In the early Church, the sign of the cross was seen as the brand mark on the body of a Christian that indicated that he or she was now the property of a new master and under the protection of that master. The blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the Israelites protected them from the Angel of Death who “passed over” their homes. The sign of the cross on the Christian says “hands off!” to the power of darkness. Note that Jesus says to his disciples “I have given you power to tread on snakes and scorpions and all the forces of the enemy, and nothing shall ever injure you” (Luke 10:19). The sign of the cross is the sign of this power.
But this sign means even more than belonging to the triune God. It indicates how and why we’ve come to belong to God and to be entitled to his protection. It means that for my standing with God, I do not trust in the good deeds that I’ve done or the “good person” that I am. Rather, I stake my claim to heaven on what Jesus did for me on Calvary. It means that I am saved by a pure gift of His love, by grace. “May I never boast of anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Galatians 6:14).
Each time I make this sign, it is a renewal of my “decision for Christ,” my intimate relationship of love with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which comes as a pure gift of God’s grace through faith, baptism and confirmation. In this simple little sign is contained the very essence of the gospel.
The good news is that everything in the Catholic heritage is like this – full of rich meaning that we’ve forgotten. But not to worry – we can recover the meaning and reactivate the power. Let’s get busy exploring and unpacking the amazing Catholic tradition!