Monday, April 5, 2010

Is the meaning behind the Sign of the Cross prayerful or ritual without reality?

An Orthodox friend likes to tease me about Catholics "making" the Sign of The Cross backwards. Instead of going to the left shoulder then right, the Orthodox go from right to left. Because my Catholic rite is Maronite, I know Eastern Catholics also go from right to left. It is a difference in customs between the Western and Eastern Churches. So being with my Orthodox friend should feel a bit like home to me.

Some Christian faiths think making this sign is "ritual without reality." People should be mindful of why they are making this sign, but people should be mindful with all prayer. One of the Early Church Fathers, Tertullian (160-220 A.D.) remarked "In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out…at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down,…we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross." Originally it is believed the cross was made with the thumb on the forehead only, as still used today during Ash Wednesday. Eventually the cross moved from just the forehead to a motion from the forehead to the chest or stomach and each shoulder. The Orthodox press the ring and pinky finger to their palm and their thumb touches the remaining index and middle fingers' tip. The two fingers on the palm represent the Incarnation. The other three fingers symbolize the Trinity. Most Latin rite Catholics make the sign with all five fingers open, signifying the five wounds of Christ. Either way is fine and both are beautiful and mindful of Our Lord.

Converts to the Church often ask why we make a small cross on our forehead, our lips and our chest before the Gospel. When the Gospel is about to be proclaimed, we make the sign on the forehead so we will keep the Word in our thoughts, next on our lips, reminding us to speak the Word in truth and finally on our chest, storing the Word of God in our hearts.

Is this ritual without reality? Absolutely not, it is the reality of a prayerful communion with the Trinity. When this sign is performed with holy water
it is a renewal of our Baptismal promise. The Sign of the Cross is a remembrance of the love of Christ, His sacrifice for all mankind and His awesome gift of eternal life.


Karinann said...

Great post and a great reminder that the Sign of the Cross is a prayer and a very powerful one at that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.
Happy Eastertide!

HeartfeltHeartLook said...

Thank you! Happy Eastertide back at you.

Rae said...

" it is the reality of a prayerful communion with the Trinity." Exactly!

HeartfeltHeartLook said...

Thanks for visiting Rae! I've been neglecting my blog! What happens to all the hours of the day?

Owner of Homeschool Faith and Family Life Website said...

Interesting and informative post! Thanks!

HeartfeltHeartLook said...

OHFFLW ~ Wow new name! Like it!!! Thank you for visiting.