ACCORDING TO WRITINGS that date back to the 3rd century, Christians have been making the sign of the cross over their bodies from the very beginning. Christian apologist Tertullian wrote at the time, “We Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the cross.” It is believed this early tradition of marking one’s body with the cross was inspired by a passage in the book of Ezekiel (9:4).
The sign of the cross that Catholics make before prayer or any other activity is not meant to be a superstitious act, but an outward profession of faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’ The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The sign of the cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties” (2157).
The cross is at the very center of what we believe and crossing ourselves is supposed to be a constant reminder of the price Jesus paid for our sins. It is both a profession of faith and a simple prayer that has such great power. It recalls that profound sacrifice of Jesus 2,000 years ago and actively calls upon His aid to help us in our need.
Philip Kosloski, Why Do Catholics Make the Sign of the Cross Before Praying.
Original in Aleteia.org, April 5, 2017. Used with permission.