The Sign of the Cross


“This simple gesture expresses the deepest mysteries of our Faith: the Trinity and the Paschal Mystery.”


As a cradle Catholic, there are many things I never questioned about the Catholic Faith or thought twice about doing as a Catholic. Things like May Crownings and Stations of the Cross were just part of the culture when I was growing up. Our grace before meals always started out “Bless us, O Lord…” and we always began prayers with the Sign of the Cross.

It’s good to step back sometimes and think about some of these things. Why, for example, do I make the Sign of the Cross? Perhaps it’s become such a habit that I make it sloppily or without even thinking. So let’s go back to the basics.

The Sign of the Cross is not our way of picking up the telephone to God. While we do start and end Mass with it and start and end prayers with it, it’s more than simply an opening or a closing. It’s a prayer itself. 

This simple gesture expresses the deepest mysteries of our Faith: the Trinity and the Paschal Mystery.

Notice we say in the “name” – singular. God is one. But it is in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – God is three. Every time we make the Sign of the Cross, we are professing our belief in a Trinitarian God.

We are also professing belief in a God who became flesh and died on the Cross for us. And we are marking ourselves with that Cross. 

We must not forget what the cross means. As St. Paul points out, the crucifixion was a stumbling block for the Jews and a folly to the Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). For Paul’s audience, the very image of the cross and the idea that it was holy or a sign of power was absolutely ludicrous. We, by and large, have lost that shock. We have become desensitized, if you will, to the cross. It is such a common symbol, we have forgotten how radical it is. We wear it around our necks or hang it on our wall. What was once a sign of brutality and oppression has been transformed into a sign of victory and love.

This is what we mark ourselves with when we make the simple gesture. By doing so, we are pledging that we too will take up our crosses and follow Him. 

Don’t rush the Sign of the Cross. It’s a simple gesture, and it’s definitely a habit. It’s easy to do it without thinking. Remember that it is a prayer. It is a profession of faith. As we mark ourselves with the sign, may God give us the courage to pick up our crosses and follow Him.

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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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