X: The Sign of the Cross

Q: What is the history and meaning of “the Sign of the Cross?”

A:  The sign of the cross was a very early devotion in the Church, dating from the time of Tertullian (AD 200). Originally called "the sign of the Lord," the devotion was used to begin and close the day, as an encouragement in temptation or trial, and as a means of mutual recognition in times of persecution. From earliest times, the sign was used in the Baptismal and confirmation liturgies.

The sign of the cross symbolizes many things: that we worship the Triune God; that we are redeemed by Christ who died on a cross· and that in Baptism we were "marked by the cross of Christ forever." In making the sign of the cross we affirm and proclaim who we are and to whom we belong.

Luther, in the Small Catechism, directs that our morning and evening prayers begin with the sign of the cross. The sign of the cross may also be made during the Invocation, the Absolution, at the announcement of the Gospel, at the words "the resurrection of the dead/ body" in the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds, at the words "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord," in the Sanctus, at the consecration of the bread and wine , just before receiving Christ's Body and immediately after receiving his Blood, and at the Benediction.

The sign of the cross is made by drawing the right hand from forehead to breast, and then from left shoulder to right shoulder, returning to the center afterwards. The words, "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” usually accompany the sign.

Adapted from About Being Lutheran © Lutheran Liturgical Renewal 1991. Used by permission.