St. Francis de Sales: How to make the Sign of the Cross

4975“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” These words roll off every Catholic’s tongue so frequently that we often forget the significance of what we are saying. Sometimes we make the Sign of the Cross at Mass so haphazardly that we look like a coach on the first base line at a Major League Baseball game. Worst of all, sometimes we don’t even make the Sign of the Cross because we are afraid we will bring unwanted attention and judgment upon ourselves. All of these are bad, and I am ashamed to admit that I have been guilty of each transgression at various points in my life. It is time we reconnect with this most ancient of prayers and discover the power behind these fifteen words.

St. Francis de Sales’ little treatise entitled The Sign of the Cross begins by explaining how to make the sign of the Cross. It may seem like a no-brainer at first, but I’d bet that very few Catholics know why we make the Sign of the Cross the way we do. To summarize St. Francis de Sales, we use our right hand, because it is “the more worthy of the two.” With our right hand, we use either three fingers to represent the Trinity or five fingers to represent Jesus’ five wounds. We begin the prayer by placing our right hand on our forehead to acknowledge that God the Father is the one from whom all things originate. Next, we move our hand down to our stomach as a sign that Jesus proceeded from the Father. Lastly, we cross ourselves from left shoulder to right shoulder to show that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son and that He is the bond of love between Father and Son. Let that information sink in, and reflect on it going forward each time you make the Sign of the Cross.

The rest of this book deals with the origins, history, uses, and benefits of the Sign of the Cross. For example, did you know that in early times the Sign of the Cross was made on the forehead? It eventually evolved to its present form, but early Christians put the Sign on their forehead both as a profession of faith and an invocation of God’s assistance in every aspect of their lives. The most fascinating chapter to me was entitled “A Defense against Demons.” In this chapter, St. Francis de Sales quotes various Church Fathers, from St. Athanasius to St. John Chrysostom, all of whom speak about the power of the Sign of the Cross over Satan and his minions. It is truly a simple but powerful weapon that so many fail to realize they possess. So, in the words of Origen, “Let us rejoice, my beloved friends, and lift holy hands to heaven in the form of the Cross; when the demons see us armed in this way they will be crushed.”

If you are looking for a simple way to deepen your prayer life, then pick up a copy of The Sign of the Cross. You will gain a wealth of spiritual benefits from reading this book, but you must not stop there. You must then act upon what you have read. Slow down when crossing yourself. Think about each word as you say it. Also, start using the Sign of the Cross in every aspect of your life! You don’t have to just use it at the beginning and ending of formal prayer. You can use it when starting and ending a task at work. By doing this, you will make your entire day a prayer to God. These fifteen words can transform your life, if you only let them.

By

Stuart Dunn is a native of Mobile, AL. He is a husband, father, convert, catechist, bookworm, and blogger. At his blog, Stuart’s Study, you will find him reviewing Catholic products of all types, but mainly books. He is a graduate of the University of South Alabama with a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a Master’s in Business Administration.

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  • Lee

    Thank you, Stuart, I appreciate learning more about our Church history. We know we should do somethings, but we don’t always know why. The Catholic history is very interesting.

  • Dan

    In the Eastern Churches, the movement of the hand from the forehead to the midsection is also a reminder of Christs descending from the Father to the womb of Mary.

    Additionally, in the west, the move from the left shoulder to the right reminds us of our desire, at the end of our lives, to be on Christ’s right hand, not the left, and that we must constantly “move” from sinner to sanctity. For some reason I remember these symbolic actions almost every time I make the sign of the cross and it brings great deal of peace and joy to this simple action.

  • Nikita

    Why do Hispanics (and others) kiss their finger(s) afterwards??? Is this tradional and a original part of the crossing?

  • Stuart

    I don’t know of any such tradition, but it could be a cultural thing.

  • Stuart

    In Eastern Churches, they actually cross differently from Western. They cross right to left. Also their thumb, index and middle finger are joined to remind them of the Trinity, and the ring and pinky finger are pressed against the palm to remind them of the two natures of Christ.

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