This article is the second in a series about the word catechist, which comes from the Greek word, “to echo.”
Choosing a name for a child or yourself is one of the most important choices that we make in life. Behind a name might lie a family story or a connection to a person of influence. A person’s name might have been inspired by an experience or a specific place. We receive a name generally three times in our life. We are given a name at birth. We sometimes take a name that signifies a deepening of our Christian identity when we celebrate Confirmation. Finally, a spouse takes on a new name in marriage. Our name links us to our memories of love and becomes a part of our core identity, speaking something about us without us realizing it.
Catechist is one of the greatest names that we can be called. Being a catechist is not simply a name or title but in fact a vocation, or calling from God. Somewhere along the way we realized that we loved sharing our faith with those we serve. This love was the first stirring of our vocation as catechists. We realize that in preparing for our classes, we are growing in our vocation, in our understanding and love of Jesus Christ and the Church. And every time we pray the Sign of the Cross, we affirm our vocation as a catechist to be an echo of love for our students.
We have prayed the Sign of the Cross countless times in our lives and taught others to do the same. Many catechists begin their lessons with the Sign of the Cross, and in doing so, they echo the Trinitarian love that is at the heart of our faith. Each time we pray the Sign of the Cross we profess that we do this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We say, “Yes, I do this in God’s name.” We live out this commitment with our words and also our bodies as we touch our hands to our forehead, our breast, and our shoulders when making the Sign of the Cross. Why do we touch these specific places? Let’s take a look.
In the Eastern Rite, the Sign of the Cross is usually made with the tips of the first three fingers brought together and the last two against the palm. The first three fingers are representative of the Trinity, while the last two fingers represent the two natures of Jesus—divine and human. In Roman Catholicism, however, we make the Sign of the Cross with an open hand as the five fingers signify the wounds of Christ.
We touch our forehead when we say, “In the name of the Father.” The Fathers of the Church (such as Tertullian) believed that touching the forehead signified heaven, where God the Father resides.
When we say, “and of the Son,” we move our hand from the forehead to the breast. This movement signifies the Incarnation, when God became man in Jesus Christ.
When we say, “and of the Holy Spirit,” we move our hand to touch our shoulders, where the early Fathers of the Church believed power and strength resided.
Many times, we rush through praying the Sign of the Cross without care or thought for what we are professing. But the Sign of the Cross speaks a language of the life-giving communion of Three Persons in One, held together by the bonds of love. The Guide for Catechists from the Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples states that:
Catechists should allow themselves to be drawn into the circle of the Father, who communicates the word; of the Son, the incarnate Word, who speaks only the words He hears from the Father; and of the Holy Spirit, who enlightens the mind to help it understand God’s words and opens the heart to receive them with love and put them into practice. (7)
As catechists, we speak a new name to our students when we pray the Sign of the Cross: we speak the name of love. Every time we pray the Sign of the Cross we imprint ourselves with the love of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Through this simple prayer, we echo the love of the Trinity to our students.
How can you help your students to understand this love and echo it in your classroom?
Read the first article in the series: Echoes of Hope.
Rediscover the power of the ancient prayer by reading Bert Ghezzi’s The Sign of the Cross.