In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Every time I get behind the wheel, just before I change the gear from park to drive, I make the sign of the cross. I do it because I’ve seen my father do it thousands of times before his commute to work, long family road trips and even quick runs to the grocery store. But I also do it because for him and for me, it’s a prayer for God’s protection on the road.
The sign of the cross began with the early Christians tracing small crosses with their thumbs on each other’s foreheads during baptism. (We still do this before the Gospel reading at Mass.) Later, it became a larger gesture with fingers touching the forehead, chest and shoulders. The Trinitarian words, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” were added, although other words accompany the sign during different rituals such as sacraments or morning rites.
When we pair the sign of the cross with the Trinitarian words, we beseech God to bless us and protect us. But we also firmly proclaim that we are disciples of Christ who vow to obey his laws and accept his will for us.
Through this sign, we dedicate our thoughts, words and deeds to his holy name.
Clearly, there is great meaning behind a seemingly simple gesture. So it might be a good idea to incorporate this powerful prayer even more purposefully in our lives.
Other than at the beginning and end of our prayers, we can make the sign of the cross to mark all the important times of the day: when we wake up, before we eat a meal, when we set off to work, when we return home and when we lay down to bed. We can also make the sign when we need strength to take on a surly boss, call a friend for forgiveness or wrangle our kids to school. If we feel the need to be discreet – such as when at work or at a gathering – we can mimic the early Christians’ method. In these ways, we can call upon God to be with us and challenge ourselves to live for and in him.
Crossing ourselves throughout the day serves as a reminder of God’s sacrificial love for us and his personal invitation for us to love him, too. Making the sign of the cross is a way of accepting this invitation.
Veronica Szczygiel, Ph.D., is the assistant director of online learning at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education