ASK FATHER: Sign of Cross an abuse during Mass?

From a reader…


Our priest is giving us liturgical direction every Sunday during lent. Last Sunday he said we should not cross ourselves after the confiteor when he says the prayer of absolution. He said this was an abuse and the only time we should cross ourselves was at the beginning and the end of the mass. He also said that no sins were being forgiven. I was under the impression that venial sins were forgiven at mass. Is this an abuse? Should I continue to cross myself if not, or should I obey my priest.

Why do some priests have to make other priest’s lives so hard?

First, I would like to know if Father has obeyed Sacrosanctum Concilium 54.  Has he taken care that his flock can respond both signing and speaking in both Latin and their mother tongue to the parts of Mass that pertain to them?

Look, Father ought to unclench his thingy and stop micro-managing.

NB: People do this in the Extraordinary Form in imitation of the priest and the altar serves or sacred ministers, who made the Sign of the Cross at that point, while the priest traces the Cross over everyone.  This is a good Catholic instinct.  It just seems right.

Father! Don’t quench the Spirit!  The Spirit is moving people to feel sorrow for even their lesser sins before daring to participate in the awesome sacred mysteries.

And, yes, venial sins are forgiven.  Father might refresh his memory about the difference between mortal sins and venial sins.  Hey!  Repetita iuvant, right?  We should all review our basics from time to time, no matter what our role is in the Church.

It would be an abuse to tell people that they must make the sign of the Cross at that point. It would be an abuse to require people to hold hands during the Our Father, too.  However, if people want to hold hands or make the Sign of the Cross, fine.  If they want to hold hands, and that doesn’t create a disturbance, big deal, right?  How does making the Sign of the Cross constitute an abuse?

When did the sign of the Cross become wrong?

We sign ourselves with it at the Gospel.  Many sign themselves with it at Communion time.

How is this bad?  Should they stop?  It’s enough to make the little girl in the graphic, above, burst into tears.

I am pretty sure he isn’t being malicious… but… sheesh!

I would listen politely to Father, smile indulgently, and then make the Sign of the Cross whenever it pleaseth thee to make it.

The next step should be to get a large group of people organized and petition for Holy Mass according to the 1962 Missale Romanum in keeping with Summorum Pontificum.

And if you do the 2nd Confiteor then you could all multiply your Signs of the Cross after the absolution!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Supertradmum says:

    Some of our priests need a refresher course in liturgy.

  2. Heck, when I go to the occasional Novus Ordo Mass on a Sunday or feast day (I go the Extraordinary Form most Sundays, with an occasional visit to the nearby Eastern rite parishes as well), I make the Sign of the Cross at the end of the Gloria, the end of the Creed, and during the Sanctus, as they do in the Extraordinary Form.

  3. Ad Orientem says:

    Oh good heavens! Of all the liturgical abuses one could address in a homily, making the sign of the cross is not high on my list. On a side note and given his aversion to crossing oneself during Mass, I would suggest Father X stay far away from Eastern Rite Catholic and Orthodox services. I fear he would have a stroke.

  4. Bressani56 says:

    We had a priest who said this same thing. He was also the priest who rudely barked at a parishioner who knelt to receive Holy Communion (which had been done at that Parish since 2002) and kept saying, “We’re on a Journey. We’re on a Journey! Do you kneel when you’re on a Journey?”

  5. NBW says:

    Many people at our parish make the sign of the cross after the confiteor. Many do not. Many bow down when Our lady is mentioned in the Creed “the power of the Holy Spirit and became Man.” Many don’t. And it goes on. Sometimes it looks like a battle between the Traddies and the Novus Ordites.

  6. ajf1984 says:

    Re. “Do you kneel when you’re on a Journey?” respondeo, dicens: “Absolutely! I often kneel when on a Journey to refresh myself at a cool mountain stream or to ensure I am properly prepared by checking/tightening my bootlaces, etc.” Surely if we can kneel for these mundane things while still journeying, we can kneel for the Eucharist, as the Ultimate Slaking of our Thirst and the best assurance for our earthly journey and preparation for our hoped-for entry into the Heavenly one? What a silly thing to say…

  7. Charles E Flynn says:

    I see a “not an abuse” mug with your most complex graphic yet.

  8. Gregorius says:

    I know- restore the prayer “Indulgentium…” after the “Misereatur….” and we could encourage more people to make the sign of the cross! /wishful thinking

  9. La Sandia says:

    Re: “We’re on a Journey!” While traveling, I was at a daily Mass and the celebrant was a priest of a certain age. When the time came to receive Holy Communion, I tried to receive on the tongue as I usually do. The priest actually grabbed my hand and tried to force me to receive on the hand, saying “human beings receive on the hand.” He finally relented after I politely but firmly reminded him of my right to receive Communion the traditional way, probably because he didn’t want to cause a scene. It was highly insulting and I was nearly in tears for the rest of Mass.

    Also, along the same lines, there’s a parish near where I live that states in their bulletin that they do not allow baptisms during Lent. This strikes me as wrong; are there any official docs that prevent withholding baptism during Lent? Oddly enough, said parish seems to have no problem scheduling weddings during Lent.

  10. danidunn says:


    A humble question.

    From the GIRM: “They [the People of God] are consequently to avoid any appearance of singularity or division, keeping in mind that they have only one Father in heaven and that hence are all brothers or sisters one to the other.

    96. Moreover, they are to form one body, whether in hearing the Word of God, or in taking part in the prayers and in the singing, or above all by the common offering of the Sacrifice and by participating together at the Lord’s table. This unity is beautifully apparent from the gestures and bodily postures observed together by the faithful.”

    I agree, this is a petty point, but doesn’t say the black and do the red also apply to the people?

    To me, the afore mentioned priest, is doing just that, brick-by-brick.

    And another question, in the EF, the priest says both the “Misereatur vestri omnipotens…” and the “Indulgentiam absolutionem et…”

    Why was the indulgentiam removed from the OF? I t is confusing as to whether your sins are forgiven, and, even some people think that their mortal sins are forgiven. Even though the GIRM makes clear that they are not.

  11. pelerin says:

    Father – I am so pleased you have used the word ‘instinct’ with regard to making the Sign of the Cross during Mass in the Novus Ordo. For years I felt awkward knowing that the custom was no longer encouraged – it had always been instinctive to make the Sign of the Cross after the Confiteor, at the end of the Gloria and Creed and at the ‘Benedictus qui venit.’ It was as if my hands were tied preventing me from making an instinctive Sign.

    Happily now at the church where I attend Mass – in both forms – I am able to once again make the Sign of the Cross at these points as the Priest himself does so and I have noticed more of the congregation do too. We need to unite ouselves body and soul during the sacred liturgy and what better way than by making the Sign of the Cross.

  12. Rich says:

    Blessed John Paul II indicated that venial sins are forgiven through the penitential rite: “Though the church knows and teaches that venial sins are forgiven in other ways too-for instance, by acts of sorrow, works of charity, prayer, penitential rites-she does not cease to remind everyone of the special usefulness of the sacramental moment for these sins too.” (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia,32). I will take Blessed John Paul II’s word for it.

  13. jfk03 says:

    Father would have a hard time in the Byzantine Catholic churches where, following the Orthodox practice, the sign of the cross is made with a bow every time the “Glory be” is said, the Holy Trinity is mentioned, or the Theotokos is invoked.

  14. Uxixu says:

    Ha ha. Love the note in the Baronius Missal that says the Sign of the Cross is done 52 times in the Usus Antiquior

  15. L. says:

    Perhaps this is the corollary to the riddle, “What do you call the guy who graduates last in his class in medical school?”
    Answer: “Doctor.”
    “What do you call the guy who graduates last in his class in seminary?”

  16. Sandy says:

    Having grown up many years ago (when there was more reverence), I still make the sign of the cross at that point in the Mass under discussion. I agree about the “instinct” to do this and also wish I could kneel during more of the Mass. There’s often such a desire to fall on my knees. After the Consecration I don’t want to get up and I dread the “horizontal” actions about to happen which take us away from the intimacy with Jesus that we have just experienced.

  17. APX says:

    I may be wrong, but I thought the reason we don’t cross ourselves after the Confiteor at the absolution in the OF because the actual absolution was removed from the liturgy during the reforms.

  18. Legisperitus says:

    And these are probably the same priests who call those Catholics of a more traditional stripe “rigid” or “obsessed with rubrics.”

  19. OrthodoxChick says:

    Whether or not to make the Sign of the Cross after the Confiteor? Wow! What a great “problem” to have. Now if only I could find an OF parish in my area that actually bothers to recite the Confiteor. I’ve been to 3 so far over the last 8 years and haven’t found one yet.

  20. Lin says:

    Our pastor taught several classes on the spirit of Vatican II a year ago and told us that rubrics are only guidelines. I quit going to his classes. His sermons are difficult enough to listen to. Last week we were told that the creation story in Genesis is a myth.

  21. Imrahil says:

    Dear pelerin,

    when you don’t want to make a grand sign of the Cross, let me mention the advice of HSH Princess Elisabeth of Thurn and Taxis to make a little cross over the heart. I found this helpful personally.

    Speaking of that, there’s one place in the liturgy where the sign of the Cross really is incorrect. Which is before the Gospel: you need to make three little crosses on head, mouth and heart. Though you see many (who have not been told) to make a normal sign of the Cross.

  22. wmeyer says:

    So many heresies, and so little proper catechesis. We have wandered more than 40 years in the desert, and it is disheartening when a priest argues against reverential gestures, not to mention trying to deny a canonical right (receiving on the tongue.)

  23. HeatherPA says:

    Father Z, please just keep such as these in your mind when you are discouraged and disheartened, because it is priests such as you and a few other brave blogging priests, and the Audio Sancto priests who keep us poor thirsty souls who suffer dubious and sad pastoral care afloat and answer our questions.
    PS- I visited Holy Innocents in Manhattan for the very first time a month ago with my teenage daughter as we were in NYC for her sweet sixteen. It was as beautiful as you have described and shown on this blog and I never would have went there if not for you. Thank you.

  24. Priam1184 says:

    Ah so that is the purpose of the Confiteor at Mass! Finally I understand. I am a part of the poorly catechized and know largely self taught generation and I have always wondered what its exact purpose was since I thought that the only way to have sins (mortal or venial) forgiven was via Confession. I will confess the venial ones anyway, but this is good to know. Thank you.

  25. Netmilsmom says:

    I make the Sign of the Cross after the Confiteor, after the Homily and after receiving the Eucharist. I don’t hold hands and I sure don’t “Daisy Chain” across the main aisle. I don’t shake hands with the usher as I go up to Communion for a second “Handshake of Peace” but I DO kneel from the Agnus Dei on, even if I’m in Cleveland where Bishop Lennon has his flock standing at that point and doing the “stick um up” posture for the Our Father.

    Never be in a strange parish and have the congregation suddenly go to the “stick um up” gesture. My teens were turning, ducking and looking for the gunman. I’m not kidding about that.

  26. Hank Igitur says:

    Bugnini tried unsuccessfully to remove the Sign of the Cross from the Mass as part of his dismantling/demolition/sabotage of the Liturgy for the sake of appeasing Protestants (or Freemasons or both).
    One can only wonder what has gone so fundamentally wrong in a priest’s formation or vocational life that he can reach such a point as attempting to forbid the Sign being made. Perhaps he also puts sand in the water stoups and refuses to perform baptisms in Lent?

    We must pray for the sanctification of priests and invoke the name of St John Mary Vianney to intercede for this poor man.

    Were a priest to give me such an instruction I would ignore it and make the Sign twice.

  27. teomatteo says:

    does this mean I can make the sign at the end of the Gloria? at the major elevation? after receiving the body of Christ?

  28. Kathleen10 says:

    This reminds me of how I feel when the police in our area, instead of cracking down on the speeding maniacs that threaten daily life, hide out in a quiet parking lot for someone to not completely stop at the stop sign in the rear of the lot, at a one way stop. I mean, do ya think…
    or how about worrying about that old plank before the mote…..
    oh good grief.
    @LaSandia, good for you.

  29. benedetta says:

    I never have done this, but I think I’ll start doing it now…and communion on the tongue and kneeling at all ordinary form Masses…sensum fidelium and all that…

  30. pannw says:

    I’m with the people stunned by the ‘on a journey’ remark! Wow… My response, (sitting here behind my computer screen and not being chastised in the middle of Holy Communion): ” If Christ comes upon me in the middle of my journey, I sure do kneel! Be happy I don’t fall on my face as I come face to face with HIM in the Holy Eucharist!”

    Honestly, I often wonder how many of our priests believe in the Real Presence. We’re on a journey following Christ and He’s sees fit to come among us and help us on our way. The least we can do is fall down and thank Him. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

  31. MouseTemplar says:

    So not holding hands during the Our Father is not a sin?

    How about the “WizardWave” (one hand stretched forth, palm out) during the Consecaration ?
    I. Just. Can’t.

  32. MouseTemplar says:

    Consecration. -2 sp.

  33. jlduskey says:

    I regularly make the sign of the cross during mass, and I haven’t exactly counted all the times when I do so. But two points stand out to me, as I recall the way I participate in the Holy Sacrifice:
    1. I always pray the Roman Canon as Eucharistic Prayer–silently, to be sure, and in the second half, at the prayer “Supplices te rogamus” I always make the sign of the cross at the words “Omni benedictione caelesti et gratia repleamur.” A call for God’s blessing deserves a sign of the cross.
    2. I always appreciate it when, at communion time, the celebrant allows the altar servers, acting along with the people present, to pray the Confiteor, and, after that, when the priest recites the “Misereatur” and the “Indulgentiam.” for the forgiveness of venial sins, with people making the sign of the cross at the “Indulgentiam.” Even venial sins such as distracted thinking during Mass ought to be formally forgiven in this way.

  34. I make the sign of the Cross at any reference of the Trinity and all the places in the EF during the OF, just seems right to do.

  35. mburn16 says:

    “How about the “WizardWave” (one hand stretched forth, palm out) during the Consecaration ”

    I would need to see this in practice. Sounds rather like a salute popular in Nuremberg circa 1939…

  36. gracie says:

    Does anyone know if venial sins are forgiven when the priest does “Plan B” – you know, instead of the Confiteor the priest says, “For an end to wars everywhere, Lord have mercy (Lord have mercy); For all of us to become good stewards of the environment, Christ have mercy (Christ have mercy); For our politicians to make good decisions, Lord have mercy (Lord have mercy)? With Plan B there is no individual admission of personal sin; nor do we ask God to forgive us those sins (unlike in the Confiteor). There’s just a verbal communal goo recited with the “Lord/Christ have mercies” tacked onto the end which doesn’t even make sense in the context of what’s been said before – there’s not even an admission that we’ve even been lacking in anything, just a “let’s promote these causes this Sunday” manifesto that’s imposed on us. Since we don’t even allude to our venial sins nor do we ask to be forgiven them, are they forgiven anyway?

  37. Gratias says:

    Dear Fr. Z, you are a one-man Parish or rather Diocese. Your Internet apostolate reaches so many of us who find ourselves learning so much from you. May God continue to bless you.

    I also thank you for your lent podcasts, you have a wonderful speaking voice.

  38. lana says:

    I would like to understand why it is ok to add this move, but not hold hands at the Our Father. Either we can improvise ‘as the Spirit moves’ us, or we can’t.

    And for the record, I only hold hands at the Our Father under duress, (ie. to be nice if it seems expected by the person next to me) and I have to control my impulse to cross myself after the confiteor.

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  40. liebemama says:

    “…Nachlass, Vergebung und Verzeihung…” when the Priest says these words I make the sign of the cross and I am not alone, but certainly in the minority. I have also seen Bishops and Priests make the sign of the cross at this point. I did not grow up with it, but probably saw it somewhere and it just felt right. Instinct.
    But, I know that my and my family’s gestures during Mass do not entirely please our Pastor. He has removed the word “Sünde” (sin) from the Mass. He leaves out the Embolismus, which pains me. We do pray for him. He has the largest Parish in our Diocese. Our Parish is in fact larger than the whole Diocese of Görlitz! And no one is catechized!

  41. JonPatrick says:

    Reason number 65,535 for Summorum Pontificum (or is it 67,389? I lost count).

  42. Phil_NL says:

    One part of me would love to see the reaction this priest would have to someone in my parish who not just crosses himself, but actually takes a small crucifix out of he pocket of his jacket and kisses it at various points. Now that’s abuse!
    OK, I admit doing that’s a bit over the top, and I wouldn’t do the same, but if it pleases him, why not? It’s not disruptive, it’s not impious, it’s not inappropriate.

  43. mpolo says:

    When the priest uses form C, it should close with an absolution formula anyway, so I don’t think it’s a problem as far as forgiveness goes. Even if it were, the reception of Communion definitely forgives venial sins (CCC 1393, quoting St. Ambrose).

  44. robtbrown says:

    Last Sunday he said we should not cross ourselves after the confiteor when he says the prayer of absolution. He said this was an abuse and the only time we should cross ourselves was at the beginning and the end of the mass.

    The response to such a priest is simple and obvious:

    Father, I don’t think you’re being very pastoral.

  45. Legisperitus says:

    If this priest were only facing the right way, he wouldn’t have to worry himself over whatever little acts of devotion the people in the pews are doing.

  46. sw85 says:

    I cannot imagine a worse way to refill those empty pews than to scold parishioners for their piety.

  47. WGS says:

    another advantage of the E. F. of the Mass – no rubrics for the layman. Each individual worshipper respectfully and charitably behaves himself as he thinks fit.

    And, by the way, for the O.F. of the Mass, there is no need to be concerned with the grabbing hands at the Sign of Peace or The Lord’s Prayer. At the appropriate time, just make sure you have a firm two handed grip on a prayer book, Bible, hymnal, missalette, etc. Then, smile and nod if it makes you feel better.

  48. Legisperitus says:

    WGS: That’s a good point. Having grown up with the O.F., I was really impressed by the extent to which people are treated as adults in the E.F.

  49. Qwikness says:

    Yes. It seems natural to do so after the confiteor. I did it and didn’t know why. Didn’t know if it was right. Then I saw it done at an EF. It validated it for me.

  50. @ lana “why it is ok to add this move, but not hold hands at the Our Father. Either we can improvise ‘as the Spirit moves’ us, or we can’t. ”

    Consider that holding hands has never been a liturgical action. Crossing oneself, genuflecting, bowing, even the solemn embrace for the Kiss of Peace [not a handshake or a wave] by those in the Sanctuary, and such actions were part of the old Mass and other devotions. Liturgical actions based on tradition have a basis for the present.

    It is ironic that those who hold hands at the Our Father or go crazy greeting every stranger at the Kiss of Peace are almost always the same people who ignore the instructions to strike the breast in the ‘I confess’, to bow at the mention of the Incarnation in the Creed, and never bow at the Consecration or pay that most sacred moment much mind.

    This poor priest who forbids crossing oneself at Mass! Why it is almost as if the clergy has been told to suppress acts of piety and any reverence for our Creator. Gee. Makes ya wonder.

  51. robtbrown says:

    I wonder whether this happened. It seems more typical of the Church in the US in the 70’s or 80’s.

  52. robtbrown says:

    Should be: I wonder where this happened.

  53. jmhem5 says:

    Phil_NL, perhaps the gentleman you mentioned (who kisses his pocket crucifix) was at one time Orthodox or is Eastern Catholic? Normally, at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, the congregation files up one-by-one to Father (or the Bishop, if present) where the faithful of all ages kiss the crucifix in Father’s extended hand … and then each kisses his hand. While the specific gestures may seem “foreign” to Latin rite Catholics, the spiritual sensibilities surely are not. Bless me Father, I’m an ‘icon kissing’ Catholic.

  54. Vincent says:

    I’m afraid I laughed… Making the Sign of the Cross is one of the major abuses in liturgy in most Parishes across the world, I can’t believe the Vatican hasn’t pronounced it as anathema…

    However, I think there is a really interesting question about the absolution given in the Novus Ordo form of the Mass – because it seems to me that it is missing a key part that is centuries old, the “indulgentiam”.. Obviously some people have mentioned it here already, but I wonder if there is a liturgical expert or canonist who could specify the necessity/validity of absolution granted without it – to me it seems that it is a common feature of Tridentine approved uses of the Roman Rite (it appears in the Tridentine Missal, the Sarum Use and the Ambrosian Use, to my knowledge, although apparently not before Trent – according to an eighth century Missal, the Mass was similar in structure but lacked the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar…

    On a final note, the “indulgentiam” is the form used for the Urbi et Orbi Latin Apostolic Blessing, so I’m guessing that is the ‘correct’ place for the Sign of the Cross to be made. Not that it ever does any harm to make it!

  55. Phil_NL says:


    I don’t know that person well enough to be sure, but Eastern Christians, are thin on the ground here, and those few do have a chapel with a Byzantine rite Mass in the same city. It matters not, though – in a way he’s to be commended for sticking out, even though he must know many will find it odd (if they notice, I didn’t realise for several years, it’s a fairly discreet gesture).

  56. nykash says:

    I’m glad to not go to Mass here… lately I’ve had to go to OF Masses due to a temporary relo. The priest doesn’t seem to skip a beat when I kneel for communion. However, I don’t understand why the laity (particularly those that grew up before the NO) embrace the ‘innovation.’ Handholding? Not for me. Bowing at the Incarnation is difficult… I so want to kneel.

  57. priests wife says:

    ….I wonder if the same priest would tell a Latino believer to stop triple-crossing herself and then kissing her fingers? I didn’t think so…

  58. priests wife says:

    and oops- my Byzantine-rite priest husband with bi-ritual faculties in this Roman archdiocese crosses himself (and the people copy) before and after the homily…

  59. JKnott says:

    We should have more such “abuses”! I have always made the Sign of the Cross at that point when at the NO and have noticed several others do the same as well, wherever I happen to be at Mass. Nothing was ever said. Actually hadn’t given it any thought. There are many who, since the Mass changes, who do not strike their breasts at the Confiteor bow in the Credo.
    One good thing about this pastor. He probably doesn’t make the Sign of the Cross on all the infants and children who go up in the Communion line with their parents . Abuse

  60. Gail F says:

    The confiteor? What’s that? I haven’t heard it at my parish since before the new translation…

    When my daughter had her first communion the DRE told all the children they were NOT to cross themselves after receiving. As I have always done so, I was a little surprised. After the meeting I told my daughter that the DRE wanted everyone to do the same thing so that it looked nice but that she could make the sign of the cross any time she wanted to!

  61. Priam1184 says:

    @Legispertus “If this priest were only facing the right way, he wouldn’t have to worry himself over whatever little acts of devotion the people in the pews are doing.” Very nice sir. I think that you have hit the nail right on the head there.

  62. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    For what it is worth, the Sign of the Cross has never been made during the Absolutionem of the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar in the Dominican Rite Mass. Frankly, singularity is probably just as bad among laity as clerics in liturgy. Certain gestures, not found in the Novus Ordo rubrics become political statements. A very bad idea, whether it is privately introduced signs of the Cross or orans position at the Our Father.

  63. Phil_NL says:

    Priam1174 / Legispertus: Not quite, I’m afraid. I suspect that even when celebrating ad orientem, such a priest would make sure that the tabernacle directly on top of the altar has a smooth, reflective and well-polished golden surface that acts as a mirror!

    Joking aside, some priests are just too busy with how their parishioners behave, and the wrong type of behavior to boot. I doubt you’d get that out of the man.

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