Many aspects of Cathoicism, especially the Sacraments, are meant as a way for us to experience God both spiritually and physically. The idea is that God knows we are a body/soul composite, and therefore has given us the Sacraments for the benefits of both of these parts of our being. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, for example, we are able to audibly hear that God forgives us. It is a spiritual truth, that we are able to experience using one of our physical senses.
So, to, the Sign of the Cross is another physical/spiritual combination. There are many levels of depth to this gesture, and this article will only cover the surface. Here is how and why we use the Sign of the Cross in and around a Catholic Mass.
What’s The Deal?
Well, simply put, the Sign of the Cross is a way that we acknowledge the Trinity. It’s a way for us to acknowledge our faith, and its a way that we both remember what Jesus did and who God is. It’s a physical sign of our faith in Christ. In fact, since all Christians believe in the Trinity, there is no reason why the Sign of the Cross would need to be limited to only Catholics. And it isn’t. Many Orthodox Christians, as well as Anglicans and Lutherans, also use this symbol.
Before and After Mass, At The Font
If you’ve ever been inside a Catholic church, you may notice little baptismal fonts at the front of the aisles as you enter the sanctuary. Or, some Catholic churches have the big baptismal fonts where they actually baptize people back at the entrance instead of on the altar.
As we enter the sanctuary, we dip 2 fingers in the font and make the sign of the cross over ourselves. We use 2 fingers to help remind us that Jesus was both God and Man. We make the Sign of the Cross with the waters of our baptism to renew our baptismal covenant. In essence, it reminds us of our baptism, and the grace that God has given us through it, and helps to build us up to continue to live our faith out in our lives.
Setting Aside A Holy Time
We begin and end Mass by making the Sign of the Cross together, as a congregation. This is a way that we set aside our time with an intention to focus on God. In Catholic homes, we also begin and end any time of prayer with this sign for the same reason. We bookend time set specifically aside for God with the Sign of the Cross.
During The Gospel, A Variation
There are several scripture readings during Mass. We stand before the Gospel Reading, for reasons explained here. And, just prior to the Gospel being read, we make the sign of the cross with our thumb over our foreheads, over our lips, and over our heart.
The reason for this is that we want to remember, always, to keep the Gospel in our thoughts, and on our lips when we speak, and in our hearts, always.
The Heart of the Matter
As with anything, if we simply go through the motions and do not engage our hearts in what we are doing, then the benefit of our actions is greatly reduced. You could make the Sign of the Cross until you were exhausted, but if you were just going through the motions, the purpose and intention of this gesture won’t be fully realized.
That’s why it is so important that Catholics engage their hearts when utilizing all these beautiful tools of our faith. And, when we do, it makes Mass, and our faith lives outside of Mass, that much more meaningful.