The Venerable Dr. David Anderson
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Why do some people cross themselves during the service or before taking communion and some people don’t? Is this part of Anglicanism? We thought it was Roman Catholic.

Making the sign of the cross is an ancient Christian tradition and devotion that is practiced still by Christians of various denominations.

According to writings that date back to the 3rd century, Christians have been making the sign of the cross over their bodies from the very beginning. Christian apologist Tertullian wrote at the time, “We Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the cross.” He then added, “In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross.”

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived in the 4th century, noted in his Catechetical Lectures, “Let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in our goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are traveling, and when we are at rest.”

The sign of the cross is one of the ways that the faithful remember their identity in Christ Jesus, and their desire to follow him in his cruciform life. As such, many Christians find that making the sign of the cross is a way in which, through gesture, they can enter into the worship of God, not only with their hearts and minds, but with they physical bodies as well.

While making the sign of the cross remains common practice in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, it is also practiced by many Anglicans and Lutherans. In Anglicanism the practice is more common among those who may identify themselves as Anglo-catholic, however, the practice is relatively widespread. In our Anglican tradition, the practice is one of personal devotion, and as with many such matters classic Anglican rule applies: "All may; none must; some should."

There are many times in our Eucharistic Celebration when you may see people make the sign of the cross. These include:

  • Upon entering the church proper;
  • At mention of the Triune name of God, especially as the presiding celebrant greets the people; 
  • At the announcment of the Holy Gospel (when three small crosses are made, one each over the forehead, lips, and heart);
  • At the words, "resurrection of the dead" in the Creed; 
  • At the absolution of sin;
  • At the words, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord," following the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy) in the Eucharistic Prayer;
  • Just before the reception of Holy Communion;
  • At the blessing at the conclusion of the service.

The cross is at the very center of what we believe and crossing ourselves can be a reminder of the price Jesus paid for our sins. It is both a profession of faith and a simple prayer that has great power. 

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