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How Many Times Do We Bless Ourselves During Mass?

Anna-Lissa from Texas calls in to ask Father Dave a question of faith: “There are two specific times in the Mass that we bless ourselves, and that is at the beginning of Mass and then at the end. And so I have heard that those are the only two times we’re to bless ourselves; that we’re not to bless ourselves any other time during the Mass. Is that correct?”

“Yes,” Father Dave responds. “Those are the two proper times that we bless ourselves, but I would also say that it is not some great violation to make the sign of the cross at other times.” Father Dave explains that in the 1950s and 1960s, there would have been more times that even the priest who’s leading prayer would have made the sign of the cross. This practice was revised in the early 1970s after the Second Vatican Council when the Church took out all those extra blessings and changed it to a blessing on the way in and a blessing on the way out. 

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“The rule of thumb,” Father Dave says, “is if we hear the priest sing, ‘In the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ that’s the time we would bless ourselves because we’re being led by the priest.”

Father Dave adds that he’s barely old enough to remember that prior to Vatican II, it was very common for the priest giving the homily to make the sign of the cross at the beginning and end of the homily. “Part of that was the theology that the homily was sort of an interruption of the Mass therefore outside of the Mass; part of it was because the rest of the Mass was in Latin, and oftentimes the homily was in the language of the people…Vatican II corrected that aberrant notion that the homily is not outside of the Mass. We don’t sort of take a commercial break and then come back in.”

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Father Dave also mentions there is one version of the Eucharistic Prayer where the priest personally has the option to make the sign of the cross multiple times. He explains this is an ancient prayer held over from Vatican II.  

Father Dave clarifies that he is talking about the typical Roman Catholic experience. “In other Eastern churches within the universal Catholic Church, as well as Orthodox Christians; they make the sign of the cross a lot more times throughout their liturgies.” Anna-Lissa points out that often she sees people bless themselves after they receive the Eucharist. “I did that when I was a kid,” Father Dave says. “And honestly, when I receive communion in line, I still revert to being a kid and I do that myself.”