Sign Of The Cross (Everything You Need To Know!)

The Sign Of The Cross is a very special, meaningful, and useful prayer for Catholics. This is the most common prayer among all Catholics, and it is used for countless occasions. Many religions use a form of the sign of the cross, including Catholics. It is a traditional prayer that includes a lot of symbolism, especially for how short it is. Today, let’s take a look everything you need to know about the Sign Of The Cross for Catholics

Sign Of The Cross Quick Facts

I always say that you can’t fully teach something until you understand it yourself, so I love to touch on the basics! Here is what you need to know about The Sign Of The Cross: 

Is The Sign Of The Cross A Prayer?

Yes, The Sign Of The Cross is a prayer! A full and complete prayer all by itself. In our house, we call short prayers that you can say quickly and shoot straight up to heaven “Golden Arrow Prayers”. 

When Do You Pray The Sign Of The Cross?

Catholics pray The Sign Of The Cross often, especially at the beginning and the end of other prayers, such as the prayer before meals. The rosary starts and ends with The Sign Of The Cross. Mass also begins and ends with The Sign Of The Cross. Sometimes people even pray The Sign Of The Cross when they see something terrible or shocking or when an ambulance goes by. Some make the Sign Of The Cross each time they pass by a Catholic Church to acknowledge the presence of Jesus there. The Sign Of The Cross is also prayed when genuflecting, such as before you enter a pew of the church. There is no wrong time to pray The Sign Of The Cross. It is a basic and useful prayer and it is used often. 

List Of Some Times Catholics Pray The Sign Of The Cross

  • At the beginning of prayers
  • At the end of prayers
  • After dipping their fingers in holy water when entering a church (this is a reminder of our Baptismal promises)
  • While genuflecting (especially before entering the pew at church)
  • After receiving Holy Communion
  • When entering an Adoration chapel
  • At the beginning of Mass when the priest blesses you
  • Anytime that anyone blesses you
  • Before and after praying the rosary
  • Before meals
  • Before going to sleep
  • When an ambulance goes by
  • At a time of need, fear, or danger

How Do You Say The Sign Of The Cross?

The words in the Sign Of The Cross prayer are…

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

The motions your make during the Sign Of The Cross prayer are…

While you pray this prayer, you make a cross on your body starting with your right hand on your forehead for the word “Father”, in the middle of your chest for the word “Son”, on your left shoulder for the word “Holy”, and on your right shoulder for the word “Spirit”. You can end with saying “Amen” and placing your hands together in the middle, like traditional “praying hands”. So the motion is forehead, chest, left shoulder, right shoulder. 

In some cultures, especially the Hispanic culture, they kiss the tips of their fingers at the end. In the Eastern Church they also hold their 3 fingers together on their right hand to further symbolize the Trinity as they make the cross. 

What Does The Sign Of The Cross Mean?

In this prayer, we are remembering that there are 3 Persons in 1 God, otherwise known as the Trinity. Each of the 3 persons in the Holy Trinity is evoked during this prayer. 

Symbolism In The Sign Of The Cross

There is so much symbolism and meaning packed into this short Catholic prayer!

  1. It symbolizes the cross! As you say this prayer, you are literally drawing a cross on your body. 
  2. It encompasses the Trinity. When praying the sign of the cross, you are reaching out to each of the 3 persons in the Holy Trinity. 
  3. If you hold your 3 fingers together as you make the Sign Of The Cross, that is another symbol of the Trinity.
  4. Symbolism of being Catholic. Bare with me for a minute with this one- when everyone is praying, and you’re the only one that ends the prayer with the Sign Of The Cross, you have identified yourself as a Catholic. 

Making The Sign Of The Cross In Public

As stated above, you have instantly identified yourself as a Catholic when you pray the Sign Of The Cross in public. When I was a child, I was very aware of this because I grew up in the south, and wasn’t surrounded by many Catholics. This felt especially noticeable for me in restaurants when praying before meals. That’s because while a lot of prayer is silent and stays only in our head, the Sign Of The Cross has outward motions that alters others to what you’re doing. 

I believe that being willing to pray the Sign Of The Cross in public is a form of witnessing as a Catholic. I will always do this, even if I’m surrounded by Protestants, even if it makes me stick out, especially at the end of a prayer. As a Catholic, that’s how I pray, and I am ok with others knowing that and seeing that. 

On the flip side, it is not ok to use this prayer as a form of getting attention for praying. Remember the story from the Bible where the man who prays in public has already received his reward. 

What The Catechism Says About The Sign Of The Cross

This can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2157)

“The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” The batized 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.” 

Is It The Holy Spirit Or The Holy Ghost?

I have had a lot of people in my life tell me that you can substitute “Holy Ghost” for “Holy Spirit” during the Sign Of The Cross. Every person that has ever said this to me was not Catholic. Some of them absolutely insisted that it’s “Holy Ghost”. I have been a practicing Catholic in the United States both in the south and in the north. I have attended Mass everywhere from Wyoming to Texas, as far south as Florida and as far north as Massachusetts. I have been to countless Catholic churches in South Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio… and I have never, ever heard a Catholic say “Holy Ghost”. 

I’m sure I’m going to receive comments about this, and feel free to leave them, but in my experience, Catholics say “Holy Spirit”. 

When The Sign Of The Cross Gets “Sloppy”

Sometimes over time, we become less precise with our motions during the Sign Of The Cross prayer. The way I usually see this in seasoned Catholics is rather than making really large motions that go all the way down to the chest and the shoulders, instead you will see the person touch their forehead, then the rest of the motion is generally “hovered” rather than actually touching anymore places. So rather than moving the whole arm, the person will just move their hand from the forehead, right under the chin, then from left to right as far as their wrist can swivel.

We have all been there. If this is you, it’s easy to clean it up a bit by following the directions above. 

Do Christians Do The Sign Of The Cross?

Absolutely they do, and only Christians, in fact! Catholics are Christians, we will start there. All believers in Jesus are Christians, and given that the Sign Of The Cross specifically says “and in the name of the Son” (which is Jesus), and also the fact that it’s in the shape of a cross (which is the symbol of all Christians), it is definitely a prayer that is exclusively for Christians!

Any trinitarian Christian could totally pray the Sign Of The Cross because it’s very generic and wouldn’t go against any of their beliefs. I have had Protestant friends tell me they “aren’t comfortable” praying the Sign Of The Cross, but why? If you believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, this prayer is totally appropriate for you! 🙂 I also have some Protestant friends that are totally comfortable praying the Sign Of The Cross. I think this shows a deeper understanding of their own faith. 

Also, many Protestants, such as Lutherans and Episcopalians, use the Sign Of The Cross during their services just as Catholics do. 

Video About The Sign Of The Cross

This video from Fr. Mike Schnitz is under 3 minutes and is a great watch!

Teaching Kids To Make The Sign Of The Cross

I have a whole post dedicated to how to teach children to make the Sign Of The Cross, so definitely check that out!

Comments

  1. First oss thank you for sharing the video of Father Mike. I live in Duluth and he is quite the celebrity here.

    So, you asked about Holy Spirit versus Holy Ghost. I am an oldie here, 56 and when I was really little like five it was still taught as Holy Ghost at the Cahtolic church I attended. And, a portion of the mass was said in Latin. That all changed there in the ealry to mid 1970’s.

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