If you're Catholic you do it all the time.
If you're not Catholic, you probably have noticed us making this sign: right hand to our forehead, then down to our chest, then over to the left shoulder and ending with the right shoulder as we say the words: "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit".
May seem a little strange… perhaps superstitious. Maybe you think it's weird that we "venerate" the cross, that instrument of execution. (Read last week's blog post titled, Deacon-structing the Cross part 1: Why I Wear One
) I grew up learning that we should make the sign of the Cross, not just when we pray, but when we pass a Church, or a cemetery, or when an ambulance goes by. What does it mean to sign ourselves with the sign of "the Cross"?
The "Cross" reminds us of who we are: Christians.
Without the Cross, there would have been no Christianity. Certainly not as we know it. It is through the Cross that Jesus saves us. It is through the Cross that Jesus makes all things new; by destroying death forever and forgiving our sins. This is why the way it is depicted in the movie "The Passion of the Christ", where Satan does everything it can to stop Jesus from going to the Cross. At the end, when Jesus finally dies on the Cross, Satan is defeated forever.
So, when I sign myself with the sign of the Cross, I am signing myself with the sign of all Christians; the sign of Christianity. So, I am reminded of who I am. I am reminded of the love of God, of what Jesus did for all of us and of what I am called to do for others.
Do This In Memory of Me
I believe this is what Jesus truly meant when He said, "do this in memory of me". I don't think he was just talking about eating bread and drinking wine. And certainly not talking about "remembering" him.
You know when you buy a toy or something that was made in China or Japan and you read the instructions and it's obvious that they have been translated? A few years ago, on a brand new set of knives, was the instruction: "do not leave in children". I think they probably meant something else. Something was lost in translation.
Perhaps something more was gained in translation.
But this is what happens often with Scripture. You have to look at different translations to understand deeper meanings. In Spanish, when Jesus said, "do this in memory of me", he says, "hagan esto en conmemoración mia
". That means, "do this to honour me". It is not necessarily about remembering Jesus: When we remember Jesus we are to do something, or when we do something we are to remember Jesus. Instead, we are to do something so as to commemorate Jesus and what He did for us.
Commemorate is not just to remember. It is not just to honour. According to the Oxford Dictionary, commemorate means "to keep in the memory by means of a celebration or ceremony" and "to be a memorial to". But I don't even think this is exactly what Jesus meant. After all, He didn't say, "do this to commemorate me" (hagan esto para conmemorarme
Perhaps, "do this so that it is a memorial to me and to what I have done".
It's almost as if, when we celebrate the sacrifice of the Eucharist, we are transported back in time to the foot of the Cross. Not that Christ dies again every time we are at Mass, but that we are taken right back there and we are part of that sacrifice once more. I don't know how to explain it better: we don't recreate the sacrifice of the Cross. We don't repeat the sacrifice of the Cross. Rather, God makes us present to the sacrifice of the Cross. This is the commemoration, the memorial, more than just a memory, although a memory; more than just an honouring, although very much in honour.
When I sign myself with the Cross, I am calling to mind, all of this. Especially, I am calling to mind the sacrifice that I am called to do, like Jesus on the Cross. I am reminded that I am called to die to my own petty ego-needs, my own desire to be loved and to be special, my own needs to be right and to be needed. I am called to "die to myself".
I am called to sacrifice my own needs for the needs of others.
As a husband that is what I am called to do: Put my wife's needs before mine. Every time. As a father, I am called to place my children's needs before mine. Every time. As a Christian, I am called to put others' needs before mine. Of course, this doesn't mean I become a throw rug for everyone to walk on, but it does mean that I am called, always to consider others' needs to be more important than mine.
This, I believe is true freedom: Freedom from my own petty needs.
And so, it makes sense that we should make the sign of the Cross, not just when I pray, but as we wake, as we leave the house, as we pass a Church and a cemetery, as we are about to go into a meeting, before coming home… pretty much every time.
Because it is a nice physical, tangible reminder of who I am.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: [email protected] @deaconpedrogm