Why We Do What We Do

How to make the Sign of the Cross

Catholics in the West make the Sign of the Cross with the first two (or more) fingers of the right hand.

How to make the sign of the cross

  1. Touch the mid-point of your forehead; then
  2. Touch the lowest point of the rib cage (where it joins in the center of the chest);
  3. Touch the left shoulder; then;
  4. Touch the right shoulder; then;
  5. Bring the fingers back to the center fo your chest. It is the last movement which distinguishes the Anglican usage

The Church of Rome completes the Sign of the Cross at the right shoulder or by kissing the right thumb

The Cross as Prayer

When we use words to pray, we are using only one form of the language capability with which God has imbued us. The body has its own language, of which making the Sign of the Cross is an eloquent expression. It speaks volumes for you and about you.

Making the Sign of the Cross is a way of acknowledging joyfully the Blessed Trinity who indwells us. Any time we sign the Cross, even without words, the Sign itself is a prayer, therefore we must make each movement reverently and deliberately. Hast, by its very nature is irreverence! Jesus calls each of us to love God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind.[Mt. 22:37] St. Paul, somewhat puzzled by the Christians in Corinth asks: Know ye not that ye are the temple of God , and that the Spirit of god dwelleth in you?” [1Cor. 3:16]

When to make the Sign of the Cross in Church

When you enter the church, after dipping two fingers in the Holy Water Stoup on the wall to your right, sign the Cross.

Then sign when you kneel to pray before the Service begins.

In the Mass, there are many opportunities to acknowledge your dependence on the Blessed Trinity. Basic examples are these:

  • When the celebrant announces the Holy Gospel (BCP, 70); Described in detail below
  • The Nicene Creed: And the + life of the World to come.”(BCP, 71)
  • The Nicene Creed: And the + life of the World to come.”(BCP, 71)
  • The Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church:And we also bless thy holy name for all thy servants de + parted this life in thy faith and fear”(BCP, 74)
  • The Absolution: At the words,Have mercy upon you; par + don and deliver you,”(BCP, 76)
  • The Words of Instution: When the celebrant elevates the Host and then the Chalice(BCP, 80)
  • At the Altar Rail: When the priest is two or three communicants to your right.
  • The Benediction:The Blessing of God Almighty, the + father, the Son and the Holy Ghost”(BCP, 84)

The Gospel Crosses

The priest (or deacon) announces the Holy Gospel by saying (for example):

  • The Holy Gospel is written in the
  • 6th Chapter of
  • Saint John beginning at the
  • 35th Verse

Using his thumb, he traces the cross on the Missal at the first word of the appointed Gospel (the cross illustrated above in green). Using your thumb, join him in the last three crosses (in red), tracing them on your forehead, lips and breast.

These crosses are a visible witness and silent prayer that you accet and profess the truth of the Holy Gospel with your mind, lips and heart.

Other Devotions

The Sign of the Cross is also used in Holy Baptism, Holy Penance, Morning Prayer, Compline, and other Occasional Services.

As you become accustomed to this glorious Sign and witness for our Blessed Lord, you will discover other times and places where your love for God will cause you to use it in silent witness to your faith.

What is Genuflection?

To GENUFLECT is to ‘bow the knee’; to go down on one knee. It is the most profound and solemn form of bowing.

The most common form of bowing is a profound bow from the waist. Finally there is the simplest form in which the head alone is inclined slightly forward and down.

In Prayer

And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. (Jn. 1:14)

Those words are at the heart of the Gospel. It is only because of that one incomprehensible fact, delineated so elegantly by St. John, that we are able to reach out to God in prayer. Our objective in prayer is to offer our whole selves to God, to come before the Throne of Grace with profound humility and thanksgiving, to offer Him our selves, body, mind and spirit to seek joyful union with Him.

In Worship: Bowing the Knee

Under the Old (Jewish)Law, standing was the ordinary posture for prayer. Only in exceptional cases did one kneel. Early in the history of Christianity, however, kneeling for prayer become the norm rather than the exception. And a genuflection, accompanied by words or not, is nothing less than a momentary act of prayer. Alcuin (d. 804) wrote that by such posture we show forth our humbleness of heart. St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (d. 397) and other Christian apologists also delineated the rationale for genuflection.

The first ones to do reverence to Jesus by bowing the knee were the Magi, the three wise me who saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshiped him. (Mt. 2:11; cf Jn. 9:38)

And, ironically, on his last full day of life the soldiers in the Praetorium mocked him with the same act of ultimate submission.

And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him. (Mt. 27:29 cf. Mk. 15:19)

The Language of the Body in Worship

Yes, we use words to pray, but words alone cannot offer the whole self; indeed two other modes of prayer can be even more expressive of our love; silence amid the frantic noise of our society, thus prodiding opportunity for God to speak to us; and bodily expression of our love for Him.

Suppose you were to propose marriage to someone and were to demonstrate the depth of your love with devoted, selfless acts designed to benefit your beloved; and, further, suppose that your beloved were in return to declare love for you; but were to continue to hold you at arm’s length, to avoid all but the most modest expression of familiarity or intimacy, would you not soon infer that your beloved’s declaration of returned devotion was only a qualified acceptance of the fullness of love you offered?

How much more in the case of our Blessed Lord and of our declaration fo returned love and submission to His limitless love! He endured a humiliating passion and death by crucifixion to save each of us from a meaningless life and hopeless death. We need to develop and express our love for Him in every possible, in the way we live and move and have our being.

Whether we intend it or not, our bodies speak a language which often betrays more than our words intent; indeed, the language our bodies speak may actually contradict our words. Books devoted entirely to “body language” now flourish and “experts” abound.

Early in the twentieth century Baron Friedrich Von Hugel simply and beautifully illustrated the imperative nature of the body’s language in the character of love. He said:

I kiss my child because I love my child. I also kiss my child in order to love my child.

Without the kiss, love languishes in the shallows and likely will be misunderstood. With the kiss, the bow, the profound bow, the genuflection intent is shaped as well as expressed.

The Genuflection

The most profound expression of humility and reverence.

It is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every shall bow to me. (Rom. 14:11)

Wherefore God also hath highly exhalted him and given a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should boe, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and thing under the earth. (Phil. 2:9-10)

One follows this biblical injunction by touching the right nee to the floor.

Note: The right knee touched the floor. A curtsy is not a genuflection. Of course, age or physical disability modifies that obligation imposed on by St. Paul.

The Profound Bow

The next most solemn act of reverence.

Momentarily incline your head forward and down in reverence, submission, or shame. If the notion of submission rankles you or you feel you have done nothing of which you you should be ashamed, perhaps a visit with your priest might be the way to approach this subject. Leave and re-enter the pew for Holy Communion; therefore, genuflect.

[Note: The Blessed Sacrament is always on the altar from the Prayer of Consecration (BCP 80-81) until the Prayer of Thanksgiving (BCP, 83)].

Also genuflect at the Incarnatus in the Nicene Creed:

And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man. (BCP 71, CF JN. 1:14)

When to Genuflect

Examples of each of these three physical expressions of worship.

Genuflect: when the sanctuary lamp is lit, indicating that the Blessed Sacrament is Reserved, genuflect each time you enter or leave the pew, The candle/lamp hangs in the sanctuary, set in clear of red glass. (Anglican tradition suggests clear glass.)

Bow towards the altar: when first entering the pew and when lieaing after the Benediction (the final Blessing) if the Sacrament is not Reserved; however the Sacrament is on the altar when you leave and re-enter the pew for Holy communion; therefore, genuflect.

[Note: The Blessed Sacrament is always on the altar from the Prayer of Consecration (BCP, 83)].

Also genuflect at the Incarnatus in the Nicene Creed:

And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man. (BCP, 71)

Bow Profoundly: at the Words of Institution For in the night in which he was betrayed he took bread: and… (BCP 80) and whenever a genuflection is called for and you are able to genuflect.

Bow: At the name of Jesus except when you are seated for instruction (e.g. Homily/Sermon. At sch times you will always be seated.) Bow also as the processional cross/crucifix passes. Many also bow as the priest processes to and from the altar. The bow is not for the priest but for the office he is executing.