The Church has always produced many great saints and heroes throughout history. Saint John saw, in his Apocalypse, “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne, and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands” (Apoc. 7, 9). Though we obviously cannot know all the saints while we are still on this earth, there are some great souls who have been officially canonized by the Church. These saints are given to us by the Church as an example of how we should strive to attain Heaven. By observing their holy lives, and often by reading what they wrote, we receive yet another confirmation of the immense importance of the Sign of the Cross. Yet history provides even more evidence. The Church has weathered many storms, and many great men have arisen over time to defend her. These also give witness to the importance of one of the Church’s most important prayers.
We have already examined the use of the Sign of the Cross by the early Christians. However, many of their practices are no longer used today. If this prayer was useful for the early Christians, but God did not will for us to imitate them, then this devotion would surely have faded from use two thousand years later. Yet the exact opposite is the case. We have the testimony of many great saints throughout the ages who defend with the uttermost fervor the value of the Sign of the Cross. “Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius, Gregory, Basil, Augustine, Chrysostom, Jerome, Ambrose, and so many others who swell the list…all these great intelligences practiced the Sign of the Cross most assiduously, and they incessantly recommend all Christians to make it on every occasion” (Gaume 25).
Not only have the great saints used and preached the Sign of the Cross throughout history, some of the greatest heroes of the Church have prayed it in desperate times. Some of the greatest emperors of Christendom, such as Constantine, the first emperor to make Christianity legal, Theodosius, the spiritual son of the great St. Ambrose, Charlemagne, “Charles the Great,” who ruled over most of Europe, and St. Louis, the great French king and Crusader, all believed in the power of the Sign of the Cross. Just before the battle of Lepanto, possibly the most important battle of Western Civilization, the commanders of the Catholic fleet, led by Don John of Austria, all made the Sign of the Cross to invoke Heaven’s aid. The forces of the Cross then fought a tremendous battle against the followers of the Crescent and, though severely outnumbered, the Mussulman fleet was overthrown with Divine aid. Yet again, when Vienna was besieged and Sobieski was called into battle to defend her, he made the Sign of the Cross before engaging against Islam to emerge victorious.
This list of saints, emperors, and generals is a tiny fraction of the many great occasions when the invocation of the Sign of the Cross resulted in great victories for the Church. History loudly proclaims the efficacy of the Sign of the Cross. The saints encourage it, some of the greatest kings, emperors, and heroes the world has ever seen have used it with tremendous efficacy: let us listen to them. If this small prayer with a simple gesture attached could repeatedly save empires and civilizations, how much more will it protect us in our own spiritual battles? For just as Christendom has been assailed many times throughout history, so does the devil attack our souls. Wage war, then, but first pray the Sign of the Cross. Use it to remember that the battles in life, like the battles the Church continually wages, can and will be won, no matter how difficult they may be, if the Holy Trinity, God Himself, is helping you.
The Holy Bible, Translated from the Latin Vulgate. New Testament, English College at Rheims, 1582.
Gaume, Monsignor Jean-Joseph, The Sign of the Cross, The Desert Will Flower Press, Golgotha Monastary Island, Papa Stronsay, 2007