The modern world, that world that calls itself Christian and to which without a doubt belong all your friends, could be compared to a ship that has suffered shipwreck, many damages, and is about to perish. The Church, compared also to a Ship, has always been battered by strong tempests, which have opened huge gaps through which anti-Christian doctrines, uses, practices and tendencies have long been introduced. I give an urgent warning then, not to the Ship, which is imperishable, but to Its passengers, who are not. What has happened? I do not speak of the world that is openly pagan for its shipwreck is already accomplished. I speak about the world that still pretends to be Christian. This world has thrown into the sea everything, or almost everything!
Where’s common prayer in families? Sunk in the sea –Pious readings, meditation? Sunk in the sea –Graces and blessings during meals? Sunk in the sea –Habitual attendance at Holy Mass, the scapular, the Rosary? Sunk in the sea –Where’s the regular worthy reception of the Sacraments, the laws of fasting and abstinence? Sunk in the sea –The spirit of simplicity and mortification in dress and eating? Sunk in the sea –The Crucifix, holy images, holy water in our bedrooms? Sunk in the sea, sunk in the sea. Meanwhile, the ship continues to sink. The Christian spirit decreases; the opposing spirit gains ground very quickly. We go to Low Mass on Sunday, and God knows with what devotion! We go to Sung Mass 3 or 4 times a year; to Vespers, we do not go anymore! We go to spectacles and to dances; we read everything that we get our hands on; we do not share anything except that which we should not even have!!! Behold the fragile ships into which we trust our own salvation! No wonder there are so many shipwrecks! Poor passengers, separated from the Great Ship, how much you have to cry!
Among all the Catholic practices that have been abandoned so imprudently by the modern world, there is ONE, worthy of respect among them all, that I would like to save from shipwreck at any cost! It is that which your peers openly reject without knowing what they are doing: The Sign of the Cross. It is the time to see to its preservation. Go to a church one day and examine the crowd that comes to the House of God. Many do not make the Sign of the Cross: others make It badly, or just pretend to make It. It is a disconcerting fact: Today’s Christians do not make the Sign of the Cross, make It rarely, or make It badly. On this point, as in many others, we do the opposite of what our ancestors, the Christians of the primitive Church did. They made the Sign of the Cross: they made It well, and they made It frequently.
In the East as in the West, in Jerusalem, in Athens, in Rome, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, priests and faithful observed religiously this Tradition. Tertullian says: “At every moment and for everything, on entering and on going out, when bathing, when dressing, when eating, when going to bed, when we do all other things, we make the Sign of the Cross on our foreheads.” They made the Sign of the Cross, not only on their foreheads, but on their eyes, on their mouths, on their breasts. So, if our Christian ancestors made the Sign of the Cross at every moment, we are obliged to conclude that they were obeying an Apostolic recommendation; they lived around the time of the Apostles, who conversed with the Incarnate Word in Person. This closeness in time to the Apostles is one of the reasons to imitate them and make the Sign of the Cross.
A second reason to imitate the early Christians in making the Sign of the Cross is their sanctity. The first Christians were not only better instructed on the doctrine of the Apostles, but they were most faithful in practicing it. The proof is their holy persons. There is no better established fact than the fact that sanctity was the general character of the first Christians. They loved to lose everything, their goods and their lives in the midst of afflictions rather than offend God. Their heroism lasted as long as the persecutions, that is THREE centuries. They were charitable! Heaven and Earth united to make their love for each other a unique praise in the annals of the world. “See how they love each other and how they are always ready to die for each other” exclaimed the pagans. The Fathers of the Church, actual eye-witnesses, have also continued to render the most splendid testimony of their holiness. Tertullian, addressing the judges, praetorians and consuls of the empire, made this solemn challenge: “I appeal to your processes, O you who are in charge of administering justice. Among that multitude of accused people that is brought daily before your tribunals, which is the assassin, the sacrilegious, the corrupt, the thief who is a Christian? Prisons are overcrowded only with your own people.”
In the world, the traditional use of the Redemptive Sign comes down to us in a parallel line. All the great men, those incomparable geniuses of East and West, whom we call the Fathers of the Church: Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius, Ambrose, Gregory, Basil, Augustine, John Chrysostom, Jerome, and so many others, all these respectable beings made the Sign of the Cross, and recommended with ardor to all the Christians to make It at every occasion.
A third motive to make the Sign of the Cross is that the Church uses It. As centuries go by, men change with the times, Laws, habits, fashions, languages, ways of thinking, seeing and judging. The Church alone does not change. Immutable as truth itself, of which She is the Teacher, that which She taught and did yesterday, teaches and does today, will teach and will do tomorrow and always. What are Her thoughts, Her conduct regarding the Sign of the Cross? There is no point on which Her divine immutability is more splendidly visible! For 21 centuries up to today, it could be said that the Church lives with the Sign of the Cross; there’s no instant in which She stops using It. She starts, continues, and undertakes everything with this Sign (†).
Among all Her practices, the Sign of the Cross is the principal one, the most common, the most familiar. It is the soul of Her exorcisms, of Her prayers, of Her blessings. That which we see Her do before our own eyes in our churches, She did in the catacombs before the eyes of our forefathers in the Faith. She takes possession of everything through the Sign of the Cross. Everything She uses: water, salt, bread, wine, fire, rocks, wood, oils, balsam, bronze, precious metals, houses, camps, everything is blessed with the Sign of the Cross. Observe above all the conduct of the Church with respect to man who is a living temple of the Trinity. The first thing She does over him, as he comes out of his mother’s womb, is the Sign of the Cross. The last thing, when he re-enters the womb of the earth, is still the Sign of the Cross. This is Her first salutation and also Her last good-bye towards Her dear children.
In the interval between the cradle and the grave how many Signs of the Cross are made over man! At baptism, through which we become children of God, the Sign of the Cross; at Confirmation, through which we are made soldiers of virtue, the Sign of the Cross; in receiving the Eucharist, when we are nourished with the Bread of Angels, the Sign of the Cross; in Confession, through which we recover divine life, the Sign of the Cross; when we receive Extreme Unction, through which we are fortified for the last battle, the Sign of the Cross; at Ordination and Holy Matrimony, through which we become associated to the paternity of God Himself, the Sign of the Cross. Always and everywhere, today as in other times, in the East as in the West, the Sign of the Cross is made over men.
Taken from Il Segno della Croce by Msgr Gaume