Sep 9, 2019
Someone recently texted me and asked why not all Christians make the Sign of the Cross and why only Catholics (and the Orthodox) do so when beginning and ending prayers. I don't have a readily accessible answer to that question, although I could speculate as to why that is. It has led me to think about how we engage our bodies in prayer. We are not merely spiritual nor merely physical beings; we are body and soul, and therefore, they are connected in prayer. We make the Sign of the Cross at the beginning and end of prayers and Mass; we sit, stand, and kneel during Mass. Our physical posture and state affects the way we pray: it can be difficult to pray when one is in major physical pain or when one has just eaten a big meal. There are many times in the past when I've tried to pray after dinner, and I ended up praying the prayer of St. Peter: falling asleep!
We make the Sign of the Cross to remind us that we pray in the name of, in the authority of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It reminds us of the Trinitarian nature of God, Who is one, yet three. It also reminds us of Christ's saving death on the Cross, leading to His Resurrection. Especially when added with holy water, the Sign of the Cross reminds us of our baptism, in which we were buried with Christ in order to rise with Him. The Sign of the Cross reminds us that we belong to God. It's simple way to honor God. It's a good practice to make the Sign of the Cross when passing a Catholic church (a way to recognize the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist in that church), when passing a cemetery, when hearing a siren or passing an automobile accident, and even after taking the Lord's name in vain (if one disrespect's God's name, then one should repent by reverencing His name by making the Sign of the Cross).
As I mentioned, physical posture matters, and this is why we don't simply sit throughout the duration of Mass. For centuries, kneeling has been understood as a posture of prayer, of placing oneself in the presence of God. Therefore, during the most sacred moments of Mass, we kneel, recognizing God's presence in our midst as the Holy Spirit descends upon bread and wine to transform them into Christ's Body and Blood. We sit during the readings and homily as a posture of listening and learning, allowing God to teach us during these moments. We stand as another posture of prayer, times when we speak to God.
I'm hoping to follow up with more about Mass in the following weeks. Have a great week! God bless!