A Personal Reflection
The Sign of the Cross In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
The Papal Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Pope Benedict XVI, 2009), continued the sequence of pontifical interpretations of the relevance of the Christian message to the times we live in, beginning with that most prescient of encyclicals, Rerum Novarum (Pope Leo XIII, 1891). They reflect an ever-increasing depth of understanding and enrichment of the Christian message which itself remains timeless and unchanging. The publication of encyclicals prompts us to pause and reflect upon the enduring and seamless nature of the Christian message which can, on occasion, be relegated through complacency in the routine of daily prayer and by the formidable and unsettling challenges facing the Church in these times of social and economic chaos and turbulence. It is rather paradoxical to realize, upon reflection, that the most used prayer of all, the Sign of the Cross, is the simplest and yet the most profound.
I have seldom if ever given serious thought to the significance of blessing one’s self, probably because it has been so routine and mostly taken for granted as a preliminary to more important prayers to follow. Indeed, one of my earliest childhood memories as I left for school in the morning was the inevitable sound of my mother’s voice ringing in my ears reminding me to ‘bless myself’. The term, ‘to bless’, means ‘to consecrate or sanctify by a sign of a cross’. So when we bless or sanctify ourselves with the sign of the cross what does it signify? First, it is a visible manifestation of our Christian faith which places the Holy Trinity of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit at the core of our Christian belief; second, it implies that what we do and how we behave thereafter is in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and is affirmed by ‘Amen’ or ‘So be it’. That is a personal commitment and affirmation to follow the Christian way of life. Reflecting upon the cross itself is an enduring reminder of the centrality in our faith of our redemption through Christ’s death on the cross, the full significance of which is revealed in the last supper: Not alone did Christ redeem us through His death on the cross, He left each of us, past, present and future, a lasting and timeless gift of His body and blood in the Eucharist. Thus, we are in communion with Christ crucified both physically and spiritually each time we reverently receive the Eucharist: we are truly at one with Christ in a deeply personal and intimate way. Therefore when we look at the cross what do we see? We see the sheer gravity of sin, the atonement of which required such a sacrifice; and we see this sacrifice as an enduring reminder of His infinite love for us. It is in this way that the simplest of prayers, the Sign of the Cross, embodies the fundamental message of our faith, a faith that is uniquely personal to each one of us in our intimate relationship with our crucified Lord.