Marked By the Sign of the Cross
The cross is one of the most ancient symbols of Christianity. Crosses hang from rear-view mirrors, on bedroom walls, and stand on faraway hills. They adorn ear lobes, necklines, and wrists. Jewelers prize them and tourist vendors take stock in them. Because the cross has become so commonplace, its central meaning can be taken for granted, but what happens when this symbol is put into symbolic action? What does it mean when someone is marked with the sign of the cross?
Since the second century Christians have been marked on the forehead, the breast and the eyes as a sign that they were claimed by Christ. We will repeat this long-standing tradition this Sunday. We will celebrate the Rite of Welcoming the Candidates who seek to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church or who seek to complete their Christian initiation through the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist at the 10:00 Mass. At the 2:00 Mass, we will celebrate the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens with those who are unbaptized.
These rites are thresholds in the lives of those seeking to know God. For months or perhaps years, these persons have gathered to ask questions about our faith and to share their stories.
They express their desire to be disciples of Christ in front of the assembly. Then, they are signed with the cross on the forehead, ears, eyes, lips, heart, shoulders, hands, and feet -- signifying that their entire beings are immersed in and strengthened by the power of the cross. The signations express their initial yes to God’s call as they promise to live out the teachings of the Gospel and to follow the path of Christ. This promise is the response to discipleship--a journey which leads to the cross.
It may seem rather odd that a welcoming ceremony celebrating a new way of life would be symbolized by a cross. It is very telling of what the catechumens and candidates can expect as they journey into the mystery of Christ, a continual dying to self and rising to new life in Jesus.
Along with this new way of life comes a new identity and a new name. From now on, the unbaptized are called catechumens and those who are already baptized are called candidates. This change of status takes place amid the assembly, whose members were first marked with the sign of the cross at baptism. The signing with the cross is not only a symbol of a sharing in the life and death of Christ but is also a sign of unity with the Body of Christ--the community of believers. It is the members of the community who sign, acclaim, affirm and companion the catechumens throughout their journey.
We rejoice with our catechumens and candidates and give thanks to God for this new life in our midst!