Why do Catholics make the sign of the cross? What does it mean? Is it just a gesture or superstition?
The sign of the cross dates back to the second century in the Early Church. It started out with making the cross on the forehead with the thumb or index finger but then changed into a larger cross on the forehead, chest and shoulders. People used it to secretly mark themselves during religious persecution. In the ninth century, Pope Leo IX instructed the faithful on this devotional/prayer. It is a reminder of the crucifixion and suffering of Jesus.
We bless ourselves with holy water and the sign of the cross when we come into or out of a church, during a sacrament, and in remembrance of our Baptismal promises. Catholics usually begin and end all prayers with the sign of the cross. What we are saying is the prayer or request “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen” When we say a prayer in the name of the Trinity as above, we are calling upon them with confidence that our prayers will be answered and in love and worship of the Trinity. The word “Amen” means “I believe”. When we do this, we are asking for and receiving grace from God.
Making the sign of the cross is a prayer in itself. A very reverent devotion a person can do is every time you pass by a Catholic Church, is to make the sign of the cross as you pass. Why do that? Because, Jesus is in the Church in the Eucharist in the Tabernacle. You are saying you believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I do this every time I pass by one even if I’m just passing by in another town.
Another thing you can do, every time you see an ambulance or life-flight helicopter for someone ill, make the sign of the cross in a prayer for the removal of their sins and salvation of their soul, also for their quick recovery.
If you ever feel alone, lonely, in danger, or that evil may be around you, make the sign of the cross and this will help to keep your soul safe and keep the safety and security of all of heaven around you.
Making the sign of the cross with holy water also absolves your venial (little) sins. Make the sign of the cross often. Keep a bottle of holy water handy and do it before you go to bed, get up in the morning, leave the house, return home, feeling ill, anytime that you feel the need. The sign of the cross is a short, humble little prayer but so powerful.