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sign of the cross

Sign_of_the_CrossThe sign of the cross is regularly used to start prayer; at the absolution; at a blessing at the end of a service. Many are signed with a cross in ash on foreheads on Ash Wednesday. The sign is there at the beginning and end of a service; the beginning and end of a life; …

The sign of the cross marks out – this time, this person, this money, this place, this community,…

There does not appear to be any Christian period when there was not some reference to making the sign of the cross.

The sign of the cross is most often done: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. So it is not just marking ourselves with the cross, but also in the name of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As with all great rituals and symbols and gestures – there’s a lot more going on:

When you make the sign of the cross, you are crossing the centre line.

asymmetric tonic neck reflex
asymmetric tonic neck reflex

A baby cannot cross the centre line of her/his body until s/he is about 6 months old. The left side of your body, as you know, is controlled by the right side of your brain; the right side of your body is controlled by the left side of your brain. To cross the centre line of your body you have to have left and right sides of your brain working together. A baby cannot do that when they are just born.

A baby has an asymmetric tonic neck reflex. This means you can turn over if you are stuck, as a baby, without needing to cross your centre line. You still do it when you are tired – you revert to your baby state.

When you sing you use the left and right of your brain together. Part of religious experience, spiritual insight, is the left and right side of your brain working together. Singing helps that. Making the sign of the cross is spiritual brain gym.

asymmetric tonic neck reflex
asymmetric tonic neck reflex
A final point: when you make the sign of the cross you start with your head. That’s where we often start. Ideas. Beliefs in our head. And often that’s where many people stop. Where many people get stuck. Religion, spirituality is just a head trip. Something they accept in their head – yes God exists. So…?! The longest journey, some people say, is from my head to my heart. That’s how the sign of the cross begins: drawing the head – into the heart.

And then from the heart into my limbs. Not just staying in my heart – but doing something about it. Acting it out in my life. Living it out through my limbs.

I make the sign of the cross – in the name of the Holy Trinity – and commit myself to a journey from my head, into my heart, and lived out in my life.

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9 Responses to sign of the cross

    • Good point, Tim. Simple human gestures, a handshake, a kiss, a hug, etc. are richly multivalent symbols which our verbal exploration does not exhaust, contain, or replace.

  1. I enjoyed reading your insight on the sign of the cross. I grew up attending an Evangelical Christian church so making the sign of the cross is not something that we practiced. I liked your point at the end when you said, “I make the sign of the cross – in the name of the Holy Trinity – and commit myself to a journey from my head, into my heart, and lived out in my life.” This makes me see the sign of the cross as a symbol of living out my life as a wholly, devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

  2. Thank you for this. I was also taught to return to the center from the limbs and that this was a sign of being centered in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  3. Thanks for that! In the CofE church where I now practice, a lot of people make the Sign of the Cross at the final blessing, when the priest blesses us in the name of the Trinity.

  4. In the UK it is relatively unusual for evangelicals to make the sign of the cross – which in some ways is strange, as the cross is so central to evangelicals. As well as at the blessing, another obvious place is at the absolution – He-died-for-me. ‘Taking up the cross’, making the physical sign of the cross seems an obvious sort of thing for evangelicals to do. And many are beginning to.

    But not all… I mentioned to a prominent evangelical bishop that perhaps evangelicals should re-claim the sign of the cross. He looked somewhat horrified at the suggestion, and immediately promised to ‘lend me a book’…

    He hasn’t yet, or I could inform you why we are all so misguided.

  5. I was raised as a Catholic and now belong to an Anglican church. The sign of the cross is not as “popular” there as in my previous church but I still do it.
    It is an important act of symbolism and ritual for me. I do not do it lightly, it helps me to remember there is a reason why I am there…

  6. In addition to the three places mentioned (beginning blessing, absolution and final blessing)there are a number of other places in the Eucharistic liturgy where the sign of the cross is very appropriate. At the conclusion of the Gloria in excelsis, when the name of the Trinity is invoked;at the conclusion of the Creed when our hope of the Resurrection is affirmed;at the conclusion if the Prayers of the People when the dead are remembered; during the Eucharistic Prayer at the anamnesis, when the Priest asks that all members of the congregation be sanctified so that we can receive the body and blood of Christ faithfully.In addition, it is particularly appropriate before and after receiving the sacraments.
    In some Anglican parishes, as others have noted, there is a prejudice against the sign of the Cross as “too Roman,” but attitudes like that miss the importance of ritual in all aspects of our spiritual life and impoverish our worship. Thanks for a reasoned explanation. As with other aspects of personal piety, is good to remember the rule that, “All may, some should, none must.”

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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