Every time we go to the church, we can make like multiple signs of the cross during the mass. Is it wrong if I make my sign of the cross by just speaking or with my mind other than doing it repeatedly with my hand?

  • Around 200 C.E. Tertullian wrote: "We Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the cross". This article gives the history, but does not say why Catholics have to physically make the sign: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sign_of_the_cross#Catholicism
    – Lesley
    Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 14:39
  • 1
    The answer is going to depend somewhat on why you don't want to make the sign of the cross physically. Why is it? Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 14:50
  • How else would you make it? It's not a cross unless it's visible. And that's kind of the point. Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 20:11

4 Answers 4


The reason a Catholic does physical acts of devotion, and not simply mental ones, is because he is composed of a body and a soul. Bodily acts affect one's soul.

St. Thomas Aquinas writes in Summa Theologica II-II q. 84 a. 2 co.:

As Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iv, 12*), since we are composed of a twofold nature, intellectual and sensible, we offer God a twofold adoration; namely, a spiritual adoration, consisting in the internal devotion of the mind; and a bodily adoration, which consists in an exterior humbling of the body. And since in all acts of latria* that which is without is referred to that which is within as being of greater import, it follows that exterior adoration is offered on account of interior adoration, in other words we exhibit signs of humility in our bodies in order to incite our affections to submit to God, since it is connatural to us to proceed from the sensible to the intelligible.

*"Concerning Worship towards the East" (ad orientem)
**worship due to God alone

  • 1
    This is too often forgotten; it pertains to the sacraments, too. Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 17:58
  • 1
    @SolaGratia Yes, that's why the sacraments (physical signs) are necessary for us humans.
    – Geremia
    Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 18:04

Why do we have to make the Sign of the Cross physically?

There are several reasons why we make the sign of the cross physically.

  • Man is composed of a soul and a body. As such the body is united in the prayer of the soul though a physical action.
  • The sign of the cross sets us apart from other men.
  • Our salvation was secured by the Cross which hung the Savior of the World.
  • The Devil flees from the sign of the cross.
  • The sign of the cross is a blessing in itself.

The first “sign of the cross” that early Christians made was tracing a small cross on their foreheads. Around the year 200, Tertullian, an early Christian theologian, wrote about this sign: “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 forehead with the sign of the cross.” By the fifth century, other Christian writers reveal that the sign of the cross was also being made on the lips and on the chest. Over time, Christians began making large crosses over their bodies as Catholics do today. It is unknown exactly when and how that developed, but the sign of the cross as we know it today is probably about 1000 years old. - Why do Catholics make the Sign of the Cross?

The Sign of the Cross is the sign of the Christian, that is to say, it is the outward sign which distinguishes the Christian from other men. And why is this?

1st. Because it recalls to him who makes it, and to those who see it made, that Jesus Christ is the God of Christians and the Lord of their whole lives. Because it reminds us that God has loved us so much as to give Himself up for our sakes to suffer on the Cross, and that we must love Him with our whole hearts. It places incessantly before our eyes Jesus Christ crucified; and Jesus crucified is the Divine and living rule of life to each one of His disciples, and His sacred Cross their moral law. The sign of the Cross recalls to him who makes it with reverence and devotion that he is bound to imitate in his daily conduct the penance, mortification, humility, meekness, patience, detachment, chastity, and obedience of his Master; His love for His heavenly Father and His Blessed Mother, and toward all men; His mercy to His enemies, and His love of suffering.

2nd. The Sign of the Cross is distinctively the sign of the Christian, because it reminds him of the blessed eternity which awaits him. It was after His passion and death that Jesus rose again. And by His Cross He entered into glory. And so it must be with His disciples. Their glory in heaven must be the full fruition of the crucified life they have led on earth, like unto the life of their Saviour. The Gospel also declares to us that when He shall come at the last day to judge the world, the sacred sign of the Cross shall appear in the heavens, to be recognized by the elect with thankfulness and love, and by the reprobate with fear and trembling; for then shall it be the disciples of the Cross, and none but they, whom He will acknowledge for His Own.

3rd. It is the sign of the Christian because it brings before his mind the most important doctrines of the Catholic religion. It recalls the mystery of the holy and undivided Trinity, for in making it we say, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; three persons, but one God. In the name; and not, In the names. And also the mystery of the Incarnation, that is to say, the coming down of the Son of God from Heaven to earth, to assume a body and soul like ours in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary; for, in saying "In the Name of the Son," we move the hand down from the forehead to the breast, a lively image of the annihilation of the Son of God, who reposes in the hearts of the faithful, as formerly in the chaste womb of Mary. And, again, the mystery of the Redemption, since it was upon the Cross He died to wash away our sins, to merit for us pardon and salvation, and to open the gates of Heaven which sin had closed. And the mystery of the Church of God, that great society of the disciples of Jesus Christ, that perfect union, holy, Catholic, and apostolic, of the children of the Cross; since, being the same for all, it is necessarily the sign of their union in one body under one head: a most distinctive mark of the Catholic Church, for it recalls by its unity that the Church is one, and by its universality that the Church is Catholic. - The Sign of the Cross

St. Benedict of Nursia is known the have been saved from being poisoned and of making the Devil flee with the sign of the cross.

How Benedict, by the Sign of the Holy Cross, broke a drinking glass in pieces.

Taking counsel together, they agreed to poison his wine: which being done, and the glass wherein that wine was, according to the custom, offered to the Abbot to bless, he, putting forth his hand, made the sign of the cross, and straightway the glass, that was held far off, broke in pieces, as though the sign of the cross had been a stone thrown against it: on which accident the man of God by and by perceived that the glass had in it the drink of death, which could not endure the sign of life. Rising up, with a mild countenance and quiet mind, he called the monks together, and spoke thus to them:

"Almighty God have mercy on you, and forgive you: why have you used me in this manner? Did not I tell you before hand, that our manner of living could never agree together? Go your ways, and seek ye out some other father suitable to your own conditions, for I intend not now to stay any longer among you." - Chapter 3: How Benedict, by the Sign of the Holy Cross, broke a drinking glass in pieces.

How Venerable Benedict, by his prayer removed a huge stone. In giving the stone his blessing, he would have made the sign of the cross over it. It is after all the traditional way of blessing things!

On a certain day, when the monks were building up the cells of the same Abbey, there lay a stone which they meant to employ about that business: and when two or three were not able to remove it, they called for more company, but all in vain, for it remained so immovable as though it had grown to the very earth.

They plainly perceived that the devil himself sat on it, seeing so may men's hands could not so much as once move it: wherefore, finding that their own labors could do nothing, they sent for the man of God, to help them with his prayers against the devil, who hindered the removing of that stone. The holy man came, and after some praying, he gave it his blessing, and then they carried it away so quickly, as though it had been of no weight at all. - Chapter 9: How Venerable Benedict, by his prayer removed a huge stone.

How Holy Benedict knew the proud thoughts of one of his monks.

Once upon a time, while the venerable Father was at supper, one of his monks, who was the son of a great man, held the candle. As he was standing there, and the other ate his meal, he began to entertain a proud thought in his mind. He spoke to himself: "Who is he, that I wait on him at supper and hold him the candle? and who am I, that I should do him any such service?"

Immediately the holy man turned and with severe rebuke spoke to him: "Sign your heart, brother, for what is it that you say? Sign your heart." Forthwith he called another of the monks, and bid him take the candle out of his hands. He commanded him to cease his waiting, and to retire.

Benedict, being demanded of the monks what it was that he had thought, told them, how inwardly that monk had swelled with pride, and what he spoke against the man of God, secretly in his heart.

Then they all realized very well that nothing could be hidden from venerable Benedict, seeing that the very sound of men's inward thoughts came to his ears. - Chapter 20: How Holy Benedict knew the proud thoughts of one of his monks.


In the Orthodox Church, the body is viewed as sacred and is an important component of worship. It is for this reason that we have many physical rituals: baptism, communion, chrismation, prostration, veneration of icons, etc. It is also the reason that incense is used during services, so that we pray not only with our minds, but our noses to. Indeed, one goal is to pray with all 5 senses.

Viewed this way, making the sign of the cross is an important physical ritual. It reminds us that we too are made in the image of Christ, and that we should follow his way.

That being said, I read in the tone of your message that you dislike making the sign. This is something that is important to investigate, like anything associated with church. I think it is important to understand why you dislike it, and find ways to grow spiritually. After all, the mind and body are connected. Indeed, I have heard that we too have a trinity: Mind, body, and our interaction with others, must like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We're made in His image after all.


The present Sign of the Cross that we have could in fact, be the short-form of a larger one, which is still practiced in India , as one enters the church, before listening to the Gospel Reading during Holy Mass, before starting the recitation of Rosary, etc. Full text of the prayer ( which most probably, is a translation of prayer in Syriac) goes something like this:

"By the sign of the Holy Cross,(cross- sign is made on the forehead while that is said ) save us from our enemies (cross-sign is made on the lips ) Oh, our Lord (cross-sign is made on the chest ) In the name of the Father (forehead is touched with the palm) And of the Son (chest is touched with the palm) And of the Holy Spirit (both shoulders are touched with the palm ) Amen.

(PS: I have not been able to lay hands on the original English Text of the prayer. )

By physical enactment of the prayer, one pleads to God to sanctify one's brain(thoughts) lips (words) and heart (deeds) . Interestingly, the Priest who administers Last Sacrament to someone on death-bed, makes the full Sign of the Cross on the recipient as a part of the Sacrament. Finally, remember that the Lord touched and healed many !!

  • Also, a longer version is commonly said while making the sign of the cross in the forehead, the mouth and the chest: "By the sign of the cross deliver us from our enemies, you who are our God. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." After the "you who are our God" part is recited, the ritual then proceeds with the normal Catholic sign of the cross as explained above.Wikipedia - Sign of the cross
    – Flakes
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 7:33

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