• Sign of the Cross

The Sign of the Cross

By |2018-08-14T10:42:12+00:00August 6th, 2014|Categories: Anglican Life|Tags: , |12 Comments
Greg Goebel
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Greg Goebel

Founder and Editor at AnglicanPastor.com
Greg is the founder of Anglican Pastor and serves as editor and one of the writers. He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.
Greg Goebel
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Why do Anglicans make the sign of the cross? When do they do it? How do they do it?

I serve in the South, so usually its, “Why do ya’ll cross yourselves?” Often this is followed by “Isn’t that superstitious, like the baseball players who sign themselves before batting? Isn’t it a dead, rote ritual?” Sometimes folks don’t feel its rote or superstitious, but they wonder why and how to make the sign.

And that’s why Anglican Pastor is here! We want to try and answer those kinds of questions, so here we go…

What is the sign of the cross?

Sign of the Cross

The sign of the cross is an ancient Christian practice of marking the shape of the cross of Christ upon one’s self or upon another person or object.

Why make the sign of the cross?

Making the sign of the cross is a tangible way to mark ourselves as Christ’s.

Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, “Let us not be ashamed to profess the Crucified One; let us confidently seal our forehead with our fingers, let us make the sign of the cross on everything, on the bread we eat and over the cup we drink. Let us make this sign as we come and go, before sleeping, when we lie down and when we arise, while traveling and while resting.” For him, it was important to make the sign of the cross as a profession of faith.

Signing oneself with the cross is an act of sanctification, which means “setting apart.” Our souls, our bodies, and our lives are set apart for Christ, under and in his cross. For example, many people sign themselves before receiving communion. They are set apart to God.

The act of making the sign of the cross is a prayer in itself. It is often accompanied by a prayer aloud, or in one’s own mind and heart.

Usually, this is “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Because the sign of the cross has been so associated with the Trinitarian formula, when we sign ourselves, we are also marking ourselves as orthodox Christians who worship and love the Triune God.

When marking the cross upon our children, we are tangibly setting them under Christ’s cross. When signing our food, or our house, or another object, we are setting that apart as holy in Christ and giving thanks to God.

There is nothing superstitious or rote about making the sign of the cross. Just like anything, if we choose to see it that way, it can become that. But it is not fundamentally a superstitious act. Instead, it is a fundamentally Christian act. In other words, if we make it superstitious or rote, we are denying its fundamental purpose.

How do I make the sign of the cross?

sign of the cross

The hand and finger traces Christ’s cross upon one’s

  • head,
  • heart (center of chest),
  • left shoulder,
  • right shoulder.

In the East it is right, then left shoulder.

In some traditions, the finger is kissed after making the sign, or returned to the heart.

When a priest or bishop is blessing the people, he makes the sign as if signing them. This means that rather than signing himself, he moves from their left to their right.

The “little” sign of the cross is the marking of small crosses, using the thumb, to the forehead, mouth, and heart. This sign is used at the reading of the Gospel during the liturgy.

Often a cross is signed upon the forehead during anointing or laying on of hands, usually with the thumb. Items such as the communion Bread and Wine are signed, as well as other articles set apart for a sacred use.

It’s actually very simple, really. It is an act of marking Christ’s cross upon one’s self and life, or upon the people and basic elements of life (food, homes, children, people).

Check out the video at the end of this post from WhyWeWorship for a simple explanation.

When do Anglicans make the sign of the cross?

Anytime!

Tertullian said, “At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at the table, when we light the lamps, when on the couch, on a seat, and in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace the sign upon our foreheads.” He wanted us to remember that we are Christ’s, and that his cross is upon us at all times.

During our daily lives, many Anglicans make the sign of the cross upon waking up and going to bed, as well as before each meal.

When praying, the sign of the cross is customary at the Trinitarian formula (“the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”) and at a prayer for forgiveness.

We can bless our children and teach them by signing them with the cross at bedtime as well.

During worship, the sign of the cross is often used at

  • the Trinitarian formula (“the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”),
  • at the prayer for absolution,
  • and before receiving communion.

Some people sign themselves at

  • the end of the creed,
  • at the name of Jesus Christ,
  • and at the Sanctus (“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”).

As I mentioned above, you can make the “little sign” at the announcement of the Gospel.

No Anglican must make the sign of the cross. Some should. All can.


Here is that video from WhyWeWorship. It’s really helpful, check it out.

12 Comments

  1. Jerusha July 17, 2015 at 6:50 am - Reply

    Thanks for this great insight and for sharing

  2. Justin Clemente November 5, 2015 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    Really great article, Rev. Greg! Thank you for taking time to thoughtfully explain the practice. There simply aren’t enough websites like Anglican Pastor out there. I look forward to sharing this and other articles with the people of our mission parish (New Creation Church – Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic) here in Hagerstown, MD. Thank you for being a resource!

  3. Ryan November 30, 2015 at 6:36 pm - Reply

    This was some great information. Growing up Roman Catholic until my early teens, then becoming a Non-Denominational Christian in my late teens into my mid 20’s before becoming De-Churched for 5-7 years (a very dark time) only to find the Spirit pulling me towards Anglicanism in my late 20’s and now into my mid 30’s, I have experienced all of the “rote” accusations (from every side) that follow liturgical and traditional practices and disciplines. What I’ve found is that our intentions are what determines our presence and ultimately the life found in those practices and the way you’ve shaped this article has given me new energy and hope that many will see the beauty of “marking” not only ourselves but our loved ones, our house, etc. for Christ. Peace to you!

  4. Rookie Anglican July 20, 2016 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    Thanks for writing this helpful post! I’m linking to it in tomorrow’s post at RookieAnglican.com on Ritual Actions in Worship.
    ~Joshua Steele

    • Greg Goebel July 20, 2016 at 5:13 pm - Reply

      Great! That has been one of our most popular all-time posts.

  5. Aaron G. Prosser June 30, 2017 at 9:13 pm - Reply

    What a great article that answers an often asked question! My only suggestion for improvement would be to add dates to the Fathers you quote, as many who ask are also unfamiliar with the historical depth they represent.

  6. Iwuchukwu July 26, 2017 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this piece of information, Fr. Greg.

    This is not a common practice in Nigeria but I do it often even inside the Church and folks around are like…. “who’s this popish guy?”.
    If only people will read meaning to the implication of marking oneself.

  7. Roberta Folino August 8, 2017 at 11:20 am - Reply

    I love this page. I just finished reading the one on the Sign of the Cross. As a Roman Catholic, I also am reminded of my Baptism whenever I dip my fingers in Holy Water and bless myself with the Sign of the Cross. Your blog was really good.

    • Greg Goebel August 8, 2017 at 5:31 pm - Reply

      Great to hear! Thank you much for visiting us, we pray God’s continual blessings upon you.

  8. Nick February 19, 2018 at 9:50 pm - Reply

    This was informative and wonderful. I enjoy the freedom in Christ that this practice allows. Growing up RCC but now a reformed evangelical I find much that CAN be beautiful and sanctifying if we understand Gospel rational for these practices. Thank you.

  9. James Arcadi March 16, 2018 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    Nice post, thanks! From what I understand from my Roman friends, there might be a slight alteration to your mentioning that in some traditions “the finger is kissed.” The justification I have heard is that one does this if one has crossed themselves with their fingers in such a manner that the thumb and forefinger make a mini cross, which is then kissed in an act of veneration of the cross. So, one is kissing the cross (or physically, the sign thereof), not just the finger. Of course this doesn’t work if one places their fingers in the position that the picture in this post includes. In this case, the three fingers joined together represents the Trinity and the two fingers tucked down (ring and pinky) represent the two natures of Christ. Thus, the two fundamental theological positions of orthodox Christianity can be expressed in this gesture. Of course, these rationales might just be post hoc!

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