Is There a “Right” Way To Make the Sign of the Cross?

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I noticed in reference to the Sign of the Cross, you state a “mistake” many children make is touching the right shoulder before the left. Is that not the way it was originally done and is still done in the Eastern Catholic communities? Granted we are in the West; however, that does not really make us right and the East wrong.

This is in reference to something I wrote in the section on the Sign of the Cross in Ten Prayers Every Catholic Child Should Know:

The most common problem that children have in learning the Sign of the Cross is using their left hand instead of their right; the second most common is touching their right shoulder before the left.

I didn’t write that touching their right shoulder before their left is a “mistake,” though it’s understandable why the reader got that impression. The reader is exactly right, however: Eastern Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox) make the Sign of the Cross by touching their right shoulder first. Many also touch their right shoulder up higher than their left shoulder.

Both actions remind us of the two thieves who were crucified alongside Christ. The thief on His right was the “good thief” (traditionally known as Saint Dismas) who professed faith in Christ and whom Christ promised “This day you will be with me in paradise.” Touching the right shoulder first, and touching it higher up than the left shoulder, indicates the fulfillment of Christ’s promise.

(This is also signified by the slanted crossbar under Christ’s feet in an Eastern crucifix–the bar slants from left down to right as we look at the crucifix, since the left is the side of Christ’s right hand.)

Since my wife and I spent two years in an Eastern Rite Catholic parish, I find myself on occasion making the Sign of the Cross in the Eastern manner, especially when praying prayers that I learned in the Eastern Church or when venerating icons.

The reader is right: Neither way is right or wrong. However, Catholic children in the Latin Rite should be taught to make the Sign of the Cross in the Western manner–just as Catholic children in the Eastern Rites should be taught to touch their right shoulder before their left.

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