Why Do Some Christians Begin and End Prayers with the Sign of the Cross and Why Is the Sign Made with Three Fingers?

Paul Tambrino, EdD, PhD
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Ask Augustine with Dr. Paul Tambrino


Ask Augustine is a weekly column where professor/author Dr. Paul Tambrino discusses various theological questions with wit, clarity and substance.

Question #17 – Why Do Some Christians Begin and End Prayers with the Sign of the Cross and Why Is the Sign Made with Three Fingers?

 

Here we have an example where our knowledge of substance has given way to style only.

Making the sign of the cross dates back to the early second century.

During the persecution of the early church by the Roman Government, fellow believers used the sign as a source of identification; by quickly touching the forehead, the breast, one shoulder, then the next.

Even when noticed by a Roman soldier, its intent was unknown to them.

Today Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, some Lutherans and Episcopalians incorporate the sign as a regular part of their prayers.

Most other Protestants, however, refrain from using it for two reasons.“There is theological substance behind the style in which the sign of the cross is made. Pedagogically it is a theologically sound tool.”

They believe the cross is a reminder of the cruel death of Christ and most Protestants would rather emphasize His resurrection (I believe we need to emphasize both as we do hold to the doctrine of double imputation).

Double imputation means that when we are saved our sin is imputed to Jesus, and His righteousness is imputed to us.

Also, some of my fellow Protestants (unfortunately in my opinion) remain cautious with any kind of association with the Roman Catholic Church.

There is theological substance behind the style in which the sign of the cross is made. Pedagogically it is a theologically sound tool.

When making the sign, the thumb and the first and second fingers are joined together symbolizing the three persons of the trinity.

The right hand is used to symbolize that Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father.

The remaining two fingers of the right hand are joined together and folded in toward the palm of the hand symbolizing for the believer that Jesus has both a divine and human nature.

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