Ask Ambrose: Making the Sign of the Cross

Ravenna mosaic of Christ giving a blessing

Q: In the Episcopal churches that I have attended over the years, sometimes I see people cross themselves at various times during the service. I thought that was a Roman Catholic practice. Is it okay for Episcopalians to cross themselves?

A: Crossing oneself is an ancient Christian gesture in which one touches the forehead, heart, left shoulder, and right shoulder. When children are taught about what the gesture means, we tell them that we’re asking God to be “in our heads,” “in our hearts,” “and in all of me.” Crossing oneself simply reminds us of the sacrifice Jesus made for us and the power God demonstrated in Jesus’s sacrifice.

Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, “Let us not be ashamed to profess the Crucified One; let us confidently seal our forehead with our fingers, let us make the sign of the cross on everything, on the bread we eat and over the cup we drink. Let us make this sign as we come and go, before sleeping, when we lie down and when we arise, while traveling and while resting.”

When do we cross ourselves? Some folk cross themselves several times during the liturgy—at the opening acclamation, during the absolution, before and after receiving communion, for example. Generally Episcopalians cross themselves whenever the priest blesses them—for example, after the Confession of Sin or at the final blessing at the end of the liturgy.

So—in short, yes! It is just fine to cross yourself. It can be a physical reminder of the love Jesus has for us. Just like private confession in the Episcopal Church—all may, some should, none must.