How Lutherans Worship – 2: Making the Sign of the Cross


sign of the cross finger positionIn the previous part I said: “it is appropriate that all those who are baptized may join in making the sign of the cross as a remembrance of their baptism.” There has been some question about this. In response let me begin by bringing forward for your consideration the words of Dr. Timothy Maschke from his excellent guide on worship Gathered Guests. Dr. Maschke:

[Making] the sign of the cross is …a physical action that draws the whole self into the act of worship. Some people may consider this is a “Catholic” practice, and in the past this connotation caused many Lutherans to abandon its use. Yet Luther suggested the sign of the cross as a daily practice, directing in his Small Catechism that the head of the household should teach the family the Morning and Evening Prayers in this way:

In the morning, when you get up,make the sign of the cross and say:

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The sign of the cross is made by placing the thumb and the first two fingers of the right hand together as a reminder of the Trinity. Touch your head at the naming of the Father, then bring your hand to the middle of your chest (over your heart) at the naming of the Son. At the naming of the Holy Spirit touch your right shoulder and then your left shoulder.

But let us be clear, making the sign of the cross, or not making the sign of the cross, is part of our Christian liberty. It should never be made a criterion for being viewed as more or less confessional, more or less liturgical, or more or less Lutheran. While the sign of the holy cross is the property of each and every baptized child of God, it is up to the individual to determine when and how he or she will use it.

In the church’s worship it is a laudable custom to cross ourselves at the beginning and end of all services and at the following places in the Service or in the Order of the Holy Communion Service: During the opening words, “In the name etc.”; at the end of the Absolution; at the beginning of the Introit; at the end of the Gloria in Excelsis; when the Gospel is announced (At this point the sign is made with the hand closed, using the tip of the thumb, upon the forehead, lips, and breast.); at the end of the creed; during the Sanctus at the words, “Blessed is He”; after the consecration at “The peace of the Lord”; when we receive the holy body and precious blood of Christ; when the minister says, “Depart in peace”; and at the end of the Benediction Paul H. D. Lang, Ceremony and Celebration, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, 1965, p. 71 ff.. Throughout this series of notes on the liturgy I will indicate some of the appropriate places to make the sign of the cross as token of our salvation.

Receive the sign of the holy cross, both upon the + forehead and upon the + heart, in token that you have been redeemed by Christ the crucified.

From the rite of Holy Baptism

The sign of the cross is a way of declaring your salvation. Jesus has made his cross to be yours, so that you do not have to suffer for your sin. Again, Lang: “We were signed with it when we were baptized. It is the sign by which the church blesses people and things. By it we become part of the wonderful history of our faith and companions in the company of the saints. It is right that we should make the sign of the cross frequently and to glory in it, saying with St. Paul, ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Gal. 6:14).”

The Christian also finds comfort in making the sign of the cross in the time of tragedy, in the face of danger, or in the presence of heresy and evil. Within the liturgy itself, this use of making the sign of the cross is why it is included in the Lord’s Prayer at the speaking of the words, “And lead us not into temptation, but + deliver us from evil.”

Again, to make the sign of the cross is a matter of Christian freedom. You may or may not feel comfortable doing it yourself, or you may not do it as often as your neighbor. That’s okay. But when the sign of the cross is made, whether by pastor or people, let this be the proclamation: Christ has died for your sins upon the cross; in Baptism he shares that cross with you; because you share in his cross you are a child of God and are precious in his sight.

Scriptural References:
Matthew 28:18b-19
Mark 8:34-38
Mark 16:16
Romans 6:3-4
Galatians 2:20
1 Peter 3:21

Next: The Preparation—Confession and Absolution

Other good posts on making the sign of the cross:

Todd Peperkorn at Lutheran Logomaniac

When we make the sign of the cross, what we are doing is A) remembering our Baptism; B) Remembering Jesus’ death for our sins; C) Confessing to the world that I am not ashamed to be known as a disciple of Jesus; and D) Holding up the cross of Christ as the central core of my identity. [more…]

Luther on making the sign of the cross at Lutheran Theology Web Site

In the morning, when you rise, you shall make the sign of the holy cross, and you shall say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Then, kneeling or standing, you shall say the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall make the sign of the holy cross, and you shall say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Then, kneeling or standing, you shall say the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. [more…]

Paul H. D. Lang from Ceremonies and Celebrations at Lex Orandi

Crossing oneself was practiced by Christians from the earliest centuries and may go back to apostolic times. We know that is was already a common ceremony used daily in A.D. 200, for Tertullian writes: “In all undertakings — when we enter a place or leave it; before we dress; before we bathe; when we take our meals; when we light the lamps in the evening; before we retire at night; when we sit down to read; before each task — we trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads.” St. Augustine (A.D. 431) speaks of this custom many times in his sermons and letters. [more…]

The Sign of the Cross: Hierarchical or Egalitarian? by Paul Bosch at Lift Up Your Hearts (ELLiC)

But remember: It’s heavy stuff. That personal signing of yourself with the cross: It’s nothing you want to do lightly. You’re marking your very self –your body, your psyche– with the cross of Christ’s suffering. You’re saying, by this gesture: “I take the sufferings and death of Christ upon myself.” That’s something I’m not sure I want to do, at least not without some heavy thought, some heavy soul-searching. You won’t find me, for one, “signing” myself very often.

Pastor Lassman’s YouTube instruction on Making the Sign of Cross

Previous post: How Lutheran Worship -1 Introduction

Next: How Lutherans Worship–3: Confession and Absolution

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3 thoughts on “How Lutherans Worship – 2: Making the Sign of the Cross

  1. very true. I have seen this in practice among the Lutheran churches I’ve attended till recently. As a child I attended a lutheran school and when asked why we didn’t I was told it was Catholic superstition.I’m not really sure why I’ve always felt drawn to the practice. Now as a mother attending to 2 small children it seems to help me stay mentally present during the service and brings my thoughts back to Christ when my mind would want to wander.

  2. Interesting. I don’t think I ever saw a Lutheran make the sign of the cross until the past 3-5 years. Now there are several of us who do it in our congregation. I’m not sure what that means, except that perhaps Lutherans are beginning to embrace their catholicity after a few generations of fleeing from it.

  3. Pingback: Making the Sign of the Cross « The First Premise

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