As Catholics, there is one prayer that we pray the most frequently, and surprisingly, it is not the Hail Mary or the Our Father. We may not think of it as a prayer of its own, but the Sign of the Cross with which we begin all other prayers is perhaps the most powerful sign and prayer of our Catholic Tradition. By making the outward sign with our hands and speaking the words, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” we mark ourselves as Christians and offer our words and deeds to God as being spoken and done in His name.

Furthermore, we profess our belief in the Triune God, who is one God in three persons. 

We begin with the Father because it is from the Father that the Son proceeds. The Father sends the Son to take on a human nature so as to bring about our salvation. Hence, we begin by touching our forehead and move downwards towards our chest as a sign of the procession of the Son from the Father and His descent into the world through the Incarnation. Finally, we cross our hand over our heart from one shoulder to the other as we name the Holy Spirit, symbolizing that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son as the Love that they have for one another. 

Along with symbolizing the relationship of the Holy Trinity, making the Sign of the Cross with our hands can also symbolize the life of the Christian and remind us of our mission. First, we touch our heads, signifying that we must offer all our thoughts to God and pray without ceasing. Second, we move down towards our stomach, wherein we receive the literal Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ into our very bodies through the Eucharist, thus signifying that we must remain close to the sacraments always. Finally, we cross over our hearts, for we are also called to love God and all of mankind, excluding no one, as we extend our hand across our entire chest from one shoulder to the other.

Because we make the Sign of the Cross so frequently and rarely ever on its own, it is easy to forget the significance of the act and the words which we profess. However, the power of the Sign of the Cross cannot and should not be underestimated, for by making it, we profess the power of the Triune God and of the cross by which He redeemed us and conquered sin. St. John Henry Newman expressed this power in his poem, “The Sign of the Cross”:

WHENE’ER across this sinful flesh of mine  

 I draw the Holy Sign,  

All good thoughts stir within me, and renew  

 Their slumbering strength divine;  

Till there springs up a courage high and true

 To suffer and to do.  

And who shall say, but hateful spirits around,  

 For their brief hour unbound,  

Shudder to see, and wail their overthrow?  

 While on far heathen ground

Some lonely Saint hails the fresh odor, though  

 Its source he cannot know.

If you have fallen into the habit of making the Sign of the Cross methodically and without thinking, perhaps you can make an effort to not rush through the act and the words of this powerful prayer, but allow it to stir within you all good thoughts and cause all evil thoughts and hateful spirits to disperse.