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Making the Sign of the Cross

Over the centuries the practice of making the Sign of the Cross fell into disuse among many Lutherans, but Martin Luther advises in the Catechism that we make the Sign of the Cross first thing in the morning.  This practice is an excellent reminder of who we are:  baptized children of God who have been redeemed by Christ the crucified.

Why we make the Sign of the Cross:
Making the Sign of the Cross expresses in an outward manner our inner beliefs about the centrality of the cross.  The cross is, of course, where Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins.  Making the Sign of the Cross is a witness of our faith.  Many Christians wear crosses, or dove or fish lapel pins as a witness to others.  Making the Sign of the Cross is similar.  Making the Sign of the Cross is a reminder to us.  Making the Sign of the Cross, or using any of the historical outward gestures, rescues us when words fail us or when we're mentally tired.

How to Make the Sign of the Cross.
The oldest tradition is to hold together the thumb and first two fingers (three being the number of the Holy Trinity).  First touch the forehead lightly, then move down to the middle of the chest.  Then touch the right shoulder and then the left shoulder.  In the Western tradition, the left shoulder is touched first and then the right.  Either tradition is fine.

When to Make the Sign of the Cross
There are no legalistic requirements as to when (or even if) a person should make the Sign of the Cross.  If a person wishes to, the most common times might be:
  • At the beginning of the liturgy (order of worship);
  • At any time the Trinity is invoked ("In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit");
  • At the end of the recitation of a Creed (Apostles', Nicene, or Athanasian);
  • When absolution is bestowed after confession of sin (this reminds us we're forgiven not because God lowered the standards nor because we can earn forgiveness, but because Christ died on the cross);
  • When the Gospel is announced (to mean, "May God be in my thinking, my speaking, my feeling, and my choosing, especially in light of the Scriptural instruction I'm about to hear");
  • At the end of the Sanctus (when the celebrant says, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord");
  • Before/after receiving Holy Communion;
  • When ever a blessing is bestowed.
No one must use the Sign of the Cross nor should one look down on those doing it.  Done to the glory of God, however, it can be a great source of blessing:  to God, to others (as a witness), and to ourselves.