First to my Catholic readers: WHW's response is a perfect example of how important it is for Catholics to open every channel of unity possible with our non-Catholic brothers and sisters. The Catholic faith, ultimately, is not ours. It is God's gift through His Son, Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to ALL of humanity. The Catholic Church belongs equally to non-Catholics and Catholics alike. Though some non-Catholics may not accept part or all of the gift, the gift will always be rightfully theirs as much as it is ours. May Catholics never engage in the kind of denominationalist mindset that sustains so many of the divides within Christianity, but rather may we always speak the truth in love and model Christ's love for all of his children.
Second, to WHW: I offer my deepest apology on behalf of Catholics (including myself) who do not always live up to the faith we hold so dear. For any Catholic to suggest that an ancient practice such as the sign of the cross somehow belongs only to Catholics--and for such a Catholic to take offense when a brother or sister in Christ makes the sign--is not only unreasonable but is contrary to the very ecuminical effort of the Catholic Church as a whole. So for what it is worth, I ask for forgiveness on behalf of my Catholic brothers and sisters who have wronged you, and I invite you to join me in sharing the Catholic vision with these same brothers and sisters. From your comments, I imagine that you would agree that it is no more a misrepresentation when you proclaim a belief in the Trinity or practice Sunday worship or uphold the sacredness of marriage than it would be for you to make the sign of the cross. Rather, the Trinity, Sunday worship, marriage, and the sign of the cross would all be real areas of unity--the very type of unity that Christ prayed for! In this sense, you wouldn't be pretending to be Catholic at all--you would BE Catholic--and that is a prospect that any Catholic should rejoice over, not take offense at. Certainly, these same Catholics would be wrong to take offense if you made the sign with the same faith and religious intention that they do. Do they take offense when hang a cross on your wall or adorn your Bible cover with one? I doubt it; their position is simply inconsistent.
There is one final perspective from which one could offer a corrective to such contrarians: the historical one. As John Henry Cardinal Newman once said, "to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." (I believe this quote is from his
Yet this does raise one interesting question that goes unaddressed by WHW: why did Protestant groups ORIGINALLY stop making the sign of the cross? Are the reasons themselves still valid today? Do these reasons (whatever they are) still influence some Christians' decision to abstain from this gesture today?
While I can not guarantee that no Catholics will ever take offense to what you say or do, even if these actions are in accord with God's will (and even the teachings of the Catholic Church!), I for one would be overjoyed if a worldwide phenomenon swept through all non-Catholic Christian services in which everyone began making the sign of the cross.
I would encourage all Protestants to begin a dialogue with their pastors about how to recover this ancient Christian practice in their services. The sign of the cross does not belong within the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church--it belongs to the entire universe! (One may indeed find, however, that the Catholic Church is indeed as big as the entire universe--no, bigger.)
Two closing thoughts:
Is there anything in the Catholic Church that non-Catholics are NOT invited to?
The surprising answer is a resounding NO! Non-Catholics are invited to the Eucharist, to Reconciliation, to Confirmation, etc. However, they are invited with the same preconditions with which Catholics are invited. For instance, the sacrament of perfect unity--the Eucharist--would logically entail that those who partake of it have faithfully accepted the unity of faith in its wholeness. The Eucharist is the very cause of the mystical oneness of Christ's body, the Church, and it would be contrary to the whole meaning of the Eucharist if one were to receive it without previously committed one's entire self to the fullness of the faith as it has been maintained by Christ's church.
Still, Catholics hope and pray that the desire shared by Catholics and Protestants to share one common meal may motivate the ecuminical dialogues taking place ever more frequently around the world.
Secondily, I would recommend Thomas Howard's fantastic book