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The Great Story of the “Sign of the Cross”

I love simple prayers. They are versatile, so they can be used at almost any time and for any reason. They are also short, meaning you always have time for them.

Some prayers you just say in your heart. Some you also speak out loud or sing. Others still are sacramental, becoming visible signs of something deeper.

Making and praying the “Sign of the Cross” is one such prayer. As a Catholic, I grew up making the sign of the cross before and after prayers, upon entering and leaving churches, etc. But I always took this profound and simple prayer for granted, quickly throwing it in and treating it as a trivial formality.

But over the years I’ve grown to appreciate it, and therefore benefit from it, much more. Here are just a few reasons why:

1. It’s a very old prayer. So we can pray it in solidarity with all Christians throughout time.

One of the early Church Fathers, Tertullian, documented just how common a practice it was among the first Christians: “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” (De corona, 30. 250 ad).

2. It’s prayer incarnate.

It engages our physical senses, which is kinda nice since we’re physical beings. When you pray it, you can simply trace a cross with your thumb on a forehead, etc. Or, more commonly, you’ll use three fingers on one hand to make a motion from your forehead and down to your chest, then from your left shoulder across to your right shoulder — making a cross. So not only do we pray it in our heart, but our whole body prays it with us — bringing it to life for us and those around us.

3. It tells The Great Story.

The cross is the central sign of our salvation. It should be constantly on our mind.

We usually pray this prayer saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” This invokes the Trinity – the central mystery of Christian faith and life. But this simple formula also tells the great story of salvation history at the same time.

Fr. Barron tells the story of this simple prayer this way: [while making the sign of the cross] “God the father so loved the world, he sent his only son all the way down that we might be gathered into the Holy Spirit.”

This prayer tells a love story. The Love Story. And we’re all wonderfully tangled up in this overflowing Love Affair.

Every time we make the sign of the cross, we tangle ourselves up in it even more, entering into and retelling this great story. How wonderful to be so tangled.

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