The Zion Blog > Ask the Pastors > Lutheran Practices


Crossing Oneself

Question😕 ?Hey Pastor, I?m curious about this practice of crossing oneself.? I?m seeing it practiced more and more in Lutheran churches these days.? Back when I was a kid in confirmation classes we were taught absolutely, positively, never, ever to do that!? I?ve not found anything in print about this ?new? practice.? Has the Synod put out anything?

?Also, are there any pamphlets or copies of pages from your ?Pastors Little Instruction Book? you could give me?? I?m very curious as to the how, why and when this is done.

?And, lastly, once you do start with this practice, do you always have to keep on doing it (like Catholics automatically do) or is it something you can to do as the Spirit moves you??

Answer: Great questions!? Thanks for asking.? First of all, I was taught the same thing about crossing oneself ? not so much by my pastor but more so by my ?hard core? LCMS mother!? You know…? ?Only the Catholics cross themselves!?

Actually, I didn?t cross myself until I went to the seminary where I was first taught what crossing oneself is all about.? By the way, most (but not all) of the men there did cross themselves.? Essentially, crossing oneself is a symbolic, physical reminder that it?s through the cross of Christ that we have peace between God and us.? The sign of the cross is first made over us at our Holy Baptism where the Pastor says:? ?Receive the sign of the holy cross both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as redeemed by Christ, the crucified.?? (Lutheran Worship, p. 199)? From that point forward, that person lives their life ?under the cross of Christ? ? that is, they live as a child of God, made acceptable to Him through faith in Christ?s work on the cross.

Martin Luther even encouraged crossing oneself.? In every Lutheran catechism that I?ve seen, it has these words of Luther regarding the Christian?s beginning of his Morning (and Evening) Prayers: ?In the morning (evening), when you get up (go to bed), make the sign of the holy cross and say:? In the name of the Father and of the ? Son and of the Holy Ghost.? Amen.?? (Yes, it has been there all along!)

You asked what the ?right way? to cross oneself is.? From one of my liturgy books it says:? ?The sign of the cross is made by holding the palm of the right hand flat, thumb and fingers together, and by touching with the tips of the fingers to the forehead saying:? ?My Lord Jesus Christ came down from heaven?, then touch the breast (sternum) saying: ?and was incarnate for me.?? This is followed by touching the right shoulder with the words ?and was crucified for me.?? And finally by touching the left shoulder saying: ?and entered into my heart.?

There you have it…? the ?official? way of doing it!? Actually, I simply hold my index and middle fingers together with the thumb held against them and make the motion from forehead to sternum to right shoulder to left shoulder and back to the sternum.? I don?t usually say the words
as suggested in the above paragraph.? Rather, I think to myself that it is through the cross of Christ under which I live that I am an adopted child of God.? And through that same cross I shall receive an undeserved inheritance in heaven.

The final question revolved around the issue of when or how often one can make the sign of the cross upon one?s self.? These also are good
questions.? Look in the liturgy section of our Lutheran Worship hymnal.? Notice wherever it has a red cross in the liturgy.? That is a suggested place where the worshipper MAY cross him/herself.? It is always appropriate for the worshipper to sign themselves whenever the pastor makes the motion of the cross upon the congregation as well as during the words of the Invocation and the Benediction.? Finally, from another section in my liturgy book, this is stated:? ?It is appropriate to make the sign of the cross at the words of the Nicene Creed ?…and the life of the world to come.??

I believe another appropriate time to sign oneself is during the words of dismissal after receiving the Sacrament of the Altar where the pastor says:? ?…depart in peace and joy.?

Again, crossing oneself is to be done ONLY if one is comfortable with doing it.? If it is threatening or discomforting, then one ought to avoid it.? Essentially it all boils down to Christian liberty in such matters.? Dr. Luther (and Lutherans for many generations) DID cross themselves.? It is in relatively recent Lutheran history that Lutherans by and large have abandoned this historic Christian practice.

In conclusion, St. Paul?s words come to mind:? ?…whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him? (Colossians 3:17 NIV).? Whatever actions we do as part of our faith life, we do it as a reminder of our Lord Jesus who came, died, and rose for us!

Pastor Rock