How many times a day do you make the Sign of the Cross? How many of those times do you think about its power or meaning?
As those of you who have begun reading Trusting God with St. Therese know, a booklet called How to Avoid Purgatory played a role in my journey to trust God. One of the suggestions the author gave to gain indulgences or merits was making the Sign of the Cross with reverence. Since reading that, I have made a habit of doing so, offering any indulgences gained for sinners.
Like many of you, I am sure, I spent my early adulthood making this precious sign without thinking. I continued the bad habits of my childhood, muttering, “Father, Son, Holy Spirit,” instead of the complete prayer. Now I make it a point to say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Every time, slowly and reverently. I am teaching my children to do the same.
Similarly, I was often sloppy with the gesture. Not any more. Nor do Dan and I allow our boys to make a sloppy Sign of the Cross. If they don’t reach fully to their shoulders, they do it over–as many times as necessary.
A prayer that needs no words
When I was a missionary in Japan, I learned an interesting practice of the Japanese people. When two strangers were introduced, they would often ask each other about the meaning of their family names. You see, the Japanese write in picture characters that have meaning, so the Japanese think of these pictures, rather than the way we think of how words are spelled.
One syllable in Japanese can have many different meanings. People who have just met often ask each other to sketch the kanji of their surname on their left hand with their right index finger. Then their new acquaintance knows the meaning of their name.
Why do I mention this here? As I spoke to Japanese people about Christ, I took up a form of this habit myself. Often underneath the table, I would draw a cross on my left palm. This was a prayer I could offer without interrupting my train of thought or the conversation.In some situations I abbreviated the gesture, drawing a cross on my right thumb with my middle finger. Sometimes I still do this when asking God to guide my words, thoughts, and feelings during conversations.
Here is the section from The Baltimore Catechism on the Sign of the Cross. I encourage you to share this with your children, even having them memorize the questions and answers:
Q. 1063. Which is the chief sacramental used in the Church?
A. The chief sacramental used in the Church is the sign of the cross.
Q. 1064. How do we make the sign of the cross?
A. We make the sign of the cross by putting the right hand to the forehead, then on the breast, and then to the left and right shoulders, saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.” [Our family says, “Spirit,” as in the current Mass translations.]
Q. 1065. What is a common fault with many in blessing themselves?
A. A common fault with many in blessing themselves is to make a hurried motion with the hand which is in no way a sign of the cross. They perform this act of devotion without thought or intention, forgetting that the Church grants an indulgence to all who bless themselves properly while they have sorrow for their sins.
Q. 1066. Why do we make the sign of the cross?
A. We make the sign of the cross to show that we are Christians and to profess our belief in the chief mysteries of our religion.
Q. 1067. How is the sign of the cross a profession of faith in the chief mysteries of our religion?
A. The sign of the cross is a profession of faith in the chief mysteries of our religion because it expresses the mysteries of the Unity and Trinity of God and of the Incarnation and death of our Lord.
Q. 1068. How does the sign of the cross express the mystery of the Unity and Trinity of God?
A. The words, “In the name,” express the Unity of God; the words that follow, “of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” express the mystery of the Trinity.
Q. 1069. How does the sign of the cross express the mystery of the Incarnation and death of our Lord?
A. The sign of the cross expresses the mystery of the Incarnation by reminding us that the Son of God, having become man, suffered death on the cross.”
Msgr. Ronald Knox says in The Creed in Slow Motion that the Cross is the brand the Good Shepherd marks His sheep with. (D and M are studying this book for school.) It is the markwith which the 144,000 are sealed in Revelation 7.
All the power of the passion and resurrection of Jesus are found in the Sign of the Cross. Made with faith and trust, it can dispel demons and save lives and souls. As the Emperor Constantine learned in a divine vision, in this sign we will conquer. Think of that next time you start to pray.