their forehead and say, “May God bless you and protect you.”

Let us go forth clothed in Christ, his power and grace, and do all things in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!

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