Question about the Sign of the Cross

First of all, I have a great respect for the Catholic Church, my dad’s family is Catholic so I grew up knowing the faith though I was raised in a traditional Lutheran church. So please don’t think I am attacking the faith when I ask this question.

I was reading an article in my mom’s synod’s magazine concerning why Lutherans seldom make the sign of the cross. Here’s the quote:

Furthermore, crossing oneself is more than a pervasive custom for Catholics. It is a sacrament that earns indulgences. Extra indulgences are earned if holy water is used.

Though the article points out positive aspects of making the sign of the cross, this quote threw me for a loop. I know the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church and the sign of the cross is NOT one of them.

But is it considered an indulgence? I always thought it was a prayer, and when made with holy water, it is a reminder of one’s baptism.

I make the sign of the cross when I attend Mass (I go once a week when I am at college, I have a disability, and the priest at the campus parish worked at a therapy camp I went to as a child, so he welcomed me into the campus parish community). I also make it when I am praying with my Catholic friends and family members, sometimes I even do it privately.

I am just very confused right now.

Thank You!

Yeah, I think it’s an indulgence, but I’m not sure.

It not a sacrament and not sure about the indulegences tho! But I do know that it is a reminder of what Jesus did for us on the cross as well as the trinty God in three persons.

It is true that making the Sign of the Cross can gain a partial indulgence. It is a sacramental, not a sacrament.

You are correct that the sign of the cross is not a sacrament.
The sign of the cross is a prayer. Holy water is a sacramental.

Both making the sign of the cross and using holy water are effective in giving you God’s graces - that is, God’s help for you to become more holy.

By itself, making the sign of the cross does not gain indulgences.

The sign of the cross is a sacramental, not a sacrament.A sacramental is a sacred sign that signifies effects obtained through the Church’s intercession. While all of the seven Sacraments are Christ-instituted and always do exactly what they signify ex opere operato (“from the deed done”), sacramentals are usually Church-instituted (though some are Christ-instituted). They work through the power and prayers of the Church (ex opere operantis Ecclesiae) and, subjectively, ex opere operantis, that is, through the pious disposition of the one using them. Sacramentals drive away evil spirit, and when piously used, remit venial sin and prepare the soul for grace

From the enchiridion of indulgences:

  1. Sign of the Cross (Signum crucis)
    A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who devoutly sign themselves with the sign of the cross, while saying the customary words: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Thanks for clearing this up for me…I knew something was off with what the article said. I should be used to running into all kinds of misinformation when it comes to Catholicism but it still bugs me a lot when, even though I am not Catholic, people spread all kinds of untruths about the faith my friends and family members practice.

Saw this in the book " The How To Book of Catholic Devotions" by Aquilina and Flaherty:
“Bless yourself with the sign of the cross, to Chase away the fiend with all his devils. For, as Chrysostom says, whenever the devil sees the sign of the cross, he dreads it as the staff with which he is beaten. And in this blessing, begin with the hand at the head downward, and then to the left side and believe that Our Lord Jesus Christ came down from tho e Head, that is the Father, into the earth by His holy incarnation, and from the Earth into the left side, that is hell, by his bitter passion, and thence to His Father’s right side by his glorious Ascension.”
-12th century instructions to Bridgentine Nuns of Sion.

Yeah that would bother me too. A Lutheran knowledgeable about Catholicism could still have plenty of disagreements with a Catholic (and vice versa!) without resorting to slander. I would either suspect that the author was either ignorant to the point that they were not qualified to write the article or being dishonest. Either way I’m glad you came here to find out for youself. :thumbsup:

Which synod is this?

According to the LCMS website, there are at least 250 different kinds of Lutherans.

The correct information about all things Catholic is readily available from official sources on the Internet. Why Protestants (in this case, Lutherans) don’t feel it’s necessary to verify their facts before printing misinformation mystifies me.

Does the article explain the significance of the Sign of the Cross? Does it tell why Catholics dip their fingers in holy water before signing themselves upon entering a Church? Or does it tell readers that Catholics have been making this sign for 2,000 years?

BTW, according to the article, why do Lutherans seldom make the Sign of the Cross? Is the article correct about the Lutheran practice?


Jim, former Protestant

[SIGN]Furthermore, crossing oneself is more than a pervasive custom for Catholics. It is a sacrament that earns indulgences. Extra indulgences are earned if holy water is used. [/SIGN]

The first question that comes to mind, and something I would ask is, "What is wrong with gettign an indulgence? It seems that Lutheran mag is making it sound like it is a sin for getting one…which it is not, if an indulgence is properly understood.

Reading from the Bible can also earn you an indulgence. Should Lutherans stop reading the Bible on that account? :rolleyes:

The synod is the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). From my understanding the LCMS and the WELS were once one synod but the WELS split from the LCMS because of doctrinal reasons. I’d have to do more research as to why they split.

The article pointed out that one reason was the Sign of the Cross could become routine and meaningless if used improperly and also could be used superstitiously. Though the article did not explicitly say this, the fact that a lot of it was devoted to the RC practice, it seems as though Lutherans don’t want to be seen as doing something Catholics do.

Interestingly, my pastor says it’s perfectly fine but sadly a lot of people in the Lutheran church don’t do it for fear of others saying it’s “too Catholic.”

Responding to the comment about what’s wrong with indulgences: Lutherans do not recognize indulgences as legitimate…one of the reasons Luther broke away from the Church.

Well, the root of Lutheran belief is from the Catholic Church, so using the reason you set forth, the Lutherans should throw out all their beliefs for being rooted in the Catholic Church, isn’t it?

As for indulgences, if you do more research, I do not think Luther’s issue was with indulgences per se, but with the practices and abuses that became associated with it, that corrupted indulgences that their real sense and meaning was lost.

Hi Jim,
I was at my daughter’s commenncement from a Lutheran college a couple of weeks back. Held in the gym on campus (the Baccalaureate had been held in th chapel), the event was started with the invocation, with which a sea of hands proceded with the sign of the cross. American Lutherans quite regularly, and with increasing regularity, make the sign of the cross.


It is a “sacramental”, not a “sacrament”. Sacramentals are actions or materials that aid in our devotion, prayer or worship. The crucifix is a sacramental; holy water; scapulars; Rosary beads; statues; religious medals; religious pictures; the Sign of the Cross; ashes used on Ash Wednesday… all sacramentals designed to help us worship God more effectively.

God has given us the privilege of receiving indulgences through many different pious acts. If they are done properly and with the right disposition. God has given us a way to gain remission for all or part of the temporal punishment due to sin.

Sacramentals are not “good luck charms” or “magic charms” or anything like that. They are simply tools we use to help us in our meditations while praying. Since we can easily be distracted, these sacramentals are valuable tools!

My prayer book has artists’ renditions of the Holy Family. This helps me to concentrate on the life of Jesus rather than my shopping list while I pray.

Also, the Sign of the Cross is a prayer in itself. The act of moving your hands up and down on your forehead, etc., may be a sacramental, but the words are a lovely prayer…

In the name of the Father,
And of the Son,
And of the Holy Spirit.

Hi Jon,

Aren’t the WELS “American Lutherans”? :smiley: See Skigirl’s comments.

Jim Dandy

Forgive me, I am no expert on Luther and the whole indulgence issue, I just know currently indulgences is a no-no in the Lutheran (WELS) church. But the current Lutheran church as strayed way more from practices that they deem “too Catholic” than Luther ever did.

Unfortunately there is a ton of misinformation concerning Luther in the Lutheran church…or else they ignore the facts that do not fit the accepted Lutheran doctrine.

Sure they are, Jim. I made no claim that “all” American Lutherans make the sign of the cross, which is precisely why I said it was with increasing regularity. I am not WELS, so I will let Skigirl speak for her synod. Certainly, the sign of the cross amongst the laity is not required amongst Lutherans, neither is it forbidden by most.


I’ve read the WELS and LCMS websites under “History.”

LCMS says - 1847 Saxon and other German immigrants established a new church body in America.

LCMS says under “About Us” that it is “founded on the teachings of Martin Luther.”

WELS says:- 1868 Synod severs ties with Germany to become more Lutheran [this was the LCMS before the split, I assume?]

WELS says - 1961 Synod resolves to break with LCMS

Since neither of these Lutheran groups are a continuation of the ecclesial community founded by Martin Luther, but are 'founded on Luther’s teachings,’ does anyone know what happened to the original?


Jim Dandy

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