So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Monday, May 13, 2013

Making the (large) Sign of the Cross in the Latin Tradition

Making the (large) Sign of the Cross in the Latin Tradition

Dear fathers, that is, priests and bishops, please make the Sign of the Cross in a dignified and accurate manner so that we lay folk can improve our understanding of the heart of the Faith. Most of you do just fine when making the Sign. Judging from the number of priests who repeatedly make inverted Signs, a little professional development might be in order.

Lay people—we, too, should be mindful of how we make the Sign. The Sign speaks to the heart of our Faith: the Most Holy Trinity.

The heart the Faith is also the heart of Jesus which stopped on the Cross, was pierced by a lance, and now beats for every person in the Resurrected Body of Christ. We receive that Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrifice of Calvary made present on the altar which is marked as Calvary by the crucifix. The reality signified by that cross is literally imprinted on us in Baptism (Oleum Catechumenorum) when we are also Signed and claimed for Christ and enter into His death and resurrection. The Sign is traced again on our brows when the bishop anoints us with the Sacred Chrism (Sanctum Chrisma) at Confirmation and seals us with gift of the Holy Spirit. The Sign is traced upon us in Extreme Unction/Anointing of the Sick (Oleum Infirmorum).

If we do not receive the Sign of the Cross, we will likely wear the mark of the beast.
Ezekiel 9:1-6
Then I heard him cry aloud, Make way there for the plagues that must befall the city, for the weapon-bearers of death! And with that, from the upper gate which looks northwards, I saw six men coming on their way, and none of them but bore his deadly weapon; in their midst walked another, clad in linen, with a writer’s ink-horn at his girdle. All, when they had entered, took their stand by the brazen altar; and now, borne on cherub wings, the glory of Israel’s God rose above the threshold of the house, summoning him of the linen clothes and the ink-horn to set about his task. Make thy way, the Lord said to him, all through the city, from end to end of Jerusalem; and where thou findest men that weep and wail over the foul deeds done in it, mark their brows with a cross (tau). To the others I heard him say, Yours it is to traverse the city at his heels, and smite. Never let eye of yours melt with pity; old and young, man and maid, mother and child, all alike destroy till none is left, save only where you see the cross marked on them. And begin first with the temple itself.
Revelation 7:2-3
And I saw a second angel coming up from the east, with the seal of the living God. And he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels who were empowered to lay waste land and sea; Do not lay waste land or sea or wood, until we have put a seal on the foreheads of those who serve our God.
Revelation 9:3-4
And out of the smoke a swarm of locusts spread over the world, endowed with such power for mischief as scorpions have on earth; they were not to injure the grass on the land, the green things that grew there, or the trees; they were to attack men, such men as did not bear God’s mark on their foreheads
Revelation 14:1
Then I looked, and saw where the Lamb stood on mount Sion, amidst a company of a hundred and forty-four thousand, with his name, and his Father’s name, written on their foreheads.
Name Brand

We apostolic christians, the spiritual sons and daughters of the holy apostles and their legitimate successors, are united in our profession of the Apostolic Faith in communion with the universal shepherd, the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Saint Peter. Ours is not a national church nor a sect or denomination.

Misshaped churches and misshaped theology.

Is it any wonder that, as church buildings began to deviate from the cruciform design in our time, priests and laity became less adept at making the Sign normally embodied in the architecture surrounding them and the rubrics of the Mass? With no appreciation of the Cross, no solid theology preached from the pulpit and no external form to guide us, it seems somewhat reasonable to suggest that there is a correlation between shabby theology, i.e., a loss of appreciation for the form and substance of the Sign of the Cross, and unchristian architecture. The fact that many people make the Sign with about as much care and attention as they give to living the teachings of the Church is a telling sign of a very different kind. Dear parents—teach your children how to make the Sign of the Cross reverently with depth of knowledge and conviction.

The Mass is the Cross

Worship begins at the foot of the Cross at the entrance to the church nave, and proceeds to the sanctuary wherein heaven descends to earth and Christ becomes present on the altar. The shape of authentic worship is embodied in the Sign of the Cross. Holy Mass begins and ends with the Sign of the Cross.

General considerations: a mark of respect.
  1. Theological. The Sign is a summary of the Faith. The shape of the cross and the manner in which we make it, or apply it, speaks volumes in mere seconds.
  2. Design. Make the Sign actually look like a cross—and not an inverted cross! Saint Peter may have been crucified upside down, but tracing an upside down cross at the altar over the Gifts, for example, sends the wrong message.
  3. Pacing/Timing. We do not swat flies, so slow it down and be mindful of the reality signified by the Cross, i.e., the Holy Trinity! Do not reduce the Sign to an empty gesture. If we think of the Last Judgement every time we make the Sign, we'll be less likely to empty the Sign of meaning. The Cross was Jesus' altar of sacrifice. Recall the procession on Good Friday during the carrying forward of the Cross for veneration when the priest chants: This is the wood of the Cross on which hung the Saviour of the world. And, the congregation responds: Come let us adore Him. That is the reality we have imprinted upon us in baptism. We have died to the world and sin and given our lives to Jesus Christ.
  4. Public Witness. Are we ashamed of Christ? Are we to remain like St. Peter before the Resurrection, he having denied Christ three times? Or, will we be like St. Peter who was restored by Christ and who boldly proclaimed the Faith throughout the then known world? We should be humble enough to proclaim the Faith in public using words and actions. The Sign of the Cross identifies us as christians who have received the Faith from the Apostles, that we belong to Christ. Don't be shy! When you are out for dinner at a restaurant, take a moment to ask God to bless you and the meal and others present. Make the Sign; pray the blessing; then seal the blessing with the Sign. When you pass by a Catholic church, make the Sign of the Cross because the Lord is there in the tabernacle. By making the Sign you acknowledge Him and point others to Jesus. Making the Sign in public reminds others that the Catholic Faith is both personal and public. In a society that is steadily increasingly hostile toward Catholics, let people know the Faith is present and we are willing to be identified as Catholics (...and we are not going to roll over and die or remain quiet while society and culture sinks into the toilet). The Sign is an artful way to remind others that faith, hope and love is all around them, and that our act of faith is an invitation to share in the joy of the Resurrection. Remember, we christians are in the world but not of it. Be bold, be brave, be a rebel and make the Sign of the Cross frequently and in a meaningful manner. Be prepared to provide a good reason to anyone who asks you why you are Catholic. 1 Peter 3:15.
Additional considerations: the art of blessing.
  1. Those receiving the Sign during a blessing by the Celebrant, regarding hand shape: barring arthritis or other crippling disease, hold the palm of the right hand open and with the fingers together (as a sign of the unity of God) and touch the forehead, sternum and shoulders (left then right). Obviously, if a person is born with a missing right hand or has lost the hand to an accident or his right arm is in a cast, it is perfectly acceptable—as an exception—to perform the Sign with the left hand.
  2. The priest who imparts the Sign: keep the hand in a vertical position so it doesn't look like you're waving at the crowd. If you are tempted to wave at the congregation, please don't. Furthermore, no limp wrists! We've had far too much of that over the past forty years. Give us a manly Sign of the Cross befitting an Alter Christus, a priest of God. In other words, stay in character. The Sign done solemnly can do more to form a sense of the sacred in your parishioners and lead them to God than twenty minutes of blather following the Gospel.
  3. Whole Body Workout. Take note of the "Amen" hand position on the image below. The hands are held in a way that helps us collect our intentions. We are body and soul, not just heads floating around in the pews. We embody our intentions. We kneel, we genuflect, we stand, we sit, we bow—we Catholics worship with our whole bodies. By doing so, our actions done reverently also help discipline or focus the mind and reinforce an orientation of prayer, of receptivity to God. Please note—the hand position shown in the images is not the namaste/namaskar of hinduism. The palms are held together lightly, not forced together or pressed hard against each other. The right thumb is crossed over the left—see the attached file for additional information.
Recommended reading: The Sign of The Cross—Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer by Bert Ghezzi. LoyolaPress, 2004.

P.S.—It should be duly noted that there are other ways of holding the fingers of the right hand when making the Sign of the Cross. Our eastern brethren, Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, have customs which are profoundly beautiful. Typically, the easterners make the Sign from right to left with a right hand position that is theologically rich in meaning.

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