Left to right or right to left? The Sign of the Cross (2023)


13. September 2017 Liborius Lumma liturgical spirituality ritual studies

Catholics make the Sign of the Cross in the following order: the right hand moves from top (forehead) to bottom (chest) and then from left (left shoulder) to right (right shoulder). Most Eastern Christians do it in a different order: top to bottom, then right to left.

There are several theological interpretations of this difference. The biblical meaning of "left" is different from "right." Put simply, in the biblical worldview, the right side is good, noble, and heavenly, while the left side is bad, low, and earthly. (Needless to say, this approach can still be found in the English word "right".) With this in mind, we can easily imagine a large symbolic difference depending on whether you are moving from the left or the right (symbol of ascension) or from right to left (symbol of incarnation).

But there is also a more historical approach. How did the difference between Eastern and Western practice arise?

As far as I know, bishops (and priests) in the Roman Empire always made the sign of the cross as a blessing over the people by writing the sign of the cross in the air. After moving from top to bottom, they move from left to right. Why? Because that's the natural way to write. Greek and Latin words - these two languages ​​have always been dominant in the Roman Empire - are written from left to right.

What do people do when they are blessed in this way? They do what comes naturally to them: they reflect the sign. So you move from right to left (sic!). Try it with a young child: If you face a child and try to demonstrate the sign of the cross, the child will mimic your movements. If you move from left to right, the child moves from right to left. – So I know a lady who taught her grandchildren the sign of the cross, sitting next to them, not across from them.

The movement from left to right in this context is only made by those who write the sign in the air as a blessing over others. In all other cases, the movement goes from right to left - also in private prayer: I am not blessing myself, I am being blessed.

Around 1190 a Roman deacon - who later became Pope Innocent III - testified. - that some people in Rome have started to make the sign across their bodies in the opposite direction: from left to right. Since then, changing from left shoulder to right shoulder has become the typical western way.

But why have these people started to change direction? They started thinking too much. "Look, the bishop moves his hand from left to right, so we should do the same!" Greeks say 'holy' touch the right shoulder, so we should do the same!” Anyway, the natural mirror effect has been replaced with something at a higher level of reflection.

Today, the movement is always somewhat distorted during a Roman Catholic blessing. This becomes very clear when a priest stands near you and blesses you individually. As he writes the cross in the air, cross his movement with your own hand. This is by no means natural gestural communication. Instead of intuitively mirroring the sign written over us, we have taken to imitating the gesture of blessing on our own bodies.

Someone in their 12th gradethCentury began to change the direction of the movement. My personal plan is to “get someone in the 21ststcentury”, which is beginning to reverse this trend. I always make the sign of the cross from right to left. When a bishop or priest makes the blessing sign from left to right, it feels natural to mirror that sign by moving from right to left. During this movement, my arm goes from a cramped position (right fingers on right shoulder) to an open and wide position (right fingers on left shoulder) - perhaps a beautiful symbol of spiritual development!

will anyone join me (But please don't ask me what you should do if you're left-handed.)

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  1. Not me. I would staunchly object to toying with centuries of lay practice in this regard, such as attempts to get English-speaking lay Catholics to change the Lord's Prayer significantly, which have mercifully failed miserably (my current pastor is trying to persuade the congregation in this regard , which is a rather unprogressive approach….). This is an attempt to fix something that isn't *broken*, and I doubt it's wise to try.

    (Video) The Meaning of the Sign of the Cross

    By the way, the direction is not the only important difference between East and West. There is also finger formation and whether the second gesture goes to the lower body rather than the middle (and there are differences within the East on these issues as well).


    1. I am Eastern Orthodox and we have never changed the way we make the Sign of the Cross: forehead to belly, right to left. This makes a crude Greek equal arm cross. In the West, when a person crosses their forehead and chest, the left-to-right direction reverses the original order. Karl Liam Sur is also right that finger formation is different in Eastern Orthodoxy. We use the thumb, forefinger and middle finger held together to evoke the Holy Trinity (Old Believers/Old Rite Orthodox use only the forefinger and middle finger for the two natures of Christ, man and God), while the West is more of the same an open hand.

      1. I come from a British Methodist background and am now a distinctive deacon in the Church of England. And come from a low background. Years ago I started crossing myself in private prayers and not knowing how I developed a practice was right to left. As a deacon, I still use this method even as I minister at the altar. I know I can minister in a high church Anglican environment.

  2. I think KLS is right that we shouldn't "fuddle" with lay practice when "fiddle around" means legislation or coercion, but I feel that LL's original aim is to set a discreet and voluntary example rather than a flashy and hyperdidactic one.

    I should add to the symbolism that for those of us who are attached to the pre-conciliar form of the Latin Rite, the eastern (and older western) right-to-left direction also reflects the missal's transition from the epistle to the gospel side symbolized as that Gospel came first to the Jews (right), then to the Gentiles/all nations (left).

    Let me put it this way: like Karl Liam Saur, I wouldn't delve too deeply into it either, and I don't think modern Latin practice is 'broken' either, but personally I wouldn't mind an organic, lower transition to the older one form that we could share with our orthodox brothers. (No, I'm not going to get into the whole Old Believer three-on-two-finger schism...)


  3. I have made the Sign of the Cross right to left on my body for most of my adult life. I picked it up from the Ukrainians and it felt more natural, so I stuck with it. Neither direction nor finger formation have any implied meaning - all interpretations of these arise after practice, and interpretations can be generated to support anything. I have been a Roman Rite priest for 30 years. Few of the people who actually notice ever said anything, and the only person who was ever angry was an English monk.
    When in front of small children who are still learning the practice, they mirror me, making the sign of the cross from left to right; As they bless them, they reflect the sign made, thus going from right to left.


  4. Many times over the centuries following the Popes it has led to a weakening of the faith and a divergence with Eastern Christianity. Be it the Sign of the Cross, the change in the Nicene Creed, or the dilution of the Catholic Mass into an almost Protestant form. Not looking for a fight offered only for sober thoughts.


  5. It seems to me that the beginning of this article made sense when you lost me. When blessing someone, point your hand outward to some degree and go left to right, ascension. You bless them to ascend to heaven. As you bless yourself after prayer, from right to left, invite the Holy Spirit. Incarnation. It just so happens when the priest or father faces the person, he goes left to right to give the blessing, the person goes right to left to bless himself and you also get the mirror effect. I'll be honest, I don't follow just one particular religion, but that makes the most sense to me.



  6. Right to left was first. It's the orthodox way, no distortion. to be at the right hand of God. Much changed after the schism.


    1. I believe that if you sign yourself, it's the right way, left to right. It seems to me that I have been doing this since childhood. This way it feels more natural to bring the right hand back to center to connect with the other hand. Especially if you are right-handed, how does a left-handed person think about it or use their right hand to make the sign.


    2. I was part of the western church and I used to cross myself with three fingers and found when I became orthodox that the right to left movement was more natural - don't ask me why because I'm right handed but for me it feels that way just feel natural.

      And you are right – a lot has changed since the schism.


  7. Just looking at the history of the Sign of the Cross this shouldn't even be up for debate, it was done universally (or Catholic if you prefer) right to left by the early Church and continued by the Eastern Church to this day. The 2 finger gesture is the bigger thing in my opinion and the oldest form, also used by the early church (attested in the oldest icons). The index and middle fingers pointing upwards with a slightly curved center symbolize Christ being fully man and fully God, with the thumb, ring finger and little finger all lying side by side symbolizing the Trinity.

    Of course there is no salvation in the way of crossing oneself, after Jesus said that he wants mercy, not sacrifice, but I think it is important to try to continue the tradition handed down to us by the saints, to preserve as much as possible. This is only my opinion.

    God bless!


    1. Is this perhaps the origin of the less-than-loving English term used to describe Catholics as "left-handed"?


  8. To be the right way we would need to know how Jesus was nailed to the cross, was the first nail from the right hand to the left or from the left to the right. I think both ways are correct. It recognizes that Jesus was nailed to the cross. Hallelujah


    (Video) Catholic 101: The Sign of the Cross
    1. I'm left-handed and use my left hand first to my right side and then to my left, and I'm R-Catholic...


  9. when in italy people have stopped several times in the middle of the street and crossed me.. can someone tell me what that means???


  10. For me as a simple man. For me, I think head to chest, right to left. I have always been told that the Son Jesus is seated at the right hand of God.


  11. God looks at your heart


  12. Happy Maundy Thursday to all bloggers. The comments that impressed me the most concerned "Ascension" (L-R) and "Incarnation" (R-L). It may seem more than a compromise, then, to teach that we begin prayer with the sign of the cross R-L (incarnation - inviting the Holy Spirit to form His thoughts and will in us) and then teach that thereafter our Prayers were sent and made the sign of the cross L-R (Ascension). Like consecrated bookends for our offerings. I am much happier informing catechumens than telling them a way is right or wrong or worse, East or West. It is both and! God bless you, Rev. Youroukos! please pray for me


  13. My father, a Ukrainian, told me that we go from right to left, just like Michael Weldon says, “Jesus sat at the right hand of God. As a child and also as an adult, I always went from right to left.


    (Video) Sign of Cross Right to Left

  14. I think only Latin and Syro-Antiochene traditions changed the first millennium practice of the sign of the cross from right to left to left to right. Syro Malabarians, a Latinized tradition, also changed it due to the influence of the Latin Church (but they recently corrected it in their liturgical texts)... Aside from the historical reason above, there seems to be another reason, possibly a theological/symbolic reason: When we say "in the name of the Father," we move our hand from top to bottom, and when we say "and of the Son," we move our hand from bottom to right—in the biblical understanding, the Son is on the Father's right hand (although I don't know that God has any side?). The sign of the cross itself is a Trinitarian formula.


  15. The teachings and the commentaries are all good. The sign of the cross has been mentioned or seen in the scriptures in many instances. Just as Moses fought the Amalekites, his raised hands perhaps making a sign of the cross, the Israelites won the battle. The same Moses was instructed to make a bronze serpent and set it up on a tree so that whoever looked at it would be healed. Jesus dying on the cross again shows the cross as a great sign of victory. For me, therefore, the "sign of the cross" has the greater meaning. It is a weapon to fight our enemy, the "devil". A prayer ”, under the sign of the Cross, deliver us from our enemies, O our God, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.” We say this prayer while touching our forehead, lips and chest or belly and finally making the big cross which is head, chest or belly and shoulders.


  16. Is it important to cross ourselves a certain way? In a word, YES. We do not have the authority to arbitrarily choose which parts of the Christina tradition we want to follow. Our fathers and countless saints crossed themselves from right to left. Ancient icons depict Christ or bishops beginning a blessing from right to left. the right side is often given priority in the scriptures and in our sacred hymns. What should we want to change?
    The romans officially changed it to ROM not all catholicism lol in the 15th century.


  17. I did mine left to right. It's like when you're lowest (left) you're being redirected to the righteous path (right). And may I add, the left hand is the receiver (you receive the holiness, the grace of the Lord), the right hand is the giver (you share the holiness and blessings of the Lord with others). No hate please, it's just my personal point of view. God bless us all.


  18. Having joined the Latin Rite Roman Catholic Church about 50 years ago, I'm used to going left to right, and only once. But that is custom and habit. In a different context I would hopefully adapt that.

    Another question might be whether in a liturgical setting we see the bishop/priest blessing the assembly, in which case mirroring the gesture makes sense; or as a request for God's blessings on the whole congregation including themselves, in which case repeating the gesture would make sense in other ways as well. But that's another question that I'm sure has been discussed somewhere on PrayTell before?


  19. I was raised Roman Catholic by both my father and Eastern Orthodox by my mother, imagine when I went to Sunday school and was corrected after a lengthy stay at my grandfather's church in eastern Pennsylvania where we got it did right to left, although I don't know the origins, and people have never told me what they were or why it all makes sense now, but when this came up in one of my searches I just got excited and caught started explaining to my wife yes I actually did it right and was only told I was doing it wrong and CCD classes without ever being explained to me


  20. I am left handed and Catholic. I always try to do it with my right hand. My mum must be very angry with me and I did my best but it was just automatic, just doing it with my left does it really make a difference and should I go from right to left I've often wondered , please let me know if you can explain, thanks.


    (Video) Sign of The Cross Song

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Why do you go left to right when making the sign of the cross? ›

Moving from left to right symbolizes moving from the curse to the side of blessing, or from Hades to Paradise. If we hold three fingers together while making the sign of the cross, they symbolize the trinity, and the two other fingers together represent Christ's two natures, that he is fully man and fully divine.

Is the Catholic sign of cross left to right? ›

Roman Catholics make the sign of the cross in the following order: The right hand moves from top (forehead) to bottom (chest) and then from left (left shoulder) to right (right shoulder). Most Eastern Christians do it in a different order: From top to bottom and then from right to left.

What does a sideways cross mean Catholic? ›

Many people view the horizontal cross as a symbol of Jesus achieving the salvation of His people. As His work is finished, the cross has been laid down. He no longer has to carry the weight of the cross or the sins of His people.

Do you cross yourself with your left or right hand? ›

To “cross yourself,” take your right hand and put your thumb, index, and middle finger together. In Western Christianity, you then touch your forehead, the center of your chest, your left shoulder, and your right shoulder. In Eastern (Orthodox) churches, you touch your right shoulder before your left shoulder.

Why do Catholics have left footers? ›

The right foot, was equated with the 'best foot' and as such 'left footer' became a euphemism for someone not involved in the struggle for Ulster ie a Roman Catholic. The phrase is still in popular usage in Ulster today.

Does the sideways cross have a meaning? ›

Nordic Tradition for Sideways Cross meaning:

It gained popularity due to the story that it fell upon Danish soldiers during a battle, which they later won. People believe that it was a sign that enabled them to succeed. Today, most people in Scandinavia consider it to be a symbol of Christianity, honor, and patriotism.

What does a double sided cross mean? ›

A two-barred cross is used to symbolize checkmate.

What does a reverse cross mean? ›

In Christianity, it is associated with the martyrdom of Peter the Apostle. The symbol originates from the Catholic tradition that when sentenced to death, Peter requested that his cross be upside down, as he felt unworthy of being crucified in the same manner as Jesus.

Do you make the sign of the cross when you genuflect? ›

If you are going to sit in a pew, genuflect on one knee before entering and leaving. It is optional to cross yourself while genuflecting.

Why do we make the sign of the cross on your forehead lips and heart? ›

We cross our forehead so that the Word of God may be in our thoughts and purify our minds. We cross our lips so that our speech may be holy and incline us to share the Gospel with others. And we cross our hearts to invite God to strengthen our love for Him and others.

Which hand to bless yourself? ›

Answer: The right hand, probably in part due to the fact that most people are right-handed, is traditionally the hand of blessing and greeting in many cultural settings, a convention found in Scripture and Tradition.

Why do Catholics kiss their hand after crossing themselves? ›

They make a cross with their thumb and index finger; the thumb is the vertical bar placed over the index finger, which is the horizontal bar. By kissing their thumb, they are symbolically kissing the Cross of Jesus. It implies a humble acceptance of one's own cross in imitation of Jesus Christ.

What is the significance of the right hand? ›

The “right hand” is seen as a place of honor and status throughout the biblical text. When the Bible makes statements that Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of the Father, it is affirming that he has equal status to the Father within the Godhead (Hebrews 1:3, 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22; Acts 7:55-56).

Do you genuflect on your right or left knee? ›

This is done on the left knee. The custom of genuflecting, as a sign of respect and even of service, arose out of the honor given to medieval kings. In modern times, when the folded flag of a fallen veteran is offered to the family, the presenting officer will go down on his left knee, if the recipient is seated.

Do Catholics genuflect on right knee? ›

Is it permissible to alternate knees? (Johnstown, Pa.) A: Right is right. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, “a genuflection, made by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and therefore it is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament” (No. 274).

Do Catholics still genuflect? ›

Whenever the consecrated host is not present (in the tabernacle or on the altar), it is customary to give a bow from the waist toward the altar. The altar is a symbol of Jesus and His sacrifice, but it is not Him physically present so Catholics do not need to genuflect.

Why do Catholics sit stand and kneel during Mass? ›

It's a sign of respect, and can also be a wordless symbol for the Resurrection. Catholics may sit while the two readings from the Old Testament and from the New Testament Epistles are read; but we always stand for a reading of the Gospel, in which are found the words of Christ Himself. Kneeling is a sign of humility.

Why do Catholics make the sign of the cross on their face? ›

We cross our forehead so that the Word of God may be in our thoughts and purify our minds. We cross our lips so that our speech may be holy and incline us to share the Gospel with others. And we cross our hearts to invite God to strengthen our love for Him and others.

What religion puts a cross on their forehead? ›

Today, Christians use the holiday both to repent and reflect. The ash cross marking observers' foreheads is meant to represent mortality and penance for their sins.


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