In the previous article of this series we reviewed the “Christian Questions with Their Answers” that Martin Luther composed for Christians preparing to receive the Lord’s Supper. In this article we consider two matters of Christian liberty that worshipers may choose to practice in their reception of the Supper:
- the sign of the cross
- the response “Amen”
The Sign of the Cross
Upon receiving the body and blood of Christ it is appropriate for worshipers to cross themselves in the Name of the Triune God. Some ask, though,“Isn’t that a Roman Catholic thing?” The short answer is “no.” Many Roman Catholics cross themselves during mass, but the sign of the cross belongs to the universal catholic (Christian) church. During the Reformation, Lutherans retained the sign of the cross as a matter of Christian liberty and piety.
“Why make the sign of the cross?” is the first question thinking Christians typically ask in response. In brief, we cross ourselves A) to remember our baptism where we are joined to Christ’s cross and burial with the promise of being joined to His resurrection, B) to remember the cross of discipleship that we joyfully bear daily, and C) to acknowledge the centrality of Christ’s cross to the Christian Faith.
Throughout the Divine Service worshipers are invited to make the sign of the cross:
- during the Invocation
- after the Absolution
- at the conclusion of the Creed
- during the Words of Institution
- during the reception of the Lord’s Supper
- during the Benediction
Perhaps the most evident signing of the cross is during the celebration of Holy Baptism. The pastor, while making the sign of the cross over the baptismal candidate, says, “Receive the sign of the holy cross both upon your + forehead and upon your + heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.”
Christians are also invited to employ the sign of the cross throughout their daily lives. Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, wrote:
In the morning, when you rise, you shall make the sign of the holy cross, and you shall say: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Then, kneeling or standing, you shall say the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall make the sign of the holy cross, and you shall say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Then, kneeling or standing, you shall say the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.
How do you do it?
Making the sign of the cross is quite simple. Place your first two fingers together on your thumb (the three fingers symbolizing the three Persons of the Trinity) and then press them to your forehead as you speak, hear, or think “Father,” move your fingers to your naval area as you come to “Son,” and then from shoulder to shoulder (traditions vary as to which to touch first) as you come to “Holy Spirit” and then return them to your sternum for the “amen.” Making the sign of the cross is a great way to keep Christ’s cross always before your eyes. Holy Communion provides a natural opportunity for you to do just that.
Upon receiving the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, it is also appropriate to say, “Amen.” This is my body given for you. “Amen.” This is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. “Amen.” Your “Amen” is your hearty affirmation that you desire the promises of the Sacrament to be yours. It’s your way of saying, “Yes, I believe this to be so. I want what Christ gives here.”
What Christ gives is nothing other than the forgiveness of sins and, “where there is forgiveness of sins,” as the Catechism teaches, “there is also life and salvation.” That’s worth a hearty “Amen.”
Pastor Jonathan Conner of Zion Lutheran Church in Manning, Iowa, is a former board member for the Hausvater Project.