In the Name of the Father . . .

by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. How many times do we say those words and make the sign of the cross on our bodies? We do it so frequently that we often do it without thought. While our current form of making the cross by touching our forehead, our chest and our two shoulders has been in existence since the middle ages, Christians have been using some form of the sign since the earliest days of the Church. The original form was a cross traced on the forehead using the thumb. Tertullian (160-220) tells us that "in all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting off 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." We still use this form prior to the Gospel in the liturgy.

It is obvious that during Tertullian's time, the whole of life was done in the name of the Trinity. What if we could reclaim that attitude in our own lives? Would it change the way we behave? Would we think twice about our actions if we knew we were doing them in God's name? The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" instructs us that "the baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior's grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The sign of the cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties." (CCC 2157)

Two recent books, "The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, the Mystery, the History", by Andreas Andreopoulos (Paraclete Press, 2006) and :"The Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer", by Bert Ghezzi (Loyola Press, 2006) trace the history of the Sign of the Cross as well as the theological meanings that have been attached to it. For example, there has been some disagreement as to whether to complete the cross by touching the right shoulder or the left shoulder first. The right cross, still practiced by Eastern Orthodox believers, symbolizes how "Christ descended from the heavens to the earth, and from the Jews (right) He passed to the Gentiles (left)." In Roman Catholic practice, the left cross has become traditional indicating the hope that at the last judgment, the believer will be on Jesus' right rather than his left.

Regardless of the form, the sign of the cross is a sign both of Christ's ultimate gift of salvation gained through the cross as well as of our belief in a triune God. It is an outward sign of our faith and that we love God with all of our mind, our heart, and our strength. It is a prayer that uses our bodies as well as our words, a fitting reminder that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The Sign of the Cross represents the heart of what we believe. It is both a prayer and an attitude. If we truly profess to live our lives "In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit," it will manifest itself in how we live.

© Spiritual Woman Press, 2007. All rights reserved.