Roman Catholics and the “Sign of the Cross”

One of the most common and distinguishing practices of Roman Catholics is the sign of the cross. Surely, I must have addressed this practice after 5.5 years of blogging and 1844 posts, right? Wrong. I searched my archives and couldn’t find a single post dedicated to it. Okay, let’s finally examine the ubiquitous sign of the cross.

The Roman Catholic church considers the sign of the cross to be a “sacramental,” something not as powerful as a sacrament, but still very helpful. The church officially defines sacramentals as “holy things or actions of which the church makes use to obtain for us from God, through her intercession, spiritual and temporal favors.”

In making the sign of the cross, a Catholic touches the fingers of the right hand to the forehead, to the chest, and to both shoulders while saying or silently invoking the trinitarian formula: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The sign of the cross is a self-blessing. Catholics are taught that this self-blessing will accord to them favors and protections. Catholics will reflexively practice this ritual while attending mass or other Catholic religious services. It’s believed that using “holy water” blessed by a priest in conjunction with the sign of the cross will increase the blessings. Holy water fonts are strategically located near the doorways of Catholic churches and congregants routinely dip their fingers into the fonts and bless themselves as they enter and exit the church. Outside of church, it’s common for Catholics to perform the sign of the cross during difficult and threatening circumstances. Catholics believe the sign will protect them from evil spirits and danger. In that respect, the sign of the cross is a superstitious prop in the same manner as a pagan rabbit’s foot, charm, or juju. How many movies have you seen in which a Catholic character is in dangerous circumstances and unthinkingly makes the sign of the cross upon themselves?

The sign of the cross self-blessing has its origins in the early church. Church “fathers” Tertullian and Athanasius mention it in their writings. As the early church became increasingly institutionalized, the clergy class accorded to itself increasingly greater powers including the supposed abilities to administer the sacraments and to efficaciously bless people, objects, and events. We can piece together from the writings of the “fathers” that pastors/bishops began the practice of “blessing” their congregations by tracing the sign of the cross in the air while reciting the trinitarian formula. The lay congregants responded by blessing themselves in conjunction with the clergy’s blessing, the more crosses the better, and also blessed themselves on occasions when the clergy wasn’t present. What started out as a somewhat “innocent” practice was ritualized and devolved into rank superstition.

What are we to make of the sign of the cross self-blessing? There is no mention of the ritual in the New Testament. A symbol of the cross of Christ, whether material or traced in the air with the hand, has no special powers. Roman Catholicism has a myriad of other sacramentals besides the sign of the cross including physical crosses aka “crucifixes,” rosaries, statuary, scapulars, medals, candles, etc., etc. These are all facets of Catholicism’s false salvation system that’s ultimately based upon sacramental grace and merit. In contrast, Gospel Christians preach the genuine Good News! Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Jesus Christ is our Savior, Lord, and ever-present Shepherd. Born-again believers do not need sacramentals, which are superstitious pagan amulets by another name.

Catholic friend, come out of works-religion and superstition. Repent (turn from your sinful rebellion against God), trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith alone, and ask the Lord to lead you to an evangelical church in your area that preaches God’s Word without compromise.

father son holy spirit gifs, john boehner gifs, thumbs up gifs, sign of the cross gifs

Above: Former U.S. Speaker of the House and “devout” Roman Catholic, John Boehner, casually demonstrates the sign of the cross.

Sign of the cross – what is the meaning?

40 thoughts on “Roman Catholics and the “Sign of the Cross”

  1. Thank you Tom for highlighting this superstitious ritual. The Armenian church is just the same. I think its another empowerment to this false priesthood as they imitate the authority to bestow blessing upon the people.
    They have turned Gods greatest triumph into a trite hand gesture. Carnal as it is, of course Hollywood and others make it as common as John Boehner’s thumbs up.
    Press on brother! I hope all is well at your home.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Lisa Beth. Yes the liturgical churches claim apostolic authority and the ability to bestow soul-saving powers on priests via ordination. As you mention, they usurp the offices of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It’s entirely predictable that sinful man would replace genuine faith and spirituality with ritual, ceremony, and superstition and that the clergy would desire such power and control.
      Thanks, sister! We’re doing well and I hope you and your family are doing likewise.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the re-blog, sister!

      RE: How many times I did this?! It became a mindless ritual!

      Me too. This sign of the cross exemplifies the mindless ritualism of RC-ism. The 1.3 billion Catholics go through the motions, but have no saving faith in Jesus Christ.


  2. If you enjoy the topic of people doing things that are not in the Bible, I would recommend “Strange Fire” by John MacArthur. Great book. And I must add that I only recently heard about John MacArthur and didn’t realize I had one of his books, so I’m not a super-fan or anything. Anyway, the book is on sale and I thought you might enjoy it 🙂 Have a good week!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Yari. Yes, I’ve read JMac’s “Strange Fire” and also his earlier version, “Charismatic Chaos.” Like JMac, I’m a cessationist when it comes to the apostolic gifts, which I believe were given as sign gifts in the apostolic era. I believe great, great harm has been done to the church because of the rise of Pentecostalism and Charismaticism.
      Thank you and have a good week, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I watched a documentary the other night about the Vatican and its secret catacombs and museum and whatever else. They had upside down crosses set up everywhere! I always thought that was a satanic symbol but it is actually a symbol of Peter’s cross to them. I found that fascinating but its still idolatry. And gives Peter the same glory as Jesus.

    Have a blessed day, Tom, amen! \o/

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Sherry. That would be interesting to watch. It’s not surprising to me that the early church gradually become more focused on the symbols than what the symbols represented.

      Thanks, Sherry, and have a blessed day, also!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t even know if I should share this. My dad is a massive baseball guy and he calls this “running the bases.” Since “pop” thinks this is funny, my niece and nephew say this to their mom, (my sister-in-law) and her side of the family who are Catholic.

    When I was in Peru I was amazed how many times a person would cross themselves while driving. Go past a church and they would make the sign, go past a cemetery and make the sign, stuck in traffic they would cross themselves. For me, I have to say I started counting, like 1,2,3,4 rather than Father, Son, Holy Spirit Amen. I have also seen people make this sign with big movements, some with small movements. Thank you for sharing this is to be done with the right hand to opposite shoulder because I have always been confused by this. What would happen if a person had a stroke and their right arm did not work, would they be allowed to use their left or would this bring curses rather than blessings? I ask that sincerely, not snarky!

    Thank you for this post! I have always wondered about the mechanics of this ritual. Is it snowing your way today? Are you able to rest? Glad y’all got my card!!! Love and blessings!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. RE: running the bases

      Yes, there’s a widely shared sentiment within RC-ism that goes something like, “I don’t know if I believe in all of this hocus pocus but it can’t hurt.”

      RE: Frequency and Form

      I’m guessing that South American Catholics are generally much more devoted to the sign of the cross and other sacramentals/devotions/religious superstitions than American Catholics who are more liberalized. I know that traditionalist Catholics are very particular about proper form when it comes to the sign, but most Catholics do it sloppily just like Congressman Boehner. Another example: Catholics are supposed to kneel to the Jesus wafers stored in the altar tabernacle before they take their place in the pew at church. Correct form is to kneel on the right knee rather than the left but most Catholics don’t kneel at all.

      Thanks! Generally resting today but had to take my sister to an MD appointment. Typing this from the MD office. I’m going to sit on the couch all day tomorrow.
      No snow today. How about you guys? It’s close to 40F today. Corinne loved your card, also. Have a great evening! Love and blessings to you, too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hope your sister is ok! These paid fortune tellers (meteorologists—seriously, only professional in the world where you can be wrong 100% of the time and keep your job because well, after all, who really can predict the weather?!) were SO totally wrong about the amount of snow we had today. Praise God Yahweh is the God over all, including the weather!

        I am glad you will get to rest tomorrow! Have you finished Wright’s book yet?!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks. It was a routine MD visit but my sister has early-dementia so myself and another sister in Florida are trying to help her move from her house to an assisted living facility.

        RE : weather

        It’s been a challenging January and Feb. but we have 50F “predicted” for Wednesday and 40s for the weekend. Woo hoo!

        I finished Wright’s book a few days ago and enjoyed it immensely. Great book. I’ll be writing a review in the next couple of days.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmm. You raise an interesting point. The Russian Orthodox article below states that all “Christians” crossed themselves from right-to-left, but that Catholics changed to left-to-right in the 15th-16th centuries.

        However, the article below from a Catholic source states the change was earlier, in the 13th century. Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) wrote that some Latin rite prelates and priests were teaching the left shoulder represented misery and the right shoulder glory and therefore the correct form would be from misery (left) to glory (right). The change caught on in the West.

        Leave it to liturgical “Christendom” (Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy) to battle over inconsequential rubrics.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Whoah 1844 posts??
    Never knew the sign was sacremental or a self-blessing and I’m surprised Anthanius reference this, even as much as he uses the Word powerfully to defend the Divinity of Christ and contribute to the defense of the Trinity.
    Also good ost with pointing out it’s not in the Bible and also preaching the Gospel

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ve been blogging since 2006 so you must have 5000+ posts?

      Yes, several “fathers” reference this cross blessing. As often happens with superstition, a “harmless” tradition takes on a life of its own with mystical/magical powers being attributed to it. Thanks, brother!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 4.6K posts is a lot of good thoughts and teachings bouncing around the internet! Yeah, it’s incredible how the numbers grow over time when you’re not paying attention.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Catholics along with many other religious practices have many things wrong! As long as people do not want to think for themselves, open their bibles and put all power in the hands of man (Priests and pastors) they will never come to the knowledge found only in Christ. Very good writing here Beth. Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Heretic? Is there even such a thing in Roman Catholicism anymore? After all, your pope and prelates have taught since 1964 that all religionists – Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and now, even atheists, may also merit Heaven if they “sincerely” follow there religion/conscience and are “good.” So who is the heretic?


      1. Well these are the misguided individuals who have accepted the madness of the Second Vatican Council’s teachings. Believe me, many Catholics are just as outraged at this ridiculous compromise with the secular and atheist. Traditional Catholicism is growing at a pace faster than modern Catholicism, so perhaps there will see a return to the true values of the Church. Until then, we can all pray- and our enemies can keep coping.


      2. RE: Well these are the misguided individuals who have accepted the madness of the Second Vatican Council’s teachings.

        So you have appointed yourself pontificator-in-chief in place of your church’s duly-elected pope and his ordained prelates? Is the new “Vatican” your kitchen table? Anti-V2 traditionalists like yourself actually help make the case that the RCC’s claims to authority are spurious.


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