Tag Archives: sign of the cross

Thursday after Ash Wednesday


Want to know more about the Passion of Jesus, a mystery that tells us about the mysteries of our own lives? Follow the commentaries of Donald Senior, CP. 

Want to know more about the Stations of the Cross? Look into the history of this devotion and some examples of it.



We ended our mission at Immaculate Conception Parish in Irvington on the Hudson this evening by celebrating the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Both sacraments are special moments God is present. They’re simple signs; we must  not  miss their meaning.

Tonight we told a story of Jesus healing the sick. That’s one of the most important things his disciples remembered: he healed the sick. Jesus put his hands on them, he spoke to them, he helped them get back into life, and he still does that today.

One of Jesus’ first healings was of Peter’s mother-in-law who had a fever. Mark’s gospel recalls it in a few words:

“On leaving the synagogue he entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.” (Mark 1,30-31)

Rembrandt’s drawing above captures one detail from Mark’s narrative. “He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.” Such a simple gesture. Jesus took her hand and raised her up.

The priest puts his hand on our head. It’s God giving us a hand. It’s a reminder, too, to give a hand to others to help them up. A simple sign, yes, but Jesus left it to us as an example.

What Jesus did, he told his disciples to do. “ He summoned the Twelve* and began to send them out two by two… They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (Mark 6, 13-14)

We anoint with olive oil, the medicine people turned to in Jesus’ time, the oil the Samaritan put on the man who was beaten by robbers in the Lord’s parable. God’s our medicine, first of all, but the oil is also a practical reminder: Don’t forget to take your medicine.

The priest anoints our forehead with oil in the form of a cross and says: “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

Isn’t is true that the battle against sickness and human weakness often takes place most vigorously in our minds, where we fight fear, discouragement, a sense of being alone? This anointing calls for the grace of the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen our minds and the way we think.

The priest anoints our hands with oil in the form of a cross and says: “May the Lord who frees you from sin, save you and raise you up.” Our hands are the signs of our strength. “Prosper the work of our hands,” one of our psalms says. We do so much with our hands. In the Anointing of the Sick God takes our hands to raise them up.

The anointing is not limited to this life,remember. Like all the sacraments, it promises us a share in the mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus.


Sunday at the Mission

At our mission tonight at St. Theresa in Woodside, New York, I’ll continue reflecting on the gift of prayer.

We all have the gift of prayer. We can pray. God gives that gift to saints and sinners alike, though we may tend to think only saints and “good” people can pray. But that gift is given to all, because God is Father of saints and sinner alike. Prayer is a gift of God’s mercy.

Prayer is a gift given to all; it’s meant to be used continually. Like the gift of faith growing  like a mustard seed, the gift of prayer is meant to grow.

We’re reading all this year at Mass from Luke’s Gospel, which is called a gospel of prayer. It’s called that because the evangelist offers many examples and teachings of Jesus on prayer. Now, at this point in the  liturgical year especially, our readings at Mass seem to be devoted to prayer.

Last week, for example, we heard the desperate prayer of the ten lepers: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” Today we heard the parable about the widow and the unjust judge. Next week, we’ll hear the humble, almost hesitant prayer of the publican: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Later on in Luke’s gospel, when Jesus dies and enters his glory, we’ll hear the cry of the thief: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” All these readings tell us God gives the gift of prayer to everyone, the sinner, the desperate, everyone.

Yet, prayer tries our patience. Like the poor widow facing the powerful unjust judge, whom we read about this Sunday, we may not see our prayers answered quickly. We can then grow weary praying. In his parable Jesus says our prayers are answered “speedily,” yet we have trouble understanding that word “speedily.” It doesn’t match our timetable or our expectations. We don’t like waiting.

We also can make prayer too small and limit it to things entirely personal. Today, some would reduce prayer and meditation to ways to gain inner balance or to bring your blood pressure down. Prayer is bigger than that. It’s asking for “God’s kingdom to come, God’s will be done.” Prayer is meant to  open us to new horizons, new undertakings, to see the world with the eyes of Christ.

Far from leading us away from the world, we are led in prayer to face a world crippled by violence and strife. Only God can help us. Please Lord, come and assist us.

I’m going to pose some questions to those here at the mission:

What prayers are you attracted to?

Are there any places that lead you to prayer?

Any trying times in your life that you found yourself praying?

Then I’m going to reflect on some of our common prayers, like the Sign of the Cross and the Our Father. After that, we will have Benediction.


Praying at Mass


Catholics are not going to Mass as much as they did.  People are busy, of course. Some say they don’t get much out of it. Whatever the reasons, US Catholics aren’t going to Mass as they did before.

We have new texts for Mass, will they turn things around?  I don’t know. Better preaching? That would help. But there’s more. We need to look at the way we pray and participate at Mass.  The Mass is the central act of our faith, and we need to bring everything we have– our bodies, our minds, our memories, ourselves– to it.

We’re there to pray, from the moment we enter the church to the moment we leave. Only by praying at Mass will we appreciate it.

The way we pray at Mass is simple. It begins as we enter church and make the Sign of the Cross. It’s a key to a world of faith. Taking  holy water  we bless ourselves “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” We are reminding ourselves  that we’re blessed by God with the gift of life and everything it means through Jesus Christ. Water is a sign of that life. 60% of the human body is made up of water, and so it’s a reminder we are being blessed by the God of life.

Water, like bread, is a sign of life.The signs of water and bread stand for the totality of blessings we receive , and we acknowledge our blessings and give thanks through them.

Jesus said “If anyone is thirsty come to me.” He also said “I am the bread of life.” As we make the Sign of the Cross,  we’re reminded we’re at the source of life now and of life everlasting, Jesus Christ. We’re blessed by his life, death and resurrection. We trace his sign on ourselves, on our foreheads, our hearts and our shoulders. We’re blessed in mind and heart and all our being.

So, as Mass begins, the priest leads us into this great  act of blessing and thanksgiving by inviting us to make the Sign of the Cross.

Notice we bless ourselves  a number of times at Mass besides its beginning.  We bless ourselves as the gospel is proclaimed, asking that our minds and hearts be blessed to hear God’s Word. We bless ourselves as we leave the church at the end of the Mass, because we carry God’s blessings to our world.

Besides the Sign of the Cross,  simple acclamations at Mass  draw us into this blessed mystery. So,  as the priest concludes a prayer or action, we often say “Amen” an ancient Hebrew word, which means “Yes” we agree. The “Amen” at Mass calls us into the blessing of God. Simple word like “Amen”  draw us to the prayer of the church.

“The Lord be with you.” “Lift up your hearts.” “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.”

Listen carefully to those words and the readings, the songs and the music at Mass. Say them and mean them. Sing them when they’re sung, for“Someone who sings well prays twice.” So we join our voices in song. At Mass we pray together.

We pray with our eyes, too, as we see the actions and signs of Mass. Walking, kneeling, standing are prayers. Simple actions, like bowing and offering our hand to receive the Host are prayers. At Mass we pray with our whole being. Our walking, seeing, listening, speaking become acts of prayer that bring us into the presence of God.

Of course, we often come to Mass with a lot of things on our mind that distract us from this great mystery. So often we’re on overload. Our faith may not be the strongest. We have our doubts. We get sunk in the everydayness of our own lives.

But God’s grace is here in this great mystery and God will draw us–weak as we are–into this great mystery.  God will give us– all of us– the gift to pray and find blessings here. God draws us here to bless us.

The Sign of the Cross

The parable of the mustard seed tells us to watch for small things. Small gestures, small acts of kindness, small prayers. Life comes from small things.

I was thinking of the Sign of the Cross, a small prayer.

We pray as Jesus did. How did he pray? He prayed from the heart, yet Jesus used words and signs– sometimes even cries– to pray. Like him, we also use words and signs in prayer.

One prayer we pray frequently is the Sign of the Cross.

The Sign of the Cross goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. It’s made on us at baptism, when we become members of the church and it’s the last sign made over us as we pass to our future life. The Sign of the Cross is used in liturgical prayer and celebrating the sacraments. We begin and end our prayers with it.

When we “bless ourselves” we trace with our hand the figure of the cross on our forehead, our heart, our shoulders, and say:

In the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 

The Sign of the Cross is a prayer of blessing because it symbolizes God embracing us and blessing us. For the Jews God is always One who blesses.  God blessed Noah and saved the world from the flood. God blessed Abraham and Sara with blessings more than the stars in the sky. God blessed the Jewish people, redeeming them from the slavery of Egypt. Life itself and all creation are blessings from God. And God’s blessings, beyond measure, continue, always and everywhere.

Since God blesses us continuously, we bless God in return. “I will bless the Lord at all times,” the psalmist says.

As Christians we bless God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  As Father, God offers us the blessings of creation and also gives us his Son. “Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing.” ( Ephesians1,3 )  Jesus Christ is our God, our Friend, our Brother, our Savior. With the Father he sends the Holy Spirit  “to complete his work on earth and bring us the fullness of grace.”

When we bless ourselves, we remember God “from whom all blessings flow,” Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Blessed by the Cross

As Christians we believe the Cross of Jesus Christ is the greatest blessing given to us. Why is it our greatest blessing? Because God expresses his love for us above all in Jesus Christ who died on the Cross for us and rose again.  The Sign of the Cross is a reminder that Jesus’ love never ends. His blessings are ours forever.

We express our daily relationship to God in this simple prayer. We have God’s blessings each day, in good times and bad, in danger and sorrow.  God’s blessings and love are always there. Before we take one step, we receive blessings from his hands.






The Sign of the Cross

When Jesus prayed, he used the words and signs of his own  Jewish tradition, which he learned in his family and from others. Our Christian tradition, which guides us in prayer, grew from the Jewish  tradition of prayer that nourished Jesus himself.

Christian prayer has a wisdom all its own, with many different forms and expressions. One basic prayer has  a special place–  The Sign of the Cross.

In the Catholic church and other Christian churches,  the Sign of the Cross is an important part of personal and public prayer. Originating in the earliest days of Christianity, it’s centuries old. It’s the first sign made on us at Baptism and the last sign made as we pass to our future life. It’s a vital part of liturgical prayer and the sacraments. With the Sign of the Cross we begin and end our prayers.

A Blessing of the Triune God

We call it a blessing. We say we “bless ourselves.” Tracing with our hand the figure of the cross on our forehead, our breast, our shoulders, we bless ourselves: Spacer

In the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Sign of the Cross proclaims a blessing. It symbolizes God blessing us, God embracing us with blessings. And this same sign expresses our belief that God is the One from whom all  blessings flow. In the Sign of the Cross we embrace our good God with mind and heart and all of our strength, and God embraces us.

God blesses. The Jewish scriptures describe God, above all,  as the One who blesses. God blessed Noah and saved the world from the flood. God blessed Abraham and Sara with blessings more than the stars in the sky. God blessed the Jewish people, redeeming them from the slavery of Egypt. Life itself and all creation are God’s blessed gifts.

The Jewish tradition of prayer always approaches God as One who blesses. “I will bless the Lord at all times,” the psalmist prays. Because we are blessed by God,  we bless the Lord in return.

The Christian tradition of prayer follows this same pattern, but in addition it praises the One who blesses for another incomparable blessing: the blessing of Jesus Christ. “Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing.” ( Eph 1,3 ) He is “the Word who made the universe, the Savior sent to redeem us.”

In Jesus Christ God appears as our Friend and Brother. With the Father he sends the Holy Spirit upon us “to complete his work on earth and bring us the fullness of grace.” In Jesus, God has reveals the source of all blessings.

When we bless ourselves with the Sign of the Cross we remember the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who blesses us with life here on earth and the promise of life beyond this.

It is part of our prayers and is a prayer in itself.