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Catholics make this gesture during or after prayer, by using their right hand to touch the forehead, then the middle of the breast, then the left shoulder, and finally the right shoulder.

Is this the sign of the cross?

Does it symbolize Trinity?

What is the role of this gesture?

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The Orthodox also use the sign of the Cross, though I believe it is slightly different. –  Narnian Jul 24 '13 at 12:13
    
I believe the Orthodox cross from right to left, not left to right. –  Andrew Leach Jul 24 '13 at 12:23
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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The gesture you describe is indeed the Sign of the Cross. Making that gesture is called "crossing oneself".

The Sign of the Cross is called a sacramental. These are "sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church." [CCC 1667]

When crossing oneself, one is blessing (or, strictly, invoking God's blessing) on oneself. A blessing is not reserved to clergy, laypeople can bless; and particularly can bless themselves.

Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood: every baptized person is called to be a "blessing," and to bless. Hence lay people may preside at certain blessings...

CCC 1671 deals specifically with the Sign of the Cross.

Among sacramentals, blessings (of persons, meals, objects, and places) come first. Every blessing praises God and prays for his gifts. In Christ, Christians are blessed by God the Father "with every spiritual blessing."175 This is why the Church imparts blessings by invoking the name of Jesus, usually while making the holy sign of the cross of Christ.

The sign is not representative of the Trinity per se, even though it normally accompanies the Trinitarian formula "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (with each of the capitalised words of the Persons coinciding with the ends of the arms of the cross in the gesture). It represents the Cross, the symbol of Christ's triumph over death.

CCC 617 says

His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross merited justification for us.450

and thus we use that symbol of his passion as the symbol of justification and the sign of blessing.


175: Cf Ephesians 1:3
450: Council of Trent: DS 1529.

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The Sign of the Cross combines the Trinitarian formula "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost", which Christ commanded to be used for baptism, with the cross, by which Christ obtained for us the possibility of baptism for the remission of our sins.

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