Monday, January 25, 2010

History of making the sign of the cross

I made the sign of the cross all my life, before and after prayer, when walking into the church and other times when like your scared or in a frightful situation. I never knew why, I was just taught to do that and so that was what I did.  Go to a hockey game or other sporting games and just before some of the players play you will notice someone making the sign of the cross.  Why and where did it start?

In my research I found that  the making of the sign of the cross is most prominent in the Roman Catholic church but is also practiced among the Eastern Orthodox and Episcopalians. I also was able to find that writings regarding the sign of the cross goes back as far as Tertullian, one of  the early church fathers who lived between 160 and 220 A.D. Tertullian wrote, "In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting of our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupieth us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross."           

"Let us not then be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the Cross our seal made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat, and the cups we drink; in our comings in, and goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are in the way and when we are still. Great is that preservative; it is without price, for the poor's sake; without toil, for the sick, since also its grace is from God. It is the Sign of the faithful, and the dread of evils; for He has triumphed over them in it, having made a shew of them openly; for when they see the Cross, they are reminded of the Crucified; they are afraid of Him, Who hath bruised the heads of the dragon. Despise not the Seal, because of the freeness of the Gift; but for this rather honor thy Benefactor." -- St. Cyril of Jerusalem, A.D. 315 - 386

In the early days of Christianity when persecution was so strong, Christians had to hide their faith. Making the sign of the cross was a way of identifying themselves. One site stated that Christians would use a stick and mark the ground with a cross as identification. Also, I heard one Christian apologetic state that as Christians were being persecuted they would make the sign of the cross to let each other know they were Christians. Considering the persecution they went through at that time knowing another believer was there with you would provide some comfort.

I had a book on Lutheran catechism and was surprised to find that  Martin Luther urged his followers to use the sign. In his Catechism of 1529 he instructed fathers to teach their households the following: "In the morning, when you rise from bed, sign yourself with the holy cross and say, 'In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.'...At night, when you go to bed, sign yourself with the holy cross and say, 'In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.'"
Some of the meanings behind the sign of the cross are first that making the sign of the cross shows a sign of our faith, that we are people of the cross, of Jesus. Second there are different meanings behind the way it is made.

Sometimes you will see a priest or bishop make the sign with one finger, that represents the oneness of God, with two fingers it represents that Jesus is fully God and fully man, three fingers means the Trinity and five fingers as we do it today is to remind us of the five wounds of Christ that were suffered for our sake.
In all the years of my growing up I did not know how this started or what the meaning was besides it was a cross and Jesus died on the cross. For a time because of my lack of knowledge I stopped making the sign of the cross. I did not know where it came from or why Catholics did it or what it meant. For me it was interesting to look this up. I love apologetics and love to read Christian history.  Today we have so many ways to find out truth. The internet has many wary things on it but if you look you can also find historical facts.  It's the writings of the ancient fathers that helped shed light on aspects of faith for me. The study of church history that includes time before the middle ages is what helped me to see what early christianity was and what to look for today.

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Dear Lord help us to educate our family for your glory.

"Since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. For it devolves on parents to create a family atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and others that a well-rounded personal and social development will be fostered among children. Hence, the family is the first school of those social virtues which every society needs."--Gravissimum Educationis (one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council)

Helping and Loving Our Neighbor

Corporal works of Mercy
Feed the hungry

Give drink to the thirsty

Clothe the naked

Shelter the homeless

Visit the sick

Visit the imprisoned

Bury the dead

The Spiritual Works of Mercy
Admonish the sinner

Instruct the ignorant

Counsel the doubtful

Comfort the sorrowful
Bear wrongs patiently

Forgive all injuries

Pray for the living and the dead

Good Samaritain