Why did Catholics reverse the sign of the cross?


Orthodox Christians and many Anglicans cross themselves from right to left which is the teaching from the early church. This was done for the reason that when the priest would face people and bless them, his hand would move from left to right as the faithful would cross right to left hence everything moving in the same direction. Why did the RCC reverse this?


I don’t think a Pope made a statement one day telling people to change it. You might want to think that though. Could it have been that the Orthodox and Anglicans do it differently? I don’t know. It was probably something that gradually changed over time.

It’s the same cross, isn’t it? I don’t know why you’re asking this. :shrug:

In Pax Christi


It is inappropriate to state that the “RCC” reversed this. The Eastern Rites still do it that way. We don’t because we’re western.


It’s an interesting question.

Yes, the sign of the cross originated in the east and was carried west (possibly by pilgrims or eastern missioners). Somehow the western church reversed it, and there are a couple of different ideas on how that could have happened. It is pretty clear that the change was not well thought out, there is a record of a Pope attempting to instruct the people on the proper practice (right to left) but I cannot remember who he was.

But it is not particularly important now, unless one is a student getting smacked with a pointer for doing it wrong. :frowning:

This has actually been a problem for some Byzantine Catholics in the past, attending Roman Catholic grade schools. In attempting to follow their own traditions (learned at church and in the home) many were subject to ridicule and disciplinary punishments. Hopefully the teachers are more enlightened today.

I am not sure why any Anglicans would follow the eastern practice, unless they have done the research and corrected the practice deliberately.

Interestingly, the east also has the practice of putting three fingers (thumb and two) together in signing oneself. I was taught this as a Roman Catholic child by nuns from Lithuania and Poland. But it really is not common with Roman Catholics, except in those areas where Cyril and Methodius’ missions first worked (before they were changed to Latin rite communities).


Respectfully, that’s no reason at all.


I don’t really see why we should always have to answer for our traditions (disciplines), simply because they might be different from the East. We accept Eastern traditions and disciplines, can the East do the same for us?


I see I should have posted here instead of where I previously posted. Does it really matter? Admittedly I’m not too “big” on external traditions - by that I mean small ones, not Tradition with a capital T. :smiley: I’m Southeast Asian and I’ve never gone to a Latin-language Mass - all we have are vernacular and English ones.


The symbolism for Orthodox and Eastern Catholics mean a lot–crossing from right to left means the Son sits at the right hand of the Father. The three fingers together, with the two last fingers going down have meanings as well, something that was lost somehow in the West for some reason.


I am a Maronite. I cross from left to right, using 5 fingers (5 wounds of Christ). Roman Catholics use 3 fingers (Holy Trinity) and from right to left, dunno why.I see No problem…all meanings are correct and beautiful.


What do you mean reverse the Sign of the Cross? Catholics make this sign by first invoking the Father and the Son with the sign of the tree of the Cross made from the forehead to the heart, in that order. Next, they invoke the Holy Spirit with the sign of the arm of the cross made from one shoulder to the other in either direction depending on their tradition. When you say Catholics reverse the sign of the cross it sounds like you are saying they invoke the Holy Spirit first followed by the Son and the Father from the heart to the forehead. We don’t.


It’s an empirical question. The Western way works better. Try it both ways; you’ll see.


It is appropriate to say they changed it if the Western church used to do it one way, and then changed.


Can you use your left hand? I got told off by my religion teacher for doing it left handed; got told it was a sin


It’s because people who are used to left over right will get confused or uncomfortable when doing it right over left; the same is true for those who do it right over left–they’ll feel awkward doing it left over right. I felt that way when first doing it right over left; now I’m very much comfortable with it, and when I try left over right as I used to all my life, it now feels strange.


I am a Latin Rite Catholic, but I crossed myself right to left when I attended a Trisagion service at the wake of a Greek Orthodox woman who was the mother of a friend of mine.


From the official website of the Episcopal church:

In the Christian west, this gesture customarily moves from the left shoulder to the right shoulder, while in the Christian east this gesture moves from right to left.

AFAIK, Anglicans are western Christians, not eastern Christians.

From another Anglican website:

You begin by:

  1. touching the forehead,
  2. bringing the hand down to the “heart”,
  3. touching the left shoulder and then bringing the hand across the chest to the right shoulder. In one fluid action you will trace the sign of the Cross upon yourself.


Is the OP correct in that the priest crosses from left to right, while the people cross from right to left? If so, then isn’t the priest crossing himself wrong from a symbolic standpoint?

Btw…I use the three fingers together. I adopted it after reading the symbolism. I don’t think there is a required way to hold your fingers in the Roman Tradition.


I’ve never seen an Anglican cross right to left.



In the 17th c., a great schism split the Orthodox Church in Russia. One side saw the three-fingers Sign of the Cross as a “Greek innovation” that went against the “native Russian tradition” of a two-fingers (Sign of the Cross, symbolic of the dual nature, divine and human, of Christ).

The direction of the Sign of the Cross does not seem that important to me, and I believe with the Catholic Church that there is legitimate diversity in certain practices among the various Apostolic Churches/Rites.

If the Anglican Church ***as a whole ***would adopt more Orthodox practices (such as the veneration of Mary and the Saints), it would not be a bad thing at all, for it would also bring the Anglican Church as a whole nearer to the Catholic Church in essentials.

Are there also Anglicans,in the Low Church/evangelical wing perhaps, who like many Protestants, do not use the Sign of the Cross at all?

I would be very happy to hear that the Sign of the Cross, said in whichever direction, is something that all Anglicans cherish.


No, the priest together with the people in the East crosses from right to left.

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