When Jesus prayed, he used the words and signs of his own Jewish tradition, which he learned in his family and from others. Our Christian tradition, which guides us in prayer, grew from the Jewish tradition of prayer that nourished Jesus himself.
Christian prayer has a wisdom all its own, with many different forms and expressions. One basic prayer has a special place– The Sign of the Cross.
In the Catholic church and other Christian churches, the Sign of the Cross is an important part of personal and public prayer. Originating in the earliest days of Christianity, it’s centuries old. It’s the first sign made on us at Baptism and the last sign made as we pass to our future life. It’s a vital part of liturgical prayer and the sacraments. With the Sign of the Cross we begin and end our prayers.
A Blessing of the Triune God
We call it a blessing. We say we “bless ourselves.” Tracing with our hand the figure of the cross on our forehead, our breast, our shoulders, we bless ourselves:
In the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The Sign of the Cross proclaims a blessing. It symbolizes God blessing us, God embracing us with blessings. And this same sign expresses our belief that God is the One from whom all blessings flow. In the Sign of the Cross we embrace our good God with mind and heart and all of our strength, and God embraces us.
God blesses. The Jewish scriptures describe God, above all, as the One who blesses. God blessed Noah and saved the world from the flood. God blessed Abraham and Sara with blessings more than the stars in the sky. God blessed the Jewish people, redeeming them from the slavery of Egypt. Life itself and all creation are God’s blessed gifts.
The Jewish tradition of prayer always approaches God as One who blesses. “I will bless the Lord at all times,” the psalmist prays. Because we are blessed by God, we bless the Lord in return.
The Christian tradition of prayer follows this same pattern, but in addition it praises the One who blesses for another incomparable blessing: the blessing of Jesus Christ. “Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing.” ( Eph 1,3 ) He is “the Word who made the universe, the Savior sent to redeem us.”
In Jesus Christ God appears as our Friend and Brother. With the Father he sends the Holy Spirit upon us “to complete his work on earth and bring us the fullness of grace.” In Jesus, God has reveals the source of all blessings.
When we bless ourselves with the Sign of the Cross we remember the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who blesses us with life here on earth and the promise of life beyond this.
It is part of our prayers and is a prayer in itself.