A Meditation on the Sign of the Cross
Fr. Scott Haynes
At Confirmation in one parish, the Archbishop asked the children for a definition of the Holy Trinity. A girl answered very softly:
“The Holy Trinity is three Persons in one God.”
The old Archbishop, who was almost deaf, replied:
“I didn't understand what you said.”
And the young little theologian before him replied in loud voice:
“You are not supposed to. The Trinity is a mystery.”
With the Sign of the Cross, we are wrapped in the love of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. By making the Sign of the Cross, we bring God into our minds first. Then we bring the Trinity down to our hearts. And, with our hearts filled with compassion, we move the Trinity across our bodies to our shoulders and arms to better carry the cross we have been given.
The feast day of the Most Holy Trinity was established in the 12th century England under St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. In the 14th century, the feast came to be observed by the universal Church. While the feast in honor of the Trinity did not come until the 12th century, the belief in the Trinity, of course, is rooted in the New Testament. There it is mentioned about forty times.
By invoking the Trinity through the Sign of the Cross, we demonstrate our belief in the great mystery of the Trinity. In the ancient liturgical form of the Roman Rite, the Sign of the Cross in some form or other is made about 54 times just during a Low Mass. It is used in all the Sacraments: 14 times in Baptism; 17 times in Extreme Unction. Yes, even in the semi-darkness of the confessional the priest makes the Sign of the Cross over you as he says the words of absolution.
As we have said, the Trinity is mysterious. The little girl explained that to the Archbishop on the day of her confirmation. But as Albert Einstein once said,
“But the most wondrous thing in the world is the mysterious.”
While it is a mystery. We are totally ignorant of the truth of the Trinity. Yet, what Isaac Newton observed in the 18th century is as true in the 21st:
“What we know is a drop. What we don't know is an ocean.”
From the earliest days of the Christian era, geniuses have been wrestling with the Trinity. Rich material poured out of the busy and golden pen of the 5th century St. Augustine. His conception of the Trinity is lyrical:
“The Father is the lover. The Son is the one who is loved. And the Holy Spirit is the love they send forth from the Father and the Son.”
The 4th century St. Patrick found in the three-leaf shamrock rising from the one stem an image of the Trinity. But someone has cleverly noted that, unlike other Christian doctrines, the Trinity is not a truth that leads to action. But rather, like a painting by Monet or a poem by Keats or a symphony by Beethoven, it should point us to prayer or just wonderment.
Before God, who is so great, we marvel with wonder at His goodness. As Albert Einstein once said,
“Whoever can no longer wonder or no longer marvel is as good as dead.”