“In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit” or “Blessed be the Holy Trinity, + one God, who forgives all our sin, whose mercy endures forever.” These words begin the orders for Confession and Forgiveness in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. The rubric (directions in red italics) that accompanies these words says: The assembly stands. All may make the sign of the cross, the sign marked at baptism, as the presiding minister begins.
As this invocation is made, an increasing number of Lutherans trace the sign of the cross over their bodies from forehead to lower chest, then from shoulder to shoulder and back to the heart; and others trace a small cross on their foreheads.
The sign of the cross, whether traced over the body or on the forehead, is a sign and remembrance of Baptism. The Use of the Means of Grace, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s set of priorities for the practices of word and sacrament, says of this gesture:
These interpretive signs proclaim the gifts that are given in the promise of God in Baptism…The sign of the cross marks the Christian as united with the Crucified (28A).
The sign of the cross is ecumenical, in that is used by the Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Episcopalians, and is slowly increasing in use among mainline Protestants. It is also a remembrance of the death and resurrection of our Lord: the center of our faith. The sign of the cross is a treasured part of our heritage as Lutherans, because the practice was encouraged and used by Martin Luther himself. Luther made provisions for using the sign of the cross on at least three occasions.
- In Holy Baptism The text of Luther’s 1526 Order of Baptism called for the sign of the cross to be made over the candidate as a part of Baptism. “Receive the sign of the holy cross on both your forehead and your breast” (Luther’s Works 53:107).
- At Ordination. In his order for the Ordination of Ministers of the Word, Luther says of the benediction: “The ordinator blesses them with the sign of the cross” (Luther’s Works, 53:126).
- In Daily Prayer. Luther instructed his followers to make the sign of the cross at both the beginning and the end of the day as a beginning to daily prayers. In the Small Catechism, in the section on morning and evening prayers Luther says: “When you get out of bed, bless yourself with the holy cross and say ‘In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.’ ” This same instruction is given for bedtime.
To learn more about the sign of the cross and the times when it is often used during worship, read or download the full worship FAQ here.