I once heard the physical gestures during the liturgy referred to as a dance of joy before the Lord. Each time I see the congregation cross themselves or bow at the knee or lower their heads at the name of Jesus I think of this saying and smile inwardly.
If you didn't grow up in the traditional Catholic faith you probably won't be sure what the gesture of crossing yourself during the service is all about, or when you should or shouldn't do it. When I first became part of the church, I certainly didn't. Recently I was asked about this gesture and so decided to do a small write-up here that might be of assistance.
Firstly, there is a modern symbolic interpretation of the cross which I like. The vertical section (the up and down line) represents the transcendent, spiritual realm (the Father) and a horizontal section represents the immanent, physical earthly existence (the Son). When you cross yourself these lines are intersecting slightly above center at the point of the heart, creating wholeness (Holy Spirit) as God was made man. Pretty cool aye?
The sign of the cross (Latin: signum crucis), or crossing yourself, is a form of prayer and it isn't a ritual restricted only to Catholics. It is a way of marking ourselves as Christians and it is a visible expression of our belief and hope in God. It is a reminder to us of the Triune God and also recalls Christ's passion and death on the Cross for our salvation. The Sign of the Cross is probably the most often used prayer of Christians. Despite its simplicity, the Sign of the Cross is an ancient prayer rich in meaning. References to it appear in writings dating back to 240 AD, and it is believed that it was in use during the earliest days of Christianity.
Are you wondering how to do it?
Well, there are 2 ways you can position your hand, both are symbolic.1. Hold your thumb and first two fingers together to represent the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, and fold the other two fingers down against the base of your thumb to represent the Two Natures of Jesus Christ (meaning He is fully human and fully divine).
2. With an open hand, where their five fingers remind them of the five wounds of Christ.
Anglicans, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics cross themselves using a Western Style. The direction they use is from the left to the right, representing Jesus’ descent into Hades (the left side) and His ascension into Heaven (the right side).
1. Touch your forehead
2. Touch the base of your sternum
3. Touch the left side of your chest
4. Touch the right side of your chest
5. As you cross yourself, say, whisper, or think: “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Now you know "how", but what about "when"?
Well, it is a custom to do this gesture when invoking the Trinity, before and after prayers and ceremony. It is also a stand-alone practice of asking God to bless oneself. Many Christians also make the sign of the cross when they hear the name of the Blessed Trinity. By observing other people in your church you can also get a feeling for times when it is appropriate. You can also cross yourself when you need to pray but you are at a loss for words. By tracing the cross on your body you are taking up your cross and following Jesus. Because we are called to pray non-ceasing, and the crossing of oneself is a form of prayer, I don't think there is any time when it would be inappropriate so don't worry about being the only one inspired to do the gesture at any time during a service.
What's that? you saw someone trace little crosses on themselves?
This is done before the Gospel reading at Mass.
To do this you use your thumb.
1. Place the small cross first on your forehead
(while saying the words in your mind "Christ be on my mind"),
2. then sign the cross on your lips
(while saying the words in your mind "Christ be on my lips"),
3. then sign the cross on your chest
(while saying the words in your mind "Christ be in my heart").
In doing this, we acknowledge our belief in the Word of God, our commitment to spread His Word in our daily lives, and our awareness of His presence in our hearts.
When we make the Sign of the Cross on ourselves, we are also expressing our belief in God and the Trinity, reminding ourselves of God's love for us, of the sacrifice Jesus made to give us eternal life, and of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.
Hope this was helpful. God Bless.
( by Di Mathews: churchwarden /blog administrator)
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