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FAQ: Why do we make the sign of the cross?


Today’s post is an excerpt from the FAQ resource, Why do Lutherans make the sign of the cross?” The complete FAQ and many others can be found on the ELCA Worship web site.


“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.



Recognizing Secular Holidays in Worship


Today’s post is an excerpt from the Worship FAQ “How do congregations recognize secular occasions and holidays in the liturgy?” The complete FAQ is available here.


A General Approach to Holidays

Lutheran worship ordinarily focuses on an ecumenically shared pattern of scripture readings (a lectionary) and prayer that is shaped according to seasons and days of the church year. This means that occasions of a secular origin will not ordinarily dominate the primary weekly services of a congregation. Yet there are many ways in which secular occasions may be acknowledged in the liturgy without their becoming the exclusive focus of the day. Oftentimes a secular occasion may provide an opportunity for preachers to illustrate how faith is active in the midst of our daily routines and commitments. Such occasions may also be opportunities to extend a congregation’s ministry of prayer.


Incorporating Secular Concerns into the Prayers

People who are responsible for leading prayers of the congregation (oftentimes a lay assisting minister, or perhaps a pastor), rightly prepare for that task by looking not only to the scripture readings that will be used at a given service, but also to calendars that list secular holidays as well as special community observances. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, high school graduations, and national holidays (Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veteran’s Day) are all examples of occasions that can be reflected in the congregation’s prayer petitions. Here is where the liturgy readily provides a natural opportunity for these occasions to be recognized, without them necessarily becoming the focus for an entire service.

While worship leaders may be eager to celebrate those occasions that have wide acceptance within the larger culture, they will also want to take care that these occasions are not used to divide the worshiping assembly inappropriately. Not everyone at worship on a given day will be part of the group that is recognized. It’s not just fathers who worship on Father’s Day (there may in fact be quite a number of men in attendance who are not fathers). Not all worshipers at services close to Independence Day will share a similar patriotic enthusiasm, though prayers for the country and for careful exercise of freedom will certainly be appropriate. Worship leaders who are sensitive to the fact that some worshipers will expect to have their favorite occasions honored, while other worshipers may be uncomfortable at these times, will help both types of people by acknowledging the occasion in modest ways, yet without departing from the church’s own liturgy and calendar at these times.

Recognizing Groups within the Assembly

While mention in the prayers of the church is a significant way to include a variety of occasions and secular holidays, there may be other ways to honor people within the assembly. Some congregations may present special gifts to people on various occasions (perhaps flowers for mothers on Mother’s Day, or a book for graduates), an action that is probably best handled quite simply before the service as people gather, or during a time of fellowship that follows the service. In this manner undue attention is not placed on those who do not represent certain cultural norms (for example, women who have never been mothers or whose children have died, or those who have not graduated from school). If mention is made of these days in preaching or otherwise, it will be helpful to note that people live out their vocations as parents, students, veterans, etc, in various faithful ways.


Primary worship resources of the church suggest a number of occasions for which readings and prayers might be included to recognize various secular holidays and other events in people’s lives (see in particular the list of occasions in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, pp. 61-63; and the many different occasions for prayer given in Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Occasional Services for the Assembly and Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Pastoral Care (such as prayers/readings at the birth of a child, adoption, vocation in daily life, birthday, separation or divorce and blessing for a home).


Sharing Communion in Homes, Hospitals and Prisons


Today’s post is excerpted from the ELCA Worship FAQ How can we provide for communion of the ill, homebound, and imprisoned?

A celebration of Holy Communion in the home, at the bedside of an ill or homebound person, or in a clinical setting such as a nursing home, hospital or hospice, is one way for congregations to provide for communion of the ill, homebound, imprisoned and others. This church provides two ways for this ministry to be carried out: a service of Holy Communion led by an ordained pastor or a distribution of the bread and wine that has been sent from the Sunday assembly’s worship.

Holy Communion in Special Circumstances

The Pastoral Care volume of Evangelical Lutheran Worship outlines a service of Holy Communion to be presided at by an ordained pastor. This service resembles the Gathering, Word, Meal and Sending of the Holy Communion service, but may be adapted and abbreviated as needed.

The strength of this form for communing the ill, homebound, and imprisoned is that it ties together the proclamation of the Word through the Words of Institution, the pastoral office, and the ministry to the ill. Another important dimension is the link between pastoral care to the sick and homebound and ministry at the time of death. When pastors regularly visit and commune those who are approaching the end of life, they are forming relationships that will be helpful when providing pastoral care and liturgical leadership at the time of death.

The weakness of this service is that unless special care is taken to involve family members or members of the congregation in the bedside or home celebration of the sacrament, it can appear to be happening apart from the life and ministry of the congregation.

The Sending of Holy Communion

In a second option, the communion elements received by the ill, homebound, or imprisoned have been broken and shared at the assembly’s worship and then brought to them. The introductory rubric for this service states:

This order extends the assembly’s service of Holy Communion by sending ministers from the assembly, bearing the gifts of God’s word and sacramental meal to those who are unable to be present in public worship. This ministry offers these people (such as those who are sick, homebound, or imprisoned) a means of participating in the worship of the whole assembly, and it helps those who have gathered publicly to recognize their oneness with sisters and brothers who are absent. (Pastoral Care, p. 81)


It is important to note that in the outline for Holy Communion in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, the first suggested element of the Sending rite is this “Sending of Communion” (p. 93). The strength, then, of this service is the link it provides between the gathered assembly and those not able to be present in worship. The communion table is made wider by this sending and in larger congregations this service can be a practical help for pastors who have many homebound members.

The weakness of this option is the opposite of the strength mentioned in the service for those in special circumstances (above). This service cannot be a regular substitute for pastoral visits, as the connection with the pastor can be very valuable, especially in smaller congregations where there is only one pastor.

As with other lay ministries, preparation and teaching are essential. The pastor and other leaders will want both to engage in careful teaching and explanation to those who receive these ministries, and to train those who will carry it out. Preparation should also include prior contact with the absent member to arrange for either a celebration with the pastor or distribution by lay ministers.