Crossing yourself during the elevation(s)


I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do the sign of the cross, but then I’m not exactly looking around during the elevation. I always cross my hands over my chest in an x-shape, and mutter “My Lord and my God” during the elevation of the Body. For the Blood, I cross my hands over my chest and whisper “have mercy, Lord”. Like in this painting:

It just seems right for me.



I cross myself before eating.
That’s the quickest prayer I know.

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We’ve had a new Manual of Indulgences since the 1960s now, and all those old indulgences by Popes like Pius X are no longer in force.
You might be able to still get a partial for “My Lord and My God” or “Dominus Meus et Deus Meus” under the new rules for “pious invocation” or “mental prayer”, but the wording of the prayer doesn’t matter, nor do you get a plenary for it.



I was taught to gently tap over one’s heart three times for each elevation. Hardly see that custom practiced anymore.

Some have taken to jingle their keys at the time bells would normally sound. As bells are not rung at the elevations for reasons unknown.



I can’t tell you whether you should or should not do this. But I do know in my diocese the bishop has asked that people not make the sign of the cross for the general absolution. In fact if I remember his document on liturgical norms recommends only making the sign of the cross at the prescribed times in the liturgy. I doubt most people in my diocese have any idea this document even exists. But, one may exists for your diocese that could help in your decision.



In general, rubrics are for clergy. Laity do whatever they want, as long as they do not do things collectively or make a big show. For example –

Anybody who studies the history of lay devotions will find out that elevation devotions have always been very diverse, and sometimes quite complicated. It used to be customary to say little poems or sing little songs at the elevation, but it got a bit loud with everybody saying different things.

So a pope instituted a devotion of looking at the Host and thinking, “My Lord and my God,” but not saying it out loud. However, this was not enforced. There was just an indulgence for looking and thinking it, and you did not earn the indulgence if you said it out loud. And that did the trick where things were getting loud, but did not kill off the poems and songs in any rude fashion; people just got silent or quieter.

And that is as enforced-ish as lay rubrics ever got, back in the mean old rigid old days, because laypeople can do whatever we feel like. (Not to be mean or irreverent, but that is how it is.)

So bishops really have no canon legal foot to stand on, when they come up with new ways to annoy the laity. Make your own decisions about this stuff. As long as you are not making blasphemous gestures, gesture however you like. Piety is not achieved by pew choreography.



The 2018 “Archdiocesan Liturgical Handbook” of the Archdiocese of Portland has:

"Additional Gestures and Postures
1.14.1 Unless approved for the Universal Church by the Holy See or for the local Church by
the competent Bishop’s Conference, other gestures and postures cannot be admitted
to the Sacred Liturgy. Liturgical law is prescriptive in nature and therefore the absence
of a prohibition does not allow for innovation. "

It can be accessed at



My guess would be this only applies to Portland.

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Laity out in the nave are not “admitted to the sacred liturgy” in that fashion, in canon law. The sacred liturgy is the stuff happening on the altar or at the lecterns. You could make a case for the choir, because we are clergy stand-ins. Nobody else. The laity in general “assist” at the sacred liturgy, and that is as far as it goes. The laity regulate themselves, other than things like “It is sacrilege to murder someone inside a church building.”

You want illegal gestures, that is where you find them - in the altar area… Not “thou shalt not sneeze twice in the pews.”

Argh. Clericalization of the laity – see where it leads? Madness. And breastfeeding posture regulations, probably, with diagrams of baby angles.

Back in the day, there was an instruction that at a Low Mass, the laity should kneel the whole time and say nothing, except when they stood to hear the Gospel. But it was only a guideline during Victorian times, might not have existed before then, and went away entirely in 1920.

The other guideline for laypeople was “do like the clergy do when they sit in choir ( ie, attend Mass in the pews).” But again, it was just a nice idea with no legal teeth.

Women sit on one side, men on the other? Nothing but a custom that the laity felt like doing, in some times and places. Do we want to do it now? No. The closest thing to a lay rubric was the hat regulations, and those went away. So why this craze to regulate our perpetual freedoms away? Because some people are bored?

If they want us to have rubrics, they can tonsure us and give us stipends.



And yes, holding hands during the Our Father is only iffy under canon law because people get boxed into doing it, it stretches over aisles, etc. Theologically and liturgically, it is not ideal, but as a lay custom it is pretty near untouchable. Sweet persuasion is the only way to legally end it. (Father doing it up on the altar? Kapow. Big difference under the law.)

So there is no reason to feel embarrassed about following a fairly widespread, long-surviving Eucharistic custom of the laity, like crossing oneself, especially since it bothers nobody (except maybe people not looking at the altar). If the servers or the deacon were doing it, that would be different.



I see a few people doing it at the Tridentine Mass. I have a tendency to copy the movements of the people around me because I’m just now becoming a regular Latin Mass attendee. I’m used to bowing at the elevation in the Ordinary Form, but I don’t know how many do it in the EF.



From the Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium of Vatican II:

"30. To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.

31 . The revision of the liturgical books must carefully attend to the provision of rubrics also for the people’s parts.

32 . …"

The complete document is at



Since the Marty Haugen Mass became the norm here, our chief celebrant has introduced a singalong following Prayers of the Faithful. Strange how this custom ceases when the bishop is celebrating Mass. Also strange that the bells were not rung for the elevations when his excellency was visiting recently.



Often the bow is made when the priest genuflects. The purpose of the elevation is so that the faithful may see the Most Holy and adore Him.



I touch my heart with my fist and mouth the words, “My Lord and my God.”



Since there is no prescribed Liturgical gesture, any private devotional gesture or prayer which one feels is appropriate to make is permissible. (Within reason and general orthodoxy obviously. Don’t jump up, shout “ALLELUIA!” then do a backflip…)



Whatever the “legal” answer is - I wish that it would be enforced universally in the entire church, or an entire country, or an entire diocese, or at least at a single parish.

What we have already in our parish church is that we have about 20 different personal liturgies going on which contradict each other. People randomly kneeling when they should be standing, or sitting when they should be kneeling (I’m not talking about the elderly or handicapped). Some have their hands raised for the entire Mass. Some raise hands for every laity response. Some kneel continuously from immediately after the sermon (or the creed) until the priest is out the door at the end of Mass. Signs of the cross sort of just appear at random times as well.

I can only wonder what potential converts are thinking when they stop at our church to see how things work. They are probably afraid to come back either because they don’t know “who is doing it right”, or else they think that “do your own thing” is not for them.

Just some thoughts.

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How would you recommend that the church go about enforcing the uniformity that you desire? Should ushers walk by and motion devout souls off their knees because they are kneeling at the wrong time? Should the priest call them out from the pulpit?

I kind of get your desire for general uniformity, but there has to be some space for the freedom of an individual. The Church is not the military. We aren’t required to march to our pews with a 30-inch step and precise arm swing.

I do highly recommend that you stay away from Eastern Churches. While there are general expectations (stand, stand, stand some more, sit for the epistle, stand some more, sit for the homily, stand, stand, stand, stand… until your feet fall off), actual practice varies widely and there are many, many individual practices of devotion that you would certainly find distracting.



A good start would be for the pastor to say “from now on, here’s what we’re going to do…” That wouldn’t be so hard, would it?

Thanks for the heads up.

It is only very recently that the do-your-own-thing started in the “western” churches (IMHO). But once it gets a foothold, then where does it stop? Really, where does it stop? When is it too much? And if people can do-their-own-Mass, why not do-your-own-definition-of-what’s-sin-and what’s-not. We are seeing this already.



That sounds like a good plan. :slight_smile: You talked about enforcement, which led me to form a mental image of uniformed ushers removing non-compliant individuals from the church. Education is always good. Bulletin inserts, announcements, flyers in the back of the church, the good example of others. I just can’t see how some sort of top-down enforcement would be desirable.

I don’t know. I’m a lifelong Eastern Catholic and not old enough to remember Mass pre-Vatican II, but I do occasionally attend an Extraordinary Form Mass at an FSSP parish. There is not an extreme level of uniformity of posture and gestures at that parish. I sit in the back (so that I can know what to do by watching others) and I notice that some people will sit while others kneel.

I’m just really not seeing how this follows. Do you honestly believe that an individual, having been moved by the Eucharistic presence of Christ, who makes a spontaneous, pious, and religiously appropriate gesture is on the slippery slope to moral relativism? That making the sign of the cross or kneeling at the “wrong” time is somehow destructive to the integrity of the Mass? This is where you lose me entirely. Yes, I think that the faithful should, generally speaking, kneel, sit, and stand at the times determined by the Church and make the appropriate gestures. I’m not so concerned about private gestures outside of these times. They don’t distract me at all and I don’t believe that making the sign of the cross is incompatible with orderly worship. But, I can’ see your concern here as well. I don’t believe that these personal gestures are forbidden in the Mass, but since there seems to be so much confusion and strong opinion on the subject, it seems like it would be prudent for the bishops to issue some sort of clarification on the topic.


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