From The Big Book of Catholic Sacramentals by Father Arthur Tonne

“God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Galatians, 6:14

In April of 1945 American artillery in the town of Siegburg, Germany, was shelling a nearby village, in which there were about 20 German soldiers. The natives were in constant danger of being hit by bullets from either side.

Toward evening of April 12 the people persuaded the German soldiers to cease fire. Next morning the village priest carried a white flag to the American outpost to inform the commander that the German soldiers had gone and the civilian population had no desire to resist further.

Instructions were given to fly white flags from all the houses. The question uppermost in the minds of the towns-people was: How will the Americans treat us? They had heard terrible tales of cruelty on the part of the Russians.

How would these conquerors act? The Americans began a thorough search for weapons and German soldiers. Two soldiers armed with pistols came to a certain three-room home. They stopped short in the living room before a hand-carved family altar.

Into the bedroom they went, to find there a beautiful crucifix. The soldiers noticed the cross. They stopped, took off their steel helmets, changed their automatics from right hand to left, and respectfully made the sign of the cross.

As a member of the family related, the members of that household feared no longer. Yes, the sign of the cross is the salute of the true follower of Christ whether he is conqueror or conquered, whether he is German, Chinese, American or Australian. It is the countersign of the Christian.

In particular, it is the special salute of the Catholic. The sign of the cross is one of the most important and one of the most frequently used of the sacramentals. It is the sacred sign first taught to the feeble fingers of the child at its mother’s knee; it is the sacred sign traced by the faltering fingers of the dying Catholic.

From birth to death it is the holy sign, the holy ceremony that continually reminds the Catholic of the source from which all spiritual blessings come–the cross.

The two most common forms of this sacramental are the large sign of the cross made by touching the forehead, the breast, and the left and right shoulders. The cross thus covers the body–at least the most important members–the head and heart.

The smaller sign of the cross is traced upon the forehead, lips, and breast.

Why do we make the sign of the cross?

~To remind us of the Blessed Trinity–Father, Son and Holy Ghost. We repeat their names.

~To remind us that the Son of God died on a cross for all men. Before Calvary it was a sign of disgrace. Christ made it a thing of glory and power.

~To stir up our faith. It recalls that God is one and God is three; it recalls that the Second Person of the Trinity died for all men; it professes our faith; it identifies the Catholic. That is why the family of our story felt so secure, so much safer, as soon as they saw those American soldiers make the sacred sign.

~To strengthen our hope. By making this sacred sign we express the hope that through the cross all blessings will come to us.

~To kindle and feed our charity. Making this sign recalls the limitless love of Him who died upon the cross. We determine to return love for love.

The uses of this sacred sign in the Catholic Church are practically without limit:

According to many our Lord and the Apostles used it. Many affirm that our Lord blessed the Apostles with the sign of the cross on the day of His Ascension. Certainly the early Christians used it constantly.

It is used in all the public worship of our Church:

a. The sign of the cross in some form or other is made about 54 times during Holy Mass.

b. It is used frequently in the Divine Office or daily prayer of the priest. iii. It is used in all blessings bestowed by bishop and priest.

c. It is used in all the sacraments: 14 times in Baptism; 17 times in Extreme Unction. Yes, even in the semi-darkness of the confessional the priest makes the sign of the cross over you.

d. It is used in everything blessed for the service of God–altars, linens, holy water, etc.

e. It is used frequently in personal devotions:

-In the morning and evening to seek God’s help.

-Before and after prayer, against distractions.

-Before and after meals, asking God’s blessing.

-In dangers of soul, like temptation and occasions of sin.

-In dangers of body like storms, sickness, travel.

-Before our chief actions and undertakings, to make them pleasing to God and to obtain God’s help in performing them properly.

Let me quote the instructive words of St. Gaudentius: “Let the sign of the cross be continually made on the heart, on the mouth, on the forehead, at table, at the bath, in bed, coming in and going out, in joy and sadness, sitting, standing, speaking, walking–in short, in all our actions. Let us make it on our breasts and all our members, that we may be entirely covered with this invincible armor of Christians.”

An indulgence of 100 days is granted for making the sign of the cross and saying the words. An indulgence of 300 days for making the sign of the cross, with holy water.

A love and devotion toward this sacred sign is the mark of a true follower of Christ. Just as it identified those two American soldiers as genuine Catholics, so the sign of the cross will identify you. Use it frequently, use it thoughtfully, use it lovingly. It will bring you countless blessings. Amen.


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