In light of yesterday’s feast, the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14), it seems appropriate to reflect on the cross. Specifically, I’d like to focus on the only approved Marian apparition in the United States of America. On October 9, 1859, the Queen of Heaven appeared to Adele Brise in Robinsonville (now Champion), Wisconsin. Our Lady instructed Adele Brise to pray for the conversion of sinners, to offer her Holy Communion for that intention, and to make a general confession. At the close of the locution, Mary requested Adele to gather the children in the wild country and teach them what they needed to know for salvation. Adele questioned Mary, asking, “But how shall I teach them who know so little myself?” Mary responded: “Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments.” There was specificity in Our Lady”s message– Adele was to teach the children how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross. Let us then look at this practice which we use to begin our prayers.
The Sign of the Cross and the Sacraments
The Sign of the Cross is a simple action that most of us learned when we were toddlers. Every now and again you may see the picturesque moment when a mother signs her two or three year old with the sign of the cross (using the child’s hand). The Sign of the Cross itself proposes to us the understanding of the Trinity since we invoke the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Consequently, this prayer can be considered a catechetical aid.
Additionally, the cross is intimately connected to the sacramental life of the Church. The Church baptizes in the name of the Trinity; begins the Eucharistic liturgy with the Sign of the Cross; absolves sins with the Sign of the Cross; confirms with the Sign of the Cross; traces the Sign of the Cross when anointing the sick on the forehead and palm; ordained men serve at the altar, which is Calvary; and husbands and wives are to love one another as Christ loved the Church (which was exemplified by His self-emptying love on the Cross). The instruction of Our Lady to teach the children how to approach the sacraments can be seen as an instruction on the cross for the two are interconnected.
Adele’s edict from the Blessed Virgin Mary also included catechesis. The Sign of the Cross, in itself, is a catechetical tool, for one reason already mentioned. Another moment of catechesis comes because the very act of signing oneself with the cross calls to mind the redeeming action of Christ by his death. Recall the prayer during the Stations of the Cross, “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.” By teaching the Sign of the Cross, one learns about the redeeming work of Christ.
Secondly, the Sign of the Cross is a means of catechesis about Jesus’ teachings on the cross, specifically, the cross as a condition for discipleship, as found in the synoptic Gospels. The Gospel of Luke references Jesus’ teaching on the cross twice. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). And again, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:27; c.f. Mt 10:38, 16:24, and Mk 8:34). The cross, while being a symbol of death, is something that Jesus calls us to embrace; to pick up and follow after Him. In so doing, we become worthy of being his disciples. The cross is a necessary part of the Christian life and is a means for teaching. If one is going to teach about the cross, one must talk about Jesus’ call to discipleship. The Sign of the Cross should conjure within us this recognition of our discipleship. When Our Lady instructed Adele to teach the children the Sign of the Cross, this is what was behind that request. It is a part of catechesis and is what the children needed to know for salvation.
When the Queen of Heaven instructed Adele to teach the children what they needed to know for salvation, specifically their catechism, the Sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments, Adele probably did not understand everything behind such a simple message. After we reflect on the message, we can realize that contained within the mandate to catechize is one uniting factor, the cross, for it is central to Christianity. A simple action of teaching the Sign of the Cross means so much more when looking at the whole message, for it gives way to how one approaches the sacraments and the means of being a disciple. So the next time you begin your prayer, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” and simultaneously trace the sign of the Cross from your forehead, to the chest, and your two shoulders, remember there is something more than just invoking our Trinitarian God. It is the sign of our redemption and salvation, and we are called to pick up our own crosses, and follow after Jesus. This is how we can best exalt the cross on a daily basis in our own lives.
If you would like to learn more about Our Lady’s message to Adele Brise and the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, consider ordering one of Edward’s books from .