Signing oneself is not merely a symbol. It is, as [Dietrich] Bonhoeffer says, “objective.” There is something tangible and actual about it. Second, signing oneself is not mere religiosity. It’s communion with God. That is because, at bottom, the act of faithfully signing the cross is an act of prayer, one that is physical, a remembrance, a benediction, a collect that gathers every trial, worry, and fear, and consigns it to the care of Christ.
It can also be used to express gratitude at a meal, joy at a blessed occurrence, repentance in a moment of sin, resistance in a moment of temptation, and faith when undertaking any task (with emphasis on the any).
It’s always been this way in the church. As Tertullian wrote in the year 204 in an essay called The Crown, “At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign [of the cross].”
Excerpted from “Bless Yourself (with the Sign of the Cross),” a blog post by Joel J. Miller onJanuary 11, 2011. He also wrote an earlier blog about making the sign of the cross. You can read it here. Miller is vice president of editorial and acquisitions for the nonfiction division at Thomas Nelson Publishers.