August 14, 2016
Why do people cross themselves during the service and when would a person do so?
This question certainly falls under the personal piety category of "all may, some should, but none must" cross oneself in church. In the Diocese of Southern Virginia, where I grew up, crossing oneself would have been considered a papist accretion inconsistent with low church piety. The place that I observed people crossing themselves was at St. Pius X, my parish in Norfolk, or on the ACC game of the week at the foul line with all the Brooklyn and Queens basketball players recruited to fill out those teams. Therefore, no one needs to concern him or herself with this issue during church unless one wants to.
If you want to concern yourself with this, then here is what is behind it. At baptism the priest marks the newly baptized child with chrism in the sign of the cross and says, "N, you sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and marked as Christ's own forever (BCP page307)." From that point on in the life of a Christian, remembering baptism is an important recollection. For each person. Each Eucharistic service offers a number of opportunities to make this connection to baptism.
Here are the most appropriate times in a church service to cross oneself:
- At the opening acclamation, especially in the period after Pentecost where the presider says: "Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." It is the opening act of recalling Christ and preparing to receive his body and blood.
- At the pronouncement of the absolution after the confession. This applies because at baptism the Christian is washed clean of sin, and in absolution the Christian is assured that the claim of forgiveness is assured.
- During the Nicene Creed, when the body proclaims the resurrection of the dead because baptism is traditionally considered a prerequisite to this event.
- At the final blessing as the final action of the service before entering the world once again.
The Rev. David Lucey