Question of the Week ~ Why do people sometimes cross themselves in our worship services? How do you know when is the right time to cross yourself?
A few generations ago, this question would not have come up. You were either in a congregation which engaged in these sorts of practices, or you weren’t. The worship and prayer practices within one particular church community were uniform enough that people simply knew what to do. The fact that, on many occasions or Sunday morning you will see a variety of people responding to our prayers and our worship in a variety of ways, this is actually a very good sign. Church is becoming less like a club for insiders, and more like the diverse, unruly, surprising community it was always intended to be. When we see people engaging in practices different from our own – like marking the sign of the cross on themselves during a particular prayer – and when we ask questions about something we don’t understand, we all have an opportunity to learn.
So, crossing ourselves. This is a worship practice that was not part of my upbringing. It was not something that I saw people in my home parish of St Thomas Belleville doing. It’s a practice I took up later, and I took it up because it became meaningful to me. It comes out of the ‘catholic’ tradition – I am using the ‘small c’ word ‘catholic’ to mean the most ancient practices of the church – which understood prayer as being very sensual. Prayer is not merely about our mind and spirit, it is also about our bodies, our physical beings. Bells, art, music, bread, wine, stained glass – all of these parts of worship, both in the ancient church and today, open our ears, noses, tongues, and eyes to the relationship with God which we believe God is always offering. The simple act of moving my hands — head to chest, shoulder to shoulder – this is a physical way of entering into prayer, of reminding myself of something not just with words, but also with action.
I have learned to cross myself at moments in our worship where a blessing is being communicated. For example:
–Opening Greeting: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit” – we gather in blessing. Our life in community is founded in those three gifts from God: grace, love, and fellowship.
-Gospel Reading – we can make crosses on our forehead, our lips, our heart, asking that the Gospel touch our lives in what we think and say and how we love.
–Creed: at the end of the creed, we speak of the promise of Resurrection.
–Absolution: when we offer a confession, when we speak of the ways in which we have failed, made mistakes, experienced pain and brokenness, and the priest offers Absolution. The priest speaks those words, spoken to us by Jesus, that we are forgiven, that God’s desire is that we know healing and reconciliation.
–Eucharistic Prayer: at the words “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” These words are from Scripture, and we understand that they speak of Jesus. However, we also understand that we share in that blessing. We, too, can be ‘the one who comes in the name of the Lord’.
–Receiving Communion: Before receiving the bread or the wine, it is common to see people cross themselves as a centering and reminding of the life and promise we are receiving.
Common Cup – Due to the fact that Health Canada has declared our area to be in a Flu Outbreak, we are recommending that people refrain from receiving the wine at Communion during worship. We still are offering the chalices and chalice bearers, and the wine can be taken, if that is your desire. But it is our recommendation, whether you feel well or not, to refrain until the outbreak lifts. The Anglican Church recognizes that Communion has been fully received, even if it is just taken ‘in one kind.’ (ie. If you receive just the bread, you have still fully received Communion). We will continue to monitor the situation.