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Sign of the Cross

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"Let us not then be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the Cross our seal made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat, and the cups we drink; in our comings in, and goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are in the way and when we are still. Great is that preservative; it is without price, for the poor's sake; without toil, for the sick, since also its grace is from God. It is the Sign of the faithful, and the dread of evils; for He has triumphed over them in it, having made a shew of them openly; for when they see the Cross, they are reminded of the Crucified; they are afraid of Him, Who hath bruised the heads of the dragon. Despise not the Seal, because of the freeness of the Gift; but for this rather honor thy Benefactor."
-- St. Cyril of Jerusalem, A.D. 315 - 386


The Catholic Sign of the Cross is absolutely ancient, rooted not only in the Old Testament but the New. When Catholics undergo the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Bishop seals the sign on our foreheads with holy chrism.
Crossing one's self recalls this seal, and the invocation that is said while making this holy sign calls on our God -- In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. -- and is a sign of our of belief; it is both a "mini-creed" that asserts our belief in the Triune God, and a prayer that invokes Him. The use of holy water when making this sign, such as we do when we enter a church, also recalls our Baptism and should bring to mind that we are born again of water and Spirit, thanks be to God.

Because of what the Sign indicates the very Cross of our salvation, Satan hates it, and our using it makes demons flee. Make the Sign in times of temptation and confusion for great spiritual benefit.
Most Western Catholics make the Sign of the Cross with their right hand by touching the thumb and ring finger together, and holding your index finger and middle finger together to signify the two natures of Christ. Our method is to hold your thumb, index finger, and middle finger of your right hand together, signifying the Trinity, while tucking the ring finger and pinky finger, signifying the two natures of Christ, toward your palm. It is customary after signing oneself to kiss the thumb as if kissing the cross with which one just signed oneself with.

I think it appropriate at this point to sum up with a brief passage from  Parkminster's book, First Initiation into Carthusian Life:

"The gestures we make during the Liturgy are the prayer of our bodies. Like everything else in the liturgy, they should be beautiful and evocative of the sublime mystery of God. They can be very helpful both in developing and expressing profound attitudes of humility, adoration, etc.

"Let us therefore acquire the habit of making them with respect, attention and an awareness of their deeper meaning. A gesture made in a slovenly way is like a word badly pronounced -- its meaning is obscured. To give an example: a profound bow should be made with dignity, slowly, as a visible sign of our interior adoration.

"A sign of the Cross can be at one and the same time, a profession of faith and the consecration of our whole being to the Blessed Trinity. ... So let us make all these gestures just as carefully and meaningfully in private as we do in Church for we are always in the Lord's presence. This is a discipline which helps to deepen our prayer." [pp. 80-81]

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