Catholic Teaching

The Sign of The Cross

      While all of the seven Sacraments are Christ-instituted and always do exactly what they signify, sacramentals are usually Church-instituted (though some are Christ-instituted). They work through the power and prayers of the Church and, subjectively, through the pious disposition of the one using them. Sacramentals drive away evil spirits and when piously used remit venial sin and prepare the soul for grace.

      Sacramentals can be material things (blessed objects, such as scapulars, Rosaries, Crucifixes, medals, Holy Water, etc.) or actions (the Sign of the Cross, genuflection, prayers, the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, etc.). Note that only a priest has the power to bless an object and make it a sacramental. Lay Catholics are free to bless objects, even using the prayers priests use -- and we do so often in blessing our children, blessing meals, blessing Advent wreaths or Mary Gardens, etc. -- but our blessings act as "mere" pleas to God. Priests alone have been given the power to bless with a guarantee, as it were, and it is they and they alone who can take a new Crucifix or Rosary and turn them into sacramentals with the power and prayers of the entire Church behind them.

      The sacramentals in themselves do not save souls but are the means for securing heavenly help for those who use them properly. A sacramental is a sacred object or religious action which the Catholic Church, in imitation of the sacraments, uses for the purpose of obtaining spiritual favors, especially through her prayer. A sacramental is anything set apart or blessed by the Church to excite good thoughts and promote devotion, and thus secure grace and take away venial sin or the temporal punishment due to sin.

      The Rosary is a pious object and a prayer. The crucifix, pictures and statues are pious objects. The Sign of the Cross is both a prayer and a sign.

      The sacraments are necessary for salvation. The sacramentals are not necessary. Nevertheless sacramentals are means to salvation.

      The Sign of the Cross is an ancient prayer. Many early Christian writers discussed how believers signed themselves frequently. Terrullian (166-225 AD), a theologian, said, “In all our travels and movements, in all of our comings and goings, in putting on shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lying down and sitting down, what ever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross.” There is even evidence of the sign in scripture. St. Paul refers to the ‘”seal of the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 1:13) and “I carry branded on my body the marks of Jesus.” (Galatians 6:17). St. John Chrysostom (347-467) said, “Never leave your home without making the sign of the cross.” “Let this sign teach you that you are a soldier ready to fight for the crown of justice.”

      Bert Ghezzi has authored a new book titled simply, The Sign of the Cross, which will increase your understanding of this sacramental. As he states,”Calling on God’s name super naturalizes our natural prayer. I like to say that by signing myself I am praying with Godpower instead of mere humanpower and praying with Godpower makes a world of difference."

      Once you learn the power of the sign you will not sign casually, like you are swatting flies. You will make the sign reverently because you are praying in the name of the Blessed Trinity.

      By making the sign of the cross you: are confessing your faith in the blessed Trinity, confirming your decision to be a disciple of Christ, accepting your suffering as a normal part of the Christian life; reminding the Devil that Christ rejects evil and stopping your tendencies to sin. Obviously, you will not think of all of these as you make the sign of the cross, but if you make the sign reverently and openly these will come to mind. It may be at a Baptism, a request to pray for a sick friend, an unusual blessing, a temptation to sin, or just during normal activity.

      I often think of my oldest son blessing his children with the sign of the cross when they left his home for school or other travel. He realized that priests alone have been given the power by the Church to bless, but my son realized he had the power to ask the Blessed Trinity to protect his children.

      May you imitate our Christian ancestors by make the sign of the cross when you arise in the morning, eat, leave the house, travel, return home, and at work, school and play. May you bless your children, your friends, your relatives, the sick and those who need special blessings and prayers!

May the Blessed Trinity bless you!

Jim Fritz

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