What do the hand gestures used by the celebrant during worship mean? Why do people cross themselves?
Thanks so much for emailing us. These are important and huge questions for any of us worshiping at All Saints. Because it’s a big question, I’m going to be breaking it down into several parts. This first post is about the theory, and the later posts are more about the practical. To begin…
Early in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (now for sale in both normal and awesome versions), in an imagined series of letters from an experienced demon to a younger one giving advice on how to trip up a new Christian, the experienced demon writes that one very important way to cause people to stumble is to get them to assume that their bodies don’t matter for their lives in God:
At the very least, they [both Christians and humans in general] can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever they do with their bodies do affects their souls.
There are, of course, plenty of applications for what our bodily actions have to do with our souls, but I want to lift up one point: God created us with bodies and called this creation good, very good in fact. God desires us to worship not only with our hearts, not only with our minds, not only with our spirits, but with our bodies as well.
And so we come to the short answer to your question: The hand gestures used by the celebrant are visual, bodily invitations to worship God with our whole selves. The Christian act of crossing oneself is to participate in worshiping God with our whole selves.
Until the next post on this topic, it might be fruitful to think about the gestures and actions that already are familiar parts of worship for most Christians, liturgical or not. Like this one, for instance:
Check back soon as this series continues, or add us to your Google Reader.
Peace in Christ,
Rev. Nick Jordan