Why Make the Sign of the Cross?
By the Rev. John M. Dreyer
"Why make the sign of the cross, isn't that
Roman Catholic?" was a common expression
I heard when I was in the parish. I
responded first by mentioning that Luther's
Catechism teaches us to make the sign of the cross.
"The catechism doesn't teach that," they say. I
respond by "Look up Luther's morning and evening
prayer and the meal prayer. What does it say?"
Actually making the sign of the cross is one of the oldest traditions
in Christianity and it spans
across the world both in the
Eastern and Western hemisphere.
Why is this practice so important
that among other practices,
Luther would teach the young to
make the sign of the cross and
consider it fundamental because
of its inclusion in his small and
simple teaching of the catechism?
My Grandfather grew up in
Altenburg (Perry County),
Missouri and became a pastor. In
his day, those who made the sign
of the cross were considered as
"Roman Catholic," "liberal" or people who flaunted their religion. There were also
practices that differentiated Lutherans and Roman
Catholics such as the crucifix compared to the
empty cross and certain outward gestures. Today
there is a movement back to the fundamentals such
as Lutheran doctrine, liturgy and practice. This is
done in the face of an American culture where religion
itself is becoming a melting pot of practice and belief. In our day those who make
the sign of the cross may now be
considered conservative or in
other words, "confessional" in
What is making the sign of the
cross all about? A huge paper
could be written on this subject.
Here are some considerations
however. The Scripture consider
the cross as the center hinge of
our faith in which our life
revolves. It is precisely there that
our salvation was won for us, not
on Easter but on Good Friday.
But yet many of our churches are
half-empty on Good Friday but
full on Easter. Truly Easter is a joyful day but it cannot been seen outside of Good Friday and vice
versa but in a strange way many tend to avoid the crucifix or the "crucified
Christ" as the center of our confession and therefore miss the
Good Friday experience. St. Paul says that he preaches nothing but
Jesus Christ and Him crucified which is accompanied with many
other passages that convey this very important Gospel of the cross (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Christians made the sign of cross for a number of reasons. One
because it was the center of our confession and marking us as one
redeemed by Christ thus pointing us back to our Baptism. It is at the
cross where God revealed Himself to us through His Son so we
make the sign of the cross while naming God as Father, Son and
Holy Spirit. Secondly we make the sign of the cross on our body.
Christianity is a flesh and blood "religion", not merely a spiritual one
but a very physical one. The main job of the Holy Spirit is to bring
Christ to us in His flesh and blood through His Word and Sacrament.
The sign of the cross is made upon our body knowing and confessing
that God has redeemed not only
our soul but also our flesh, that is, our
bodies as we confess, "I look for(ward) to
the resurrection of the dead (body) and
the life of the world to come." Since our flesh and
blood cannot enter into the kingdom of God, Christ gives
His flesh and blood as a replacement.
Also the suffering and death of Christ has become our own in
Baptism. St. Paul says, "Do you not know that all of us who have
been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?"
(ESV, Roman 6:3) and "For we who live are always being given
over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be
manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life
in you." (ESV, II Corinthians 4:11-12) Again, what was once
Christ's now has become our own in Baptism. So we sign ourselves
as one marked as redeemed in death but in death we see
life. So in some of the old movies you may see a Christian, in
the face of demon possession or something terrible, make the
sign of the cross, marking themselves with the mark of salvation
in the face of evil. There are also other times in which Christians
traditionally make the sign of the cross during the liturgy and daily
devotions. Ask your pastor what the practice is at your church.
In conclusion, being a Christian does not mean that you have to
make the sign of the cross, on the other hand, we should not treat
such practices as if it was merely an old Roman Catholic tradition
or something of no real importance.
It is a very central confession
and substance of our faith in
the true God who has come to us
through His Son for our life and
Rev. John Dreyer is an
Admission Counselor at
Seminary, Fort Wayne,