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How to Answer Protestants Forum: The sign of the cross

by Catherine Frakas 06 Sep 2002

The sign of the cross QUESTION from Aaron Lim July 19, 2001 Many protestants and non catholics have always asked about the sign of the cross and why must we catholics do it every time before & after a prayer. As simple as it is, I was dumbfounded as to how to answer such a simple question as not to mislead into wrong interpretation.
Why do we actually do it for? Please explain clearly this act of piety. I do find that the Eastern Orthodox Church does it the other way. Why is that?

ANSWER by Mr. Troy Martz on July 20, 2001 Dear Mr. Lim:
Thank you for your question, we must always strive to understand our faith so that we can properly evangelize the world.
With the Sign of the Cross, that is exactly what you do everytime you make the sign of the cross in public. In a simple gesture, we proclaim the most profound Mysteries of the Faith.
First, the Sign of the Cross reminds us of the Cross. The cross is a great paradox -- we are saved from our sins through the greatest sin in history, the killing of God. This is also why we usually use a crucifix rather than a plain cross, we must never forget the gruesomeness of the price paid for our salvation.
Second, we proclaim the most important of mysteries: namely that God, while remaining One, is a Community of Persons -- the Trinity. This addresses our greatest misery, that on our own we don't know what/who to worship. Jesus has revealed to us the Nature of God and shown us why we want to be saved from sin. Without sin, we can join in the union of God in the glory of Heaven. The Catholic faith is centered on the Trinity, we proclaim it everytime we make the Sign of the Cross.
Third, we renew our baptismal vows everytime we make the Sign of the Cross. Jesus said, Go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. At our baptism, we made (or our parents made for us) vows to renounce Satan and sin and to dedicate our lives to God. What greater gift could we give to God than to renew those vows with everything we do.
Also, the early Church Fathers mention the Sign of the Cross as one of those unwritten Traditions handed down by the Apostles and preserved by the Church. Early Christians used this simple sign as a way to recognize each other in society.
Hopefully, this will help you see that this is not a superstitious gesture but when properly understood proclaims the Gospel in a way that even little children can participate. As with many Christian symbols, I have only scratched the surface of its meaning. It is a shame that our seperated brethern in the protestant faiths have lost this profound sign.
I have heard that the Orthodox make the sign using the right shoulder first because the good theif was on the right of Christ. I cannot confirm this, but would show how deep and reverently the Eastern Church treat their symbols. Though our symbols are sometimes different, we can learn alot from their peity and sense of the sacred.
Pax Christi
Troy Martz
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