At our adult forum at St. Alban’s Church we periodically have what we call Ask a Priest day, when the clergy stand before parishioners and answer questions. Anything goes. In the few Ask a Priest forums that I have participated in there has always been a question about the difference between what Episcopalians call the doctrine of Real Presence and what Roman Catholics call Transubstantiation and what Lutherans call Consubstantiation. It’s a great question and one that every Episcopalian should be able to answer. But that’s another post. My favorite question from yesterday’s Ask a Priest forum was “When is it appropriate to make the sign of the cross during a church service?”
Growing up in the Roman Catholic church the nuns at St. Michael’s taught us first how to make the sign: Touch your foreheads and remember the Father; touch your hearts and remember the Son; touch your shoulders and remember the Holy Spirit. Then they taught us why we made each part of sign of the cross. The first part of the sign (the horizontal part) is like drawing an “I.” Drawing the “I” reminds us of our tendency toward self-centeredness. The second part of the sign (the horizontal part) “crosses out” the “I” and serves to remind us not to live for ourselves but to live for others… make an I and then cross it out! Martin Buber’s Ich and Du (I and Thou) for 4th graders… I like it!
In the first church I served the priest I worked for used to kiss his stole before he put it on when we were vesting for church services. I never understood why and never asked. I know one parishioner who during a Holy Eucharist Rite II service always recites the Apostle’s Creed when everyone else is reciting the Nicene. In answering yesterday’s question I commented that one of my liturgy professors in seminary taught us that there is only one “mistake” that one can make in liturgy: To do something and not understand why.
I love the old Quaker saying: “When the meeting is over the service begins.” I suppose one could say that no matter what sign language we use during church it’s all for nought if it doesn’t translate into the way we live our lives. As the General Thanksgiving in The Book of Common Prayer goes:
…And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.
On Holy Cross Day,