1. Religion & Spirituality
Scott P. Richert

Reader Question: Why Do Catholics Make the Sign of the Cross?

By August 29, 2008

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A reader writes:

Why do Roman Catholics make the Sign of the Cross when they say, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit"?

Making the Sign of the Cross may be the most common of all actions that Catholics do. We make it when we begin and end our prayers; we make it when we enter and leave a church; we start each Mass with it; we may even make it when we hear the Holy Name taken in vain and when we pass a church where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved.

But do you know why we make the Sign of the Cross? The answer is both simple and profound.

In the Sign of the Cross, we profess the deepest mysteries of the Christian Faith: the Trinity--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--and the saving work of Christ on the Cross. The combination of the words and the action are a creed--a statement of belief. We mark ourselves as Christians through the Sign of the Cross.

And yet, because we make the Sign of the Cross so often, we may be tempted to rush through it, to say the words without listening to them, to ignore the symbolism of tracing the shape of the Cross on our own bodies. A creed is not simply a statement of belief--it is a vow to defend that belief, even if it means following Our Lord and Savior to our own cross.

One further note about the reader's question: Roman Catholics aren't the only Christians to make the Sign of the Cross. All Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do as well, along with many high-church Anglicans and Lutherans (and a smattering of other Mainline Protestants). Because it is a creed that all Christians can assent to, it shouldn't be thought of as just "a Catholic thing."

If you have a question that you would like to have featured in our "Reader Questions" series, send me an e-mail at catholicism.guide@about.com. Be sure to put "QUESTION" in the subject line, and please note whether you'd like me to address it privately or on the Catholicism blog.

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Comments
September 2, 2008 at 2:58 am
(1) G says:

I learned at my Catholic Elementary School that when we do the sign of the cross it begins at the forehead so we listen and learn, next our heart so we keep it in our hearts and feel it and our mouth so we can speak it and share it. Where does this fit in? and how about to the right and left at each shoulder?

January 31, 2011 at 6:34 am
(2) Clarissa R. Mijin says:

Hi G, I am all the from Sabah, Malaysia. I just share what i know since I do a lot of reading and research for why Catholic do sign of the cross which begins at the forehead, next out mouth and last our heart. It is right for what you answer. This is actually occur when a priest, layman or any of us begin to read the Gospel.

August 21, 2011 at 2:12 pm
(3) Ashley says:

We do that before the priest or decan reads the gospel. It starts just lik you said but we go down to the lips and then the heart.

September 2, 2008 at 3:00 pm
(4) JW says:

Although I don’t think it is practiced much, I believe that I’ve read that Martin Luther recommended that the sign should be used before some prayers.

September 2, 2008 at 4:29 pm
(5) Tertia says:

The “and ofs” that we say as we make the cross in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit expresses the equality of the three Persons. Touching your head on “in the name of the Father” recognises Him as the head of the Trinity. Touching your breast “and of the Son” denotes recognition that the Son came to teach us of the love of the Father for us (and love is in the heart). “in the name of the Holy Spirit” touch 1st your left (Holy) and then the right shoulder (Spirit): the Holy Spirit is the strength of God, the Comforter, who helps us carry the burdens of life. We carry heavy things on our shoulders.

Constatine saw a vision of the cross in 312AD in front of the sun with the latin words for “In this sign you shall conquer”. He ordered the cross to be put onto his battle standards. He invaded Italy (even though he had the poorest and weakest area and army – outnumbered 4-1), without fear and he won. 29 October 312 Rome opened the gates to Constantine. In thanksgiving he ended the persecution of the Church, gave her legal status and outlawed death by crucifixion.

It became a practice in later years to conquer the world in the name of the sponsor of the explorer. Eg. Columbus took America in the name of Isabel and Ferdinand of Spain – his benefactors. It became a possession of Spain. Similarly, when we do anything in the name of the Trinity, we sign it over to Them. So parents should sign their children with the cross when they kiss them goodnight before going to bed (and even in the mornings when they leave home). Please read the scriptual references that supports all of this: Ezekiel 9:4, Rev7:3, Rev9:4, Rev14:1

From: Our Lady Teaches About Sacramentals and Blessed Objects by Rev. Albert Joseph Mary Shamon.

September 13, 2008 at 8:49 am
(6) Dennis says:

Along with the obvious reference to the Holy Trinity, the sign of the cross also represents laying of the cross upon our very bodies. It brings us fully into the mystery of the cross and the love of Jesus who died on it for us.

In regards to the actions. We start at the head which brings God to our minds, our hearts and our shoulders for strength.

October 18, 2008 at 12:33 am
(7) Jesse Henry says:

I was taught a lot of these same things throughout Catholic school myself. As I am growing with scripture I am beginning to battle with a lot of the Catholic teachings that show up no where in Scripture. Yet as I study these things such as “the sign of the cross” I see that lots of these teachings and or traditions are created by catholicism and now followed by many which seems to be a common them and potentially dangerous. Am I overlooking the mention of “the sign of the cross” in scripture that this is an example of how we are to display our faith or is this just another example of how the Catholic church creates their own traditional beleifs outside of what Jesus and the scripture teaches us? I am curious of this because my kids are 3 and 4 and have just begun to go to Catholic school and or now making the sign of the cross before we pray and it has really caughtmy attention an made me think are we teaching our kids what scripture tells us to do and how do do things or are we consistently displaying our beleifs and confessing our sins the way the Catholic church teaches? Please help. Thanks!

February 4, 2009 at 7:35 pm
(8) buffalo says:

Re: Jesse
Catholics do a lot that will not be found in the Bible. Many of the things we do are actually things begun in bygone eras to teach the faith when the great majority of people were illiterate, which is why statues and stained glass are persent. We are not a faith that relies only the Bible. We have this great thing called Sacred Tradition that most to the Protestant denominations do not have. It is belief that when the pen was laid to rest at the completion of the Bible, God was not, and is not finished teaching us. Even the Bible states that not all things are recorded in its pages. Sacred Tradition is a body of work that continually grows as we experience the teacings to the great leaders, Thomas Acquinas, Mother Teresa, etc. This body of work is not added to in any hap-hazard way, but only after much scruitiny and debate by the doctors of the Church.

June 3, 2011 at 9:30 am
(9) fel says:

please read the 1 CORINTO 1;18 about why we make sign of the cross. it is stated in that verse why we make sign of the cross. and in your statue we don’t pray in the statue instead we pray in people who represent in the statue

January 20, 2011 at 2:12 pm
(10) Alex L. Morales says:

I was privileged to be taught Catholicism by a nun who went by the name of Sister Jane. She was strict in every sense of the word, and passionate, as you should be when teaching young children. She’s the one who taught me the meaning of the word ” Catholic ” How nice it was to learn that Catholic meant universal. She also taught us to sign ourselves before we started praying. She said that it was kind of like knocking on the door before you entered. To this day I don’t feel right if I don’t sign myself before I pray at night, in my bed, in my room, where no one can hear me, or see me. Only the father knows that I pray at night. Thank you Sister Jane. I always felt that we Catholics had something going for us, that nobody else had. We were the only one’s that as a child, I ever saw make the sign of the cross, and I was right we did and do have something going for us that no one else has, and we are willing to share. How cool is that!

May 30, 2011 at 12:36 am
(11) Molly says:

I also believe that in making the cross we are protecting our hearts by remembering the traditions of the Jews when they took the blood of the Lamb and put it on their doorway for passover… Afterall Jesus is/ was the ultimate sacraficial Lamb of God… Therefore by making the sign of the cross we are protecting our hearts bodies and minds so that all evil can PASSOVER us… I do think this is a viable reason why we as Catholics make the sign.

June 17, 2011 at 2:51 am
(12) p says:

i would say that the sign of cross is traceable from the Bible as of when Jesus sent his disciple and he said to them “go and baptise them in the name of the father the son and holy ghost”

October 30, 2011 at 8:36 am
(13) noone says:

I believe it was made up by the church. The sign of cross is the symbol for Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross, which has nothing to do with the teachings in his live.

May 5, 2012 at 11:33 am
(14) DYAK says:

I believe its not made up by the church, i believe it was discerned by the church by the help of the Holy spirit, and even all of its teachings. We read the bible with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and not to criticize other beliefs. Jesus knew this will going to happen criticizing other peoples beliefs and religion that is why he left us the commandment “love one another as I have loved you”. We have one God and that is Jesus as long as we follow him and trust in Him just believe we are all saved by Him.

May 9, 2012 at 10:20 pm
(15) Christine Haas says:

Thank you for answering the question. I begin all my prayers this way. I thought it was confirmation of my belief in the holy trinity. The signing of the cross on forehead, lips and heart I have always said God’s words in my mind, in my speech and in my heart. This is what I taught my children. I like the concept knocking on a door and the idea evil passing over us by making the sign of the cross. I do remember my mother telling me the sign of the cross and speaking the name of Jesus protects us from evil.

May 23, 2012 at 2:53 pm
(16) Sister e says:

Read Ur bible it will answer all Ur question on what to do or not to do.the sign of the cross is just that a symbol of Jesus Chris to be crucified , it’s the blood that is the hd the power to take away the sins of the world, not the cross. The cross is a reminder for us to remember what he did for us on it. And it’s by the holy spirit that helps endure all we go thru n is why he was sent to b our comforter as we walk in believing in God, Jesus and his hh spirit. That y God’s word says trust in God, in all things nomatter what we go thru in life. God is who we are to pray to(14:13-14), not Mary or any saint or idols.the word of God does not say to do this sign of the cross before u say our Father’s prayer as Jesus answered the question on how to pray.and Jesus hated mans traditional being added to God the father word.So by making the sign of the cross or marking urselves is making the cross an idol of worship n praying to Mary or saints ect.makes what Jesus did as if nothing n is blasphem to GOD AND FATHER OF OUR LORD AND HIS HOLY SPIRIT. The gospel of Jesus is truth the true doctrine,but men’s traditions water it as the pharisis who put Jesus work down.its the name of JESUS &the blood demons fear and shake at , not the cross!GOD BLESS U ALL!

May 23, 2012 at 3:02 pm
(17) Sister e says:

Read Ur bible it will answer all Ur question on what to do or not to do.the sign of the cross is just that a symbol of Jesus Chris to be crucified , it’s the blood that is the hd the power to take away the sins of the world, not the cross. The cross is a reminder to remember what he did for us on it. And it’s by the holy spirit that helps endure all we go thru n is why he was sent to b our comforter as we walk in believing in God, Jesus and his holy spirit. That y God’s word says trust in God, in all things nomatter what we go thru in life. God is who we are to pray to(John 14:13-14), not Mary or any saint or idols.the word of God does not say to do this sign of the cross before u say our Father’s prayer as Jesus answered the question on how to pray.and Jesus hated mans traditional being added to God the father word.So by making the sign of the cross or marking urselves is making the cross an idol of worship n praying to Mary or saints ect.makes what Jesus did as if he did nothing n is blasphem to GOD AND FATHER OF OUR LORD Jesus Christ & HOLY SPIRIT. The gospel of Jesus is truth the true doctrine,but men’s traditions water it as the pharisis who put Jesus work down.its the name of JESUS &the blood demons fear and shake at , not the cross!GOD BLESS U ALL!

May 23, 2012 at 3:28 pm
(18) Sister e says:

REVELATION 22:18,AND I SOLEMNLY DECLARE TO EVERONE WHO READS THIS BOOK:IF ANYONE ADDS ANYTHING TO WHAT IS WRITTEN HERE,GOD SHALL ADD TO HIM THE PLAGUES DESRIBED IN THIS BOOK.AND IF ANYONE SUBTRACTS ANY PART OF THESE PROPHECIES,GOD SHALL TAKE AWAY HIS SHARE IN THE TREEOF LIFE,AND IN THE HOLY CITY JUST DESCRIBED.HE WHO HAS SAID ALL THESE THINGS DECLARES :YES I AM COMING SOON! AMEN! COME,LORD JESUS! THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST BE WITH YOU ALL.AMEN

June 19, 2012 at 5:31 pm
(19) MWC says:

Reply to sister E comments
You need to take a better look at your bible before you start posting bible verses out of context.
Matthew 28:19 …..AND BAPTIZE IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND THE SON, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT.
Furthermore Catholics do not pray to: false gods/idols through prayer to the blessed virgin,saints ect. we ARE praying to GOD through the intercession of the blessed virgin,saints ect. key word intercession ie; we believe that the blessed virgin,saints are much holier than us and are in GODS presence and therefor ask the to carry our prayers to him for us and to also pray for us to the lord our GOD.
As for the actual sign of the cross itself, it represents the cross Christ bore for us and the cross we to must bear.
Thanks and god bless!

August 1, 2012 at 8:24 pm
(20) Brother T says:

I am not biased to any religion I’ve known. I just want to share here the true biblical principles. According to 2Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living”

Jesus Christ and his redemptive work on the cross is more than enough for our prayers to be heard by the Heavenly Father.

“My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.” 1 John 2:1

There is no teaching in the bible that says when you pray you need to ask the intercession of st. so and so for us to be heard. When you end your prayer or you ask to the Father in prayer.

When you receive and believe Jesus Christ is your personal Lord and Savior it is more than enough to say that in Christ we have been made righteous and called to live a HOLY life. Reading 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 can say it well.

If you profess or express your Christian Faith, the Holiness in Christ Jesus MUST BE manifested in your life by HEART, MIND, SOUL AND DEEDS. Good deeds and holy life is the fruit your salvation in Christ Jesus.

August 30, 2012 at 9:11 pm
(21) Julie says:

I find it interesting that Sola Scriptura is NOT in the Bible. Where is the verse that says everything we believe is only contained in the Bible? Also, Sister E– didn’t Marin Luther throw books out of the Bible he did not agree with because they were not “divinely inspired” even though they had used for over a thousand years (and still by Catholics)? He even wanted to throw out the books written by James because James is big on faith and works but his followers cautioned him he was going way too far on that number.

August 30, 2012 at 9:29 pm
(22) Julie says:

Brother T,
2Timothy 3:16 does not claim that Scripture to be the ONLY inspired word of God.

1 Thes 2:13 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.

This is clear that there are things that were HEARD and not read a.k.a Sacred Tradition… just like TRINITY is not in the Bible but I am sure you profess it to be true.

We ask the Saints to intercede for us just as you would ask a friend on earth to pray for you for a trial in your life. We ask the Saints to pray for us as they are in heaven who are much closer to God, and more likely to be heard. “Friends in high places.”

The use of the bones of Elisha brought a dead man to life: “So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Elisha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood on his feet” (2 Kgs. 13:20-21).

November 17, 2012 at 8:43 pm
(23) Margie says:

Recently I saw someone make the sign of the cross but they also touched their lips at the end… I was not taught that way… thoughts?

January 25, 2013 at 1:47 pm
(24) Savannah says:

Margie, many people touch their lips after making the sign of the cross. This is like kissing the crucifix. I wasn’t taught to do it that way either but some people like to do it that way.

Sister e, if you can tell me where in the bible it says that everything we need to know is in the bible then I’d believe it. With all of the debates that I have had with protestants who believe in sola scriptura, none of them have been able to tell me where the bible says that.

Brother T, If you haven’t heard of St. Therese it’s understandable that you think asking saints to pray for us isn’t necessary. I recommend looking up information on St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as the little flower. Also, a great book on her is titled ‘Shower of Heavenly Roses’

May 6, 2013 at 3:15 pm
(25) JUN says:

if you believe in God must obey what is written only…because if not?

Revelation 22:18 I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if
any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book:
Revelation 22:19 and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God
shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book.

even a point, it means you are adding , it is written and is not follwed it is subtracting…

this is a question is a sign of a cross written in the Bible?

if yes what verse?
if you can not find it, it means you are adding…

accept as personal savoir will will be save?

if yes what verse?
if you can not find it, it means you are adding…

any question , it must be read in the bible not in the bibla bla bla…

the chosen God’s people is isreal,
are you an isrealites if not,
what is the connection of being God’s chosen people from 1st century and now we are in 20th century what is the connection of being God’s chosen people…i am not adding and i am not subtraction this is just only a question…

God bless…

June 27, 2013 at 6:50 pm
(26) Clarissa Francis says:

In the Name of the Father , and of the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen.

Dear Friends ,

Praise the Lord our God for such wonderfula media as the internet. For all Non- Catholic friends who share our deep love for Jesus our Lord and Saviour. I request with a humble heart to read the Catechism of the Catholic church which is now available in English to better understand why we are Catholic ? We are the only church in the world who can soundproof our claim of being the Church instituted by Lord Jesus himself and who is lead by Holy Spirit our helper and guide in all that we adhere to. Pls also read the fathers of church to have clarity as to why we believe in our Mother and in the communion of the saints to intercede on our behalf. But i request you to plead with the Holy spirit to be with you while you are discovering it so that you will be truly enlightened. http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm#

June 27, 2013 at 6:58 pm
(27) Clarissa Francis says:

Dear Catholic Friends,

This is the meaning of the sign of the cross on the forehead, the lips and the heart before the gospel reading of the Eucharistic celebration of the mass
Forehead
May this story of Lord’s Life , Death and Ressurrection stay in our minds,
Lips
May our lips be quick to sharethe Word of God with others
Heart
May our heart burn with a holy zeal to proclaim his Word.

God Bless!

July 21, 2013 at 11:13 pm
(28) CHA says:

There’s one time my friend asked me, why we do the sign of the Cross when there is a thunder storm, when we pass by in the Catholic Church, when we do a prayer?

August 19, 2013 at 3:18 am
(29) Ox_16 says:

Why do catholic people need to make sign of the cross?
whats the meaning of that?
Comparing to the Born Again people they don’t make the sign of the cross. I just wanna know.

Please explain..thanks

November 17, 2013 at 10:21 am
(30) Jay says:

Although I do not see anything technically wrong with the action of it, I have never found anywhere in scripture that requires believers to do this. I believe this is a man made traditional form of respect at best, or man made superstition at worst.

December 5, 2013 at 9:19 pm
(31) don p. says:

sister e:
Do you realize that each of the books of the bible were written seperately and often hundreds of years apart by vastly diffrent authors? The books of the bible were decided upon by committee, actally several committees, that is why we have a catholic bible and a protostant bible. The reason I mention all of this is because you don’t seem to realize that the line you quote about “adding to this book” refers to adding to the book that John of Patmos wrote which we call today Revalations, IT DOES NOT REFER TO THE WHOLE BIBLE. Please get an education on bible history before you attempt to teach others what you yourself don’t know. But we still love you.

January 11, 2014 at 4:13 pm
(32) Robert R says:

I disagree with the cross because you touch your head then heart then shoulders that makes a full upside down cross which is a sign of the devil

March 1, 2014 at 2:44 pm
(33) CM says:

To all,
I am Roman Catholic, I am not perfect, and was born a sinner. I am blessed to have my faith beside or else I would be lost.
I have read the comments on why we make the sign of the cross and comments on praying for the intercession of our Holy Mother Mary, our Virgin Mary and all the Saints.
It is my belief, as God and Jesus our Savior, as my witness, I hold dear the knowledge that our Holy Mother Mary, our Virgin Mary, and ALL the Saints DO intercede on our behalf through our prayers and this is right to do so. That’s not to say we should choose them over our LORD but we have at our side a whole spiritual army protecting us from the devil.
I will not quote scripture. However, prayer with the sign of the cross and praying the Rosary is our weapon against evil. If there is doubt on intercession, the most famous evidence can be found in our prayer, “…pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death.”, to our Holy Mother Mary, our Virgin Mary; she will protect us.
Hail Mary Prayer…
Hail Mary, full of grace, the LORD is with thee, blessed are you among all women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. Amen

March 5, 2014 at 9:41 am
(34) CM says:

Correction:
Here’s the prayer as we learned & was taught to us in parochial school by our nun’s.
Hail Mary Prayer…
Hail Mary, full of grace, the LORD is with thee, blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus…(bow head).
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. Amen

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