Catholic Dance Moves: The Neon Bible Approach to Catholicism
So, for all of you non-Catholics out there, do you ever feel like you want to brush up on your know of Catholic dance moves? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Have you ever been in mass and then not known what comes next, but luckily had the person next to you to look to? Well, here’s the deal. Being Catholic is all about worship together, so it’s kinda like doing a toned down, sacred electric slide, in a sense.
I once had a friend say “Man, I feel like being Catholic is a dance party, and I just don’t have the right moves.” I never forgot those words. And so, in honor of my groove-challenged friend, and his inquiries into some dance skills, I have decided to provide. Ask and it shall be given, after all.
And seeing how Arcade Fire just took a grammy for Album of the Year, I think some congratulations are in order via a pictoral shoutout, and the dance-themed approach to this post, as well as a new sub-category called Dance Moves. I’ll be talking about the various practices of the mass and Catholic life, as dance school. It should be fun.
So, where does this “Sign of the Cross” come from?
Well, the earliest written source about the practice for the Sign of the Cross is Tertullian who wrote in the early Second Century.
“In all our travels and movements”, says Tertullian (De cor. Mil., iii), “in all our coming in and going out, in putting of our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupieth us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross”.
Tertullian was a prolific writer and provides a lot of insight to us about Church practices in his day, but for him to pay attention to this detail means it must have been rather significant. Tertullian was a man concerned with refuting heresies and providing large and sweeping defenses of the faith, so that he picks up on enough to write about this means, to me, it must have been widespread from the earliest days of Christianity.
By the Fourth Century, the practice had become standard fare in all the Churches which bore the name Christian and we see this in the writings of St. Cyril of Jerusalem who in his “Catecheses” (xiii, 36) remarks:
“let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in every thing; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in goings; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are travelling, and when we are at rest”.
Since we saw that from the earliest days of Christianity, the sign of the cross has been written about, signing one’s forehead is a practice which likely has apostolic origins. If not the apostles during the immediate recordings of the bible, then certainly the St. Peter who had seen God heal others through his shadow and the St. Paul who had seen the power of the Eucharist in action both for life, and in fact, for death as well.
In fact, when we look at scripture I believe that Revelation 7:3, 9:4, and 14:1 are referring to the practice of signing oneself on the forehead with a little cross. In the scriptures the redeemed are “signed on the forehead”. Of course, the imagery comes from Ezekiel 9:4 where the faithful are sealed upon their foreheads with a mark of redemption. And it also reminds us of passover, and how the mind and the heart were the household of the soul in many ancient cultures.
The Dance Moves
So, let’s talk dance moves. How does one make a good sign of the cross?
First, one approaches it with prayer. This is an action to seal us, to remind us of baptism and to protect us against evil. It reminds us that the God we serve is none other than the Father, who freely gives the Son so that we might be reborn in their Spirit.
Either under your breath, out loud or in your mind you should pray “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.” or you should pray as Mexican Catholics do “By the Sign of the Cross, deliver me from my enemies, O Lord.”
Either is acceptable.Though it doesn’t hurt to pray both. Or a third which is common among rosary devotees:
By your Cross O Christ, You have redeemed the world.
or a Fourth, common among the Orthodox Christians:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
There are four options for your hands when making the Sign of the Cross. These four I got off of Fish Eaters
- Option A. With your right hand, touch the thumb and ring finger together, and hold your index finger and middle finger together to signify the two natures of Christ. This is the most typical Western Catholic practice.
- Option B. Hold your thumb and index finger of your right hand together to signify the two natures of Christ
- Option C. Hold your thumb, index finger, middle finger of your right hand together (signifying the Trinity) while tucking the ring finger and pinky finger (signifying the two natures of Christ) toward your palm. This is the typically Eastern Catholic practice.
- Option D: Hold your right hand open with all 5 fingers — representing the 5 Wounds of Christ — together and very slightly curved, and thumb slightly tucked into palm
Disco Devotionals? Well, Not Exactly.
Once you have chosen a hand position this is what follows:
Touch your forehead as you say or pray mentally, “In the name of the Father,”
Touch your breastbone, heart or the top of your belly and say or pray mentally “And of the Son”
Begin to touch your left shoulder as you say or pray mentally “And of the Holy”
Touch your right shoulder and finish the Sign of the Cross with “Spirit” either prayed out loud or mentally.
Hold on there Disco Stu:
There’s a bit more to all this than just frantically crossing yourself or the air or whatever else as often as possible. Though, I’m sure it can’t hurt anything, at least not very much.
As Christians, making the sign of the cross should be like breathing, essential to daily life. Christians should make the sign of the cross at the beginning and the end of their prayers, upon entering a Church, after receiving communion, in times of trouble, or fear, when facing temptation, when one remembers the dead, when seeing a crucifix, or anytime we wish to ward away evil, or to honor and invoke God.
Making the sign of the cross is an invitation to getting groovy with God. It’s an invitation to remembering the core of your life and my life as Christians. It’s all about remembering holiness, and getting centered so that we can be holy. It’s a devotional tool, a prayer that reminds us from Whom we proceed into this great wide world. It reminds us to act ☩ in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It’s a reminder that religion can have dance moves outside Church, and that those moves can be used in daily life for extremely practical as well as devotional/spiritual reasons.
Remember to take your time, it’s not about rushing through it, it’s about making sure we center our minds and bodies on Christ, Our God, who calls us to eternal life. The Sign of the Cross is not only the most obviously Catholic dance move, it’s also the most popular in movies, media and everywhere else for a reason. Christians love the cross, and everything it means for the way we are sanctified and live, even right now.
Welcome to being Catholic, I hope these dance moves help you too.