The Sign of the Cross
Many Christians make the sign of cross at certain points during a worship service. An explanation may be in order because most church members in America have become accustomed to the pastor being the only one to make this sign.
The tradition of making the sign of the cross, highly commended by Martin Luther, goes way back into the early history of Christianity. Some of the most conservative pastors today are urging their congregations to return to this tradition which somehow got lost.
One explanation is that the sign of the cross is believed to have been used by Christians from the time of the Apostles. It is also a meaningful part of the worship life of many Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran congregations. Written records show it to have been a part of Christian prayer since 200 A.D. It was first made on the forehead with the thumb. Later the sign was made as we make it today, from the forehead to the breast, then shoulder to shoulder.
Martin Luther and the other reformers recognized its great benefit to the faith and devotion of the people and kept the use of the sign. In fact, Luther urged its use in both the large and the small catechisms.
The sign of the cross is a confession of faith. To trace the sign of the cross upon our bodies is to confess faith in Christ the crucified. In so signing himself, the Christian says with St. Paul, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” By this sign we confess that all that we have and are is through the cross of Christ alone. The sign of the cross is really an acted-out prayer; and no less a prayer even when no words are used.
Martin Luther says in his Small Catechism, “In the morning and in the evening, you shall bless yourself with the sign of the Holy Cross and, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” It is the custom to make the sign at the invocation, end of the Creed, after receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and at the Benediction.
Needless to say, a Christian may make the Holy Sign at any time that his devotion suggests in the routine of daily life. It is good to make the sign of the cross because it is the sign of our Baptism and the sign of our salvation.
To say that the sign is Catholic is true. It does belong to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, but not one segment of that body, such as the Roman Catholic Church. It belongs to all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of all.