Leave Off That Last Bookend?

bookendI have three-plus chapters to read for homework tonight, so I’m not going to get deeply theological. But while I was on retreat last week, something occurred to me. I wonder if you’ve noticed it, or done something with it.

You start a meeting with a prayer. Or maybe it’s a personal endeavor or something. You sign yourself with the cross. Then say the prayer. Then sign again. Then unsquint your eyes and look up.

Has anyone ever thought about eliminating that second signation? I didn’t do it after the opening prayer of the meetings with my spiritual director. I was thinking, “I’m going to lay bare my spiritual experiences of the past twenty-four hours. Is that not prayer? Akin to prayer? Something spiritual? And don’t I still need to be under the sign of my savior?”

And I thought a little more about it and shelved it for post-retreat. Have I been using the sign of the cross as sort of an on-off switch? Do I have to flick to “off” before getting to last meeting’s minutes, or the class content, or having a talk with the young miss? I don’t think so.

I think I’m going to leave off that last bookend everywhere except for the final blessing at Mass. I’m going to treat my meeting, my class, and my chat with a daughter as part of a prayer “under” the sign of a still-switched-on cross.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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3 Responses to Leave Off That Last Bookend?

  1. Liam says:

    It’s not quite a bookend. It’s a punctuation of Trinitarian prayer. And the Catholic practice is to punctuate prayer that way. There’s an old Gregorian collect (from Ember Saturday of Lent, if I read correctly) that was adapted by Cranmer into the collect for the day after Ash Wednesday and has come into more general usage in English language prayer, and it includes the following resonant line ” . . . that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in Thee, we may glorify Thy holy Name . . . “. The Sign of the Cross is the Trinitarian invocation of that.

  2. Todd says:

    I see your point. I suspect for you, it is not a bookend. But I reflect on what I see in others, and even in my own attitudes. With my recent retreat director, I found the prayer a moving and appropriate beginning to our daily conferences. But I was watching my own attitude at this transition. First, pray. Second, get down to the business of reporting my experiences. And I didn’t want to be just reporting and experiencing a “clinical” exchange.

    Perhaps a more faithful possibility is to employ the signation in between each agenda item at the parish meeting, remaining faithful to the spirit and letter of Cranmer’s collect.

    You always provide me with ample food for thought, Liam. Thanks for that.

  3. Liam says:

    “Perhaps a more faithful possibility is to employ the signation in between each agenda item at the parish meeting, remaining faithful to the spirit and letter of Cranmer’s collect.”

    That indeed is truer to to the spirit of the Signum Crucis. As you are aware, the EF contains many such gestures, and most were eliminated in the spirit of removing unnecessary repetitions, and it is true that when the gesture seems more like a tic, then it tends to lose its spirit. Habits are good, except when they aren’t; habits are bad, except when they aren’t. (A useful tool in spiritual direction, right?) It can be good to revisit habits, shake them up, and observe how that shifts our awareness of the good and not-so-good in them. The risk when doing this with ritual is that ritual by its very nature is repetitive, and shaking it up for the sake of shaking it up can euthanize the good dimensions of rituality unless a self-limiting spirit is brought along. It’s a delicate thing. Probably more plausible in a stable intentional religious community where everyone is accountable to everyone, and has come over time both to know and to be compassionate with everyone else’s weaknesses and strengths. Much harder to do in a parish or diocesan context, I suspect.

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