In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day about the practice of “crossing yourself.” This is the practice of using your right hand to “draw” a cross on your chest, usually the vertical line followed by the horizontal. The person I was talking to replied in what I think is the most common way for Lutherans to talk about this issue: “I always thought that was a Catholic thing.”
I used to have the same thought, too. It certainly seemed like a Roman Catholic thing; that seemed to be the group of people who did it. Actually, most of my memories as a child of someone crossing himself was Minnesota Twins baseball great Kirby Puckett, who used to cross himself before every at-bat. Other than that, it’s not a practice to which I gave much thought.
That’s why it was neat for me to read the words that I quoted at the top of this post. Those words are not found in some Roman Catholic prayerbook, but in Luther’s Small Catechism. Martin Luther, the great Reformer, did not discourage the use of crossing oneself, he encouraged it enough to put it right in his Catechism.
And the more I think about it, the more I see how neat this little practice is. The idea of putting Jesus’ cross on your heart as you are praying…what a way of focusing our thoughts on him who died for us! What a way of reminding myself that because of Christ’s cross and his sacrifice on it, I am a holy child of God. How neat that this practice hearkens back to the sign of the cross made in the Rite of Baptism, to “mark you as a redeemed child of Christ.” It’s a beautiful symbol, and one we shouldn’t be afraid of.
Do I think that those who practice this are somehow better Christians? Of course not. Does not making this sign or forgetting to do so mean you have just sinned? Not in the least. Nor do I think that this practice should be seen as some sort of magical incantation that makes your prayers extra powerful. No, it is just a beautiful way of reminding yourself of Christ’s cross and putting yourself in the mindset of focusing on his cross in your prayers.
Martin Luther didn’t throw out the baby of tradition with the bathwater of false teaching with regard to this practice. Maybe it’s worth rethinking our stance on it, too.