Blog Template Theology of the Body: Sign of the Cross

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sign of the Cross

The gestures that we make in worship are often related not just to our tradition but to what we learned as a child. Those of us who grew up making the sign of the cross are likely to do so as adults, even if we venture into churches where the practice is rare. Likewise, it may take a while before those of us who grew up not making the gesture are comfortable doing so in churches where the practice is more common.

In the last few years I've tried to become more conscious of the gestures I make during worship and my reasons for making them. In most cases it's not right or wrong whether you make a gesture or not. But I do think it matters that you have some sense of why you're doing what you're doing.

With that in mind, I came to change a practice of mine about a year and a half ago in regards to both gesture and words. In the Sanctus and Benedictus, like many people raised Catholic, I would make the sign of the cross at the words "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." I'd never really thought about why. When I got to seminary, I found that many people changed "Blessed is He" to "Blessed is the one." When combined with the gesture of the sign of the cross, this seemed to make sense to me. After all, if we are talking about ourselves and receiving God's blessing, then why shouldn't we be using words that refer to the whole human family rather than just those of us with the requisite appendages?

However, through the counsel of a friend and the counsel of a professor I came to learn that when we say "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord," we are actually referring not to ourselves as disciples being sent but rather to Jesus as the one whom the Lord God the Father sends forth. This resulted in an immediate shift in my practice. I went back to saying "Blessed is He" since I see no good reason to neuter Jesus, who by all accounts was in fact a male. But I also stopped making the sign of the cross at this point in the liturgy because I could not figure out rhyme or reason for it.

Why do it? Why make the sign of the cross at the point when we announce that our Lord is blessed and has been sent forth? What's the rationale? Until I can find one, my hands will be comfortably folded at my side.