Yesterday at mass, the priest tried to relate the custom of making the sign of the cross to the feast of the Blessed Holy Trinity to his homily. He then started to a story when he went to the Sacred Heart Parish in Cubao and saw as the jeepney passed the Church made the sign of the cross. He felt curious and asked himself if does the jeepney driver is aware of what he is doing?
Not so eloquent in his sermon; the making of the sign of the cross is a Roman Catholic custom as he also confessed in last of his sermon as if he is saying implicitly that it is not a custom from the place where he came that’s why he is baffled when he first came in the Philippines. As if the making of the sign of the Cross is only active here in he Philippines! However, the homily became problematical when the priest tried to separate the idea of the cross being both a “sign” and a “symbol.” He asked the congregation first if we think that the sign of the cross then is really a cross, and so those who believe shall raise their hand. So as a summary of his sermon is relative; or to say it could have two meaning which falls being a sign and a symbol. For him, it is not a cross if not accompanied by this thought: he insisted that it should also be accompanied by saying “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” therefore, without it from thought and mean that it is not a cross but a symbol. I actually have no problem about accompanying it with the name of God since it is the basic that whenever we do the sign of the cross, in our mind and heart we say “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And these two is inseparable (CCC 2157). My head is starting to ache but I have to keep my patience up and there was a part of history said by Tertullian that echoes in my mind yesterday which says:
“In all our travels, in our coming in and going out, in putting on our clothes and our shoes, at table, in going to rest, whatever we are doing we mark our forehead with the sign of the cross.”
Technically, the making of the sign of the cross has been a custom even back then from the 3rd century in time of Tertullian and even could be more earlier, since all of Christianity understood that the cross is the power of God (c.f. 1 Corinthian 1:18) In addition, Saint Ephrem the Syrian writes in 4th century:
“With the sign of the living cross, seal all thy doings, my son. Go not forth from the door of thy house till thou hast signed the cross. Whether in eating or in drinking, whether in sleeping or in waking, whether in thy house or on the road, or again in the season of leisure, neglect not this sign; for there is no guardian like it. It shall be unto thee as a wall, in the forefront of all thy doings. And teach this to thy children, that heedfully they be conformed to it.”
So okay fine, the jeepney driver and all of us is just in being of custom of doing the sign of the Cross, but as part of correction, it is not only ‘us’ Roman Catholics and Anglicans as he says are using the sign of the cross, because even the Orthodox and Lutheran Churches and other churches not to mention here are doing so following the Traditions of the Fathers.
But what irritates me is the Cross being just a symbol or a sign and not being both because it is both in reality. When we recite our faith every Sunday we recite the Nicene Creed and as CCC 188 explains us the word Creed or Credo also came from the Greek word symbolon, it went further stating the creed being as “symbol of faith.” As the creed summarize the Christian faith, so the cross summarize the Salvation History, it is as the same as what the understanding of what the symbolon “a token of recognition,” and “broken part being placed together to bear the identity of the bearer.” The cross, again summarize the Salvation History, being the fulfillment of all the broken covenants, the unity of the scattered image of God in the earth gathered as one his Church which is his body, the Catholic Church: and to add the Catholic Encyclopedia even says “by the gesture of tracing two lines intersecting at right angles they indicate symbolically the figure of Christ’s cross.” Thus, saying the Cross is just a “symbol” as a derogatory term is an insult to the Salvation History and God’s plan, because it is the icon of God’s plan, people and with the Christ crucified.
The Cross is also a “Sign”, and cannot be separated from the concept of “Symbol” the word “Sign” came from Latin word signum which means “mark”. In this concept of the Cross gives us a picture or an item of God’s persons working with Christ, being God the Father as Creator, the Son as Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as Sustainer.” The father, who is also the creator of the new generation, Christ being its first-born and Redeemer, and which the Holy Spirits sustains and sanctified. All of these starts from the cross, which before has an image of death but now life, destroyer of life, but now a redeemer, and a picture of crimes but now of strength and holiness.
The jeepney might not be aware of these theological implications, but it is a “a priori” act of a confession to Christ, in the unity of the Father and the Holy Spirit that saves us through our Lord Jesus Christ. As a Christian I believe what making us move with this simple act is not due to knowledge nor by reasons but by faith. Faith is what moves mountains, not wisdom nor knowledge, and faith is what cause obedience, not reasons or intellect. The Father called us, and the Holy Spirit moves us to get and open our hearts to Christ and as we do the sign of the cross, we confess in the Church where the Eucharist rest, that Jesus Christ is Lord.