Universalis

Did they teach you about the sign of the cross?

Did your Sunday school teachers teach you how to make the sign of the cross?

I did not even dare ask whether they taught you what the sign of the cross meant, or why do we sign ourselves with the cross or when should we sign ourselves with the cross. Such is my confidence in Sunday school these days, and the signs are very telling. One of the reasons why our youth are leaving could be that they have been presented with a very one-dimensional faith. One that is stripped of its rich heritage and history, reduced to some modern day pop-psychology or some simplistic view, a Jesus and me relationship and nothing more.

Anyway, back to my original question. I only fully realised that many sacred signs and participation at the liturgy have been forgotten when I stumbled upon this article in Adoremus Bulletin by Rev Cassian Folsom some years back. Let me try to adapt the section on how to make the sign of the cross here.

In the Byzantine tradition, the sign of the cross is made with the thumb, forefinger and middle finger held together whilst the ring finger and pinky should be touching the palm. In this simple gesture contains a mini catechesis. When we sign ourselves with the cross, we remind ourselves of the triune God whose name we begin our prayer and bless ourselves. We also remind ourselves of the dual nature of Jesus Christ that we profess in our Credo, that Jesus was truely God and truely man.

Pope Innocent III had this to say, "The sign of the cross is made with three fingers, because the signing is done together with the invocation of the Trinity. This is how it is done: from above to below, and from the right to the left, because Christ descended from the heavens to the earth, and from the Jews (right) he passed to the Gentiles (left)."

Fr Cassian then quotes Msgr Romano Guardini, an insighful educator and writer of Catholic spirituality. "When we cross ourselves, let it be with a real sign of the cross. Instead of a small cramped gesture that gives no notion of its meaning, let us make a large unhurried sign, from forehead to breast, from shoulder to shoulder, consciously feeling how it includes the whole of us, our thoughts, our attitudes, our body and soul, every part of us at once, how it consecrates and sanctifies us. It does so because it is the sign of the universe and the sign of our redemption. On the cross Christ redeemed mankind. By the cross He sanctifies man to the last shred and fiber of his being."

When do we make the sign of the cross?

In the Liturgy, there are many occasions when we make the sign of the cross:

    • with holy water before Mass begins;
    • at the beginning of Mass itself;
    • at the Gospel: "may the Lord purify my understanding, my speech, and my heart, so that I may receive the words of the Gospel";
    • we make the sign of the cross in the rite of baptism, for anointing the sick, for exorcisms, when we pray throughout the day;
    • in the Divine Office, we make the sign of the cross when we begin the Benedictus and the Magnificat, because they are Gospel canticles, and the Gospel stands for Christ Himself.
    • (if you now ask what is the Divine Office, well, I just have to cover that in another post)

Fr Cassian ends of the section on the sign of the cross with this:

"In the library of Sant'Anselmo in Rome, a place where I spend a good deal of time, there is a fine mosaic floor showing the cross of Christ, surrounded by the words: Ave Crux, Spes Unica. Hail O Cross, our only hope! The cross of Christ is indeed our only hope -- there is salvation in no other name. So when we make the sign of the cross, which we do many times each day, let's do it well!"

Truely, let us continue to mine the internet to understand and cherish our faith and tradition. And let us pray for our young ones that they be taught the same faith and tradition that have been passed down through the ages.

Many things we do now have lost their meaning
Many things that should be done are not
Many things have come to replace
what ought to be
Many things will not be remembered
if we do not cherish them
and what a great loss that will be

3 comments:

Daniel said...

I can't remember whether they taught me that in catechism, but I do know where I first remember learning it... from you!

You were doing something for CSS and I chanced across something about the significance of the sign of the cross that you wrote about.

:)

ChrisYeo said...

I share your worry that our juniors are receiving a very one-dimensional faith, because I'm afraid I received such a catechesis myself. Would love to find out more about how our Catechism in the parishes is going at the moment.

I noticed on television Russion president Vladimir Putin making the sign of the cross from right shoulder to left shoulder. Why the difference between Roman and Byzantine tradition?

Finally, thanks for the apt reminder, and the poignant words at the end.

I wonder what we can do to improve our knowledge of our sacred signs and of participation in the liturgy. I suppose that writing articles here with the intention of adapting for further dissemination might be one way.

Norman said...

I share your worry that our juniors are receiving a very one-dimensional faith, because I'm afraid I received such a catechesis myself. Would love to find out more about how our Catechism in the parishes is going at the moment.

I met one JC 1 girl who reads the CCC. I asked her how she ended up reading it. She replied that "they only teach you how to be a good person in Catechism classes". She asked the Canossian nun helping out in my parish and was pointed towards the CCC.

I still find the CCC heavy reading. Maybe that's because I'm more used to numbers and equations.

I noticed on television Russion president Vladimir Putin making the sign of the cross from right shoulder to left shoulder. Why the difference between Roman and Byzantine tradition?

Prior to the Great Schism between East and West, the Latins also did right-to-left. As a result of the Schism the Pope ordered it be done in the other direction. You can still see people doing it (ie. right-to-left) at the local Orthodox Churches here.

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13785a.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sign_of_the_cross

I wonder what we can do to improve our knowledge of our sacred signs and of participation in the liturgy. I suppose that writing articles here with the intention of adapting for further dissemination might be one way.

More articles from me coming up!