"In the name of the Father, and of the +
Son, and of the Holy Spirit." These words begin the orders for Confession and Forgiveness in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
The rubric that accompanies these words says: "The minister leads the congregation in the invocation. The sign of the cross may be made by all in remembrance of their Baptism."
As this invocation is made, an increasing number of Lutherans trace the sign of the cross over their bodies from forehead to breast, then from shoulder to shoulder; 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 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 liturgical 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 four occasions.
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).
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).
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.
In current ecumenical usage, the sign of the cross is made or may be made at the following times or occasions:
- At Baptism: "The minister marks the sign of the cross on the forehead of each of the baptized. Oil prepared for this purpose may be used. As the sign of the cross is made, the minister says: "______, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever" (ELW, page 231).
- At the invocation in orders for confession and forgiveness in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Lutheran Book of Worship, With One Voice, Libro de Liturgia y Cantico, and This Far by Faith.
- At the absolution in orders for confession and forgiveness. For example, in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Confession and Forgiveness, the sign of the cross is made as the minister says, "I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit."
- At reading of the Gospel, as the words "A reading from the holy Gospel according to ____" are said, a small cross may be traced with the thumb, first on the forehead, then lips, and finally on the breast. Signing the cross at the gospel is used most often by Roman Catholics and in varying degrees by some Lutherans and Episcopalians.
- At conclusion of the Nicene Creed, when the phrase "and the life of the world to come" is said. Making the sign of the cross here is a remembrance that resurrected life is promised to those baptized into Christ.
- In Holy Communion, as the "Blessed is He" is sung in the Sanctus, and immediately before or after receiving the elements of bread and wine.
- At the benediction when a trinitarian form of benediction (one that includes the words "Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit") is used, and during the final phrase of the Aaronic benediction.
- As part of the Rite of Welcome, the first in a series of the rites used in the catechumenal process to welcome inquirers who may be discerning the call to baptism. During this rite, sponsors make sign of the cross on over their inquirers’ forehead, ears, eyes, lips, hands, and feet, or may simply trace a single cross over or on the forehead. The Rite of Welcome, along with other provisional catechumenate rites, are found in the volume Welcome to Christ: Lutheran Rites for the Catechumenate (Augsburg Fortress, 1997).