Imagine being a Christian in the earliest days of the church, when opposition and punishment were possible if the knowledge of your Christianity were revealed. Now imagine that you could use a simple outward sign to reveal your faith. I regret that some have lost this expression of our Christian faith. The deep meaning of this fantastically beautiful expression has even been lost by many Catholics themselves, caught up in the ritual and familiarity of it but not the prayer of it. I admit (sadly) that had I lived in the time of the earliest church, making this sign in a public place would have scared me. Would I have done it? That’s something to think about.
The sign is basic and simple. It takes very little time to do and costs nothing. It is the Sign of the Cross.
Why does this sign mean so much to me? Because, when I sign myself with the cross of Christ, I am testifying to the world that I belong to Him. It is a privilege that I can make this sign without fear of retribution. I can testify that there is One who is greater than I am, and who has my attention and my allegiance. I testify that the man who was savagely hung on a cross of wood did it for me. He drew me to himself by sacrificing everything for me.
Early Christian writers refer to the signing of the cross as early as the second century. Tertullian says, “In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on of our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupieth us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross”.
And in the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem wrote in his Catechesis (xiii, 36), “let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in every thing; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in goings; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are traveling, and when we are at rest.”
Bert Ghezzi, author of “Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer” (Loyola Press), says in an interview that in the fourth century, St. Basil remarked that we learned the sign from the apostles and it was a mark of Baptism. Ghezzi also says,
“One of the main teachings of the early Church Fathers is that the sign of the cross is a declaration of defense against the devil. When you sign yourself, you are declaring to the devil, “Hands off. I belong to Christ; he is my protection.” It’s both an offensive and defensive tool.” (Italics mine) Okay, I love that idea.
So apparently, we can attribute this sacred sign to the earliest Christians, and in my mind, that’s significant, considering the retributions that were possible to any claiming to be a Christian in that time.
How do we make the Sign of the Cross and pray this prayer?
Say, “In the name of the Father, (and lightly touch your right hand to your forehead), and of the Son, (Touch your heart) and of the Holy (touch your left shoulder) Spirit (touch your right shoulder), Amen!”
To read more, visit the following links, which I used during my research and found to be helpful:
Photos by Peggy Angelino