Why Do Catholics Cross Themselves?

Catholics are so used to crossing themselves to the extent that other people don’t stop to ask them what they mean when they make the sign of the cross.

Simply, the sign of the cross is a religious gesture that shows the person is Catholic. Throughout popular culture, film, and even sports, people make the sign of the cross as an acknowledgement of God’s help and support.

Read on to learn more.

What Is the Catholic Sign of The Cross Called?

what is the catholic sign of the cross called

The sign of the cross combines the crucifix and reaffirmation of the Holy Trinity. It is one of the most common gestures among the Catholic community, especially the Roman Catholics.

To make the sign of the cross, you use your right hand to touch your forehead, thereafter you touch the middle of your breast followed by the left shoulder and the right shoulder.

The complete sign of the cross gesture depicts the cross of Christ where the vertical line stretches from the forehead to the breast while the horizontal line starts on the left and extends to the right shoulder.

Other than the Roman Catholics, the Greek/Byzantine Catholics also have a similar gesture but their sign of the cross starts from the right shoulder and then goes to the left for the horizontal line. This is followed by the vertical line of the forehead and the breast.

This small variation among the Catholics is not normally highlighted because it is insignificant.

However, it helps to point out that the Byzantine Catholics refers to a section of Catholics formally called Eastern Orthodox Christians who split in 1054 from Rome and were reintegrated in the 17th century.

What Does the Sign of The Cross Symbolize?

what does the sign of the cross symbolize

The sign of the cross is made on several occasions including the onset of prayers and when one survives or escapes from a predicament. There is so much symbolism in the sign of the cross and its worthwhile looking at a few of those.

A Sign of Profession of Belief

Making the sign of the cross symbolises profession of the creed. In short, you are proclaiming that you believe in the Trinity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Whenever the sign of the cross is said in the words of the Holy Trinity, you are declaring the presence of God and that you are entering that presence.

A Renewal of Baptism

The sign of the cross is a declaration that you died with Christ and together with him rose again to a new life. When you make the sign of the cross in baptism, it has the same effect as Christian circumcision. It is a symbol of union between the Gentile converts and the Jews.

The sign serves as a linkage to the Body of Christ and every time you make the gesture, you are acknowledging that indeed you are joined with Christ who is the head of the Church, and you are the body.  

A Mark of Discipleship

In the Book of Luke 9:23, Jesus outlined the prerequisite of becoming a disciple. The Bible records,

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

The Fathers of the Church used a Greek word for the sign of the cross which had the same meaning as that which a slave owner put on a slave or a general put on a soldier. It is an outright declaration that the person signing the cross belongs to Christ.

A Symbol of Self-Denial

Self-denial or sacrifice comes in many forms including giving up both the little and the bigger things. When you accept to be a disciple of Jesus, you cease belonging to yourself and instead come under the leadership of Christ.

When you make the sign of the Cross, you are declaring to God that you desire to obey him, and you belong to him. It is also an acknowledgment that the Lord directs all your decisions and that you are subject to God’s law and the teachings of the church.

A Sign of Acceptance

If you see a Catholic making the sign of the cross in the midst of suffering, the message they are passing across is that of acceptance. The cross brings them to a point of remembrance that Jesus took the human body, went through suffering, and invited us to join with him in his suffering.

The sign of the cross therefore is a show of willingness to embrace the suffering that Jesus went through and acceptance of our share of that suffering. In Romans 6:8, the Bible says,

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

Also, in Romans 8:17, Paul writes to the church in Rome that

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Defense against the Devil

The early Church Fathers taught their congregation that the sign of the cross was a bold declaration that we have the ultimate defence against the devil. The gesture is both a defensive and offensive tool that makes it clear to the devil that God is your protection, and you belong to Christ.

Is the Sign of the Cross a Preserve of Catholics?

why do catholics make the sign of the cross

Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Episcopalians, use the sign of the cross, especially in baptism. Martin Luther recommended the sign of the cross when you rise up in the morning and before you go to bed at night. Having said that, some known Catholics do not attach as much significance to the practice.

Conclusion

According to the Catholic teaching, the sign of the cross is powerful and draws on the prayers of the church to have an effect in our lives. It is a supreme sacramental gesture.

Even when you see professional athletes making the gesture of the cross, it is not a casual practice but rather a recognition of the supremacy of God. Instead of being ashamed to make the sign of the cross, stand up and be bold for Jesus.

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