Cross, Sign of the (2)

Cross, Sign Of The, is a signal current among Christians, made in the West by drawing the three fingers of the right hand from the forehead to the breast, and from the left to the right shoulder. The use of this sign is a very ancient Christian practice, possibly as old as Christianity itself. Minutius Felix asserts that it was a badge of faith among the primitive disciples; and Tertullian long before material crosses were in use, tells us that "upon every motion, at their going out or coming in, at dressing, at their going to bath, or to meals, or to bed, or whatever their employment or occasion called them to, they were wont to mark their foreheads with the Sign of the cross; adding, that this was a practice which tradition had introduced, custom had confirmed, and which the present generation received upon the credit of that which went down before them" (Tertullian. De Coron. Mil. c. 3). The following is the ordinary Oriental mode of making the sign of the cross. The tips of the thumb and the two forefingers of the right hand are brought together (the third and fourth fingers being folded in the palm of the hand). The hand is then lifted, and the three fingertips brought into contact with the middle of the forehead; it is then brought down to the chest, and moved transversely upwards to the right shoulder; and, lastly, horizontally to the left. The meaning of the act is thus explained by certain mystical Eastern writers. The conjunction of the three finger-tips signifies in one action the equality and unity of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity; the raising of the hand to the forehead signifies that God the Word was in heaven glorified together with the Father and the life-giving Spirit from all eternity. The descent of the hand to the waist or breast denotes that this same God came down from heaven to the earth, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the ever-virgin Mary, thus becoming man for our salvation; the motion upward to the right shoulder symbolizes that he has reascended into heaven, and is sitting at the right hand of God the Father; the horizontal motion, from right to left. that our blessed Saviours arms were stretched out on the cross to make atonement for the sins of the world; that he is gathering together into one body the faithful out of all nations, and that at the last day he will set the righteous on his right hand and the wicked on his left. After the joined fingers have touched the left shoulder some Easterns lay the open palm on the left breast over the heart and bow the head. This is reputed as a declaration of devotion to the cause, and submission to the will, of the divine Master.

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