A Vincentian View: The Sign of the Cross
In his bi-weekly column for FamVin, Fr. Pat Griffin of the Eastern Province, helps us to remember just how often we use the sign of the cross, and more importantly, why.
The Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity makes me think about the sign of the cross. I interpret the meaning of the “sign” as being the way in which we mark ourselves to indicate to whom we belong. Tertullian has a powerful affirmation that captures my imagination:
“In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross.”
(It reminds me of the insistence regarding the ubiquity of the Shema in the Hebrew tradition [Deut 6:4-9]).) His emphasis is clear. We are God’s possession, always sealed with his sign. As God’s beloved children, we need to live and act on the truth of that reality.
I have signed people with the cross numerous times in various settings. When the parents bring an infant to Church for Baptism, I sign him/her with the cross, and I invite the parents and godparent to do likewise. We claim the child for God and mark him/her accordingly. On Ash Wednesday, I use the signing with ashes to remind the recipient of their need to recognize their belonging to God and the kind of living that that commitment demands of them. In the sacrament of the sick, I make the sign of the cross on the forehead and the hands of the one anointed. They belong to God and seek their master’s healing.
At the door of the Church, I have often seen parents with a babe in arms whom they mark with a cross with the holy water. For slightly larger children, a parent may dip the child’s hand into the water and move it from head to chest to shoulders. They belong to God.
We begin our Eucharist with the sign of the one in whose name we celebrate and we close with a parallel blessing. Before proclaiming the Gospel, I mark the text with a cross that I then apply to forehead, lips and heart. May I allow these words to demonstrate to whom I belong by my thoughts, words and passions.
Over and over, in lots of different circumstances, we seal ourselves with the cross to teach others as well as ourselves the reality that should reach deep within our being, as well as be reflected in our actions: We belong to God and, or our best days, we desire to freely admit that to all. We allow the sign of the cross to be an eloquent and physical statement of our belief and hope.
The sign of the cross enables us to confess our belief in our Triune God in a regular though sometimes forgetful manner. Nonetheless, our motion enables us to confess our pedigree with our head, heart and hands, as we mark ourselves in the name of Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.