How (and Why) Catholics Make the Sign of the Cross

The Most Basic Catholic Prayer

Sign of the cross
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Since we make the Sign of the Cross before and after all of our prayers, many Catholics don't realize that the Sign of the Cross is not simply an action but a prayer in itself. Like all prayers, the Sign of the Cross should be said with reverence; we shouldn't rush through it on the way to the next prayer.

How to Make the Sign of the Cross (As Roman Catholics Do)

Using your right hand, you should touch your forehead at the mention of the Father; the lower middle of your chest at the mention of the Son; and the left shoulder on the word "Holy" and the right shoulder on the word "Spirit."

How to Make the Sign of the Cross (As Eastern Christians Do)

Eastern Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, reverse the order, touching their right shoulder on the word "Holy" and their left shoulder on the word "Spirit."

Text of the Sign of the Cross

The text of the Sign of the Cross is very short and simple:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Why Do Catholics Cross Themselves When They Pray?

Making the Sign of the Cross may be the most common of all actions that Catholics do. We make it when we begin and end our prayers; we make it when we enter and leave a church; we start each Mass with it; we may even make it when we hear the Holy Name of Jesus taken in vain and when we pass a Catholic church where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle.

So we know when we make the Sign of the Cross, but do you know why we make the Sign of the Cross? The answer is both simple and profound.

In the Sign of the Cross, we profess the deepest mysteries of the Christian Faith: the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--and the saving work of Christ on the Cross on Good Friday. The combination of the words and the action are a creed—a statement of belief. We mark ourselves as Christians through the Sign of the Cross.

And yet, because we make the Sign of the Cross so often, we may be tempted to rush through it, to say the words without listening to them, to ignore the profound symbolism of tracing the shape of the Cross—the instrument of Christ's death and our salvation—on our own bodies. A creed is not simply a statement of belief—it is a vow to defend that belief, even if it means following Our Lord and Savior to our own cross.

Can Non-Catholics Make the Sign of the Cross?

Roman Catholics aren't the only Christians who make the Sign of the Cross. All Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do as well, along with many high-church Anglicans and Lutherans (and a smattering of other Mainline Protestants). Because the Sign of the Cross is a creed that all Christians can assent to, it shouldn't be thought of as just a "Catholic thing."