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Wondering Will wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • What is it called when everyone comes up and they get touched with holy water?
  • Why do they do it and how does the prayer go when they touch their heads and then both shoulders?
  • In what order does it go and what do they say?


  { In and outside Church, what do these actions mean and what prayer is said when people do this? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Will —

If I understand you correctly, you're referring to the Sign of the Cross.

The Sign of the Cross represents the Cross on which Jesus was crucified in sacrifice for our sins, so that we could be reconciled with God and so be resurrected from the dead on the Last Day.

We sign ourselves to remember the Cross and His Passion (suffering) and Sacrifice. We do this:

  • when we enter the Church
  • when we pass by a Church
  • when we enter a pew (together with a half-kneel called a genuflection)
  • when we pass the altar, at various times during a service
  • or whenever we want to invoke God's help.

When we enter the Church, we touch our fingers into Holy Water (in what is called a font), and make the Sign of the Cross with the Holy Water on our fingers.

This reminds us of our Baptism, in which we spiritually died with Christ and were raised from the dead with Him symbolically by immersion into water or having it poured over our heads.

Baptism is the entry into Christianity; at that moment:

  • we become adopted sons or daughters of God
  • are made righteous inside
  • become objectively pleasing to God, and
  • receive God, the Holy Spirit into our hearts.

Blessing ourselves with holy water reminds us of this Baptism.

The Sign of the Cross is made by moving the hand to the forehead, the stomach, the left shoulder, and the right shoulder. (In some churches, called Eastern Rite churches, the first three fingers are together and the motion is from right to left, instead of left to right.)

Sometimes, depending on the context, we may say,

"In the name of the Father [touching forehead], and the Son [touching stomach], and the Holy [touching left shoulder] Spirit [touching right shoulder]".

This invokes the Blessed Trinity whom we worship, one God in three Eternal Persons.


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