This Easter, we welcomed nearly 3,600 new Catholics to the family of God here in Los Angeles, including more than 2,000 catechumens who were baptized at the vigil Masses across the archdiocese, and more than 1,500 candidates who were newly confirmed in the faith.

Of course, these are not statistics. Each is a precious soul, a brother or sister who by grace has found joy and life in Jesus Christ. Praise God!

As I’ve been praying for these new Catholics and their families, I find myself reflecting on the beautiful rites of initiation that we use for adults preparing to enter the Church.

There is a powerful moment in the welcoming ceremonies when the priest traces the sign of the cross on the foreheads of catechumens and candidates; in some celebrations, they may also be “signed with the cross” on their hearts and hands, as well as on their eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.

This practice is thought to date back to the first baptisms performed by the apostles, who Jesus commanded to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

St. Paul said to the newly baptized in Ephesus: “In him you … who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”

Catechumens are signed with the cross to signify the “seal” that the Holy Spirit places upon our souls in baptism. The sign is the “imprint of Christ.” It means our lives belong now to Jesus. It assures us that by his sacrifice on the cross, we can have salvation.

In the Bible’s final book, the redeemed are identified by the sign of the cross — called “the seal of God” or “his Father’s name” — written on their foreheads.

The cross is the great sign of Our Lord’s victory of love over sin and death, the great sign of the paschal mystery of his passion, death, and resurrection that we celebrate during these 50 days of Easter.

And Easter is a good time for us to renew our practice of this ancient prayer.

For many of us, this is the first prayer that our parents taught us when we were young. And I know many of you are teaching this prayer to your own children now. 

With this simple gesture we invoke the most holy name of the triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — and we recognize that we live now under the sign of the Lord’s cross.

The early Christians would begin and end their prayers with the sign of the cross, as we still do.

They would cross themselves many times during the day to remember the Lord’s love and to sanctify all their chores and duties. Still today, making this sign can be a powerful way to remind ourselves that everything we do, we should do for the glory of God.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem said in the fourth century, “Let us make the sign of the cross … in all circumstances: when we eat, and when we drink, when we come in and when we go out, before we sleep, when we lie down and when we arise. Here is a great protection.”

Catholics have always made the sign of the cross to seek strength to overcome their temptations, to ask God’s protection against evil, and to help them in their daily struggles against sin and selfishness.

It is a holy sign, so we should always make it slowly, thoughtfully, reverently. Not casually or in a hurry.

Make a large cross, taking time, thinking about what you do,” the Servant of God Romano Guardini recommended. “Let it take in your whole being — body, soul, mind, will, thoughts, feelings, your doing and not-doing.”

As you trace the sign of the cross from your forehead to your heart and across your shoulders, remember that by this sign Jesus gave his life for you.

“When you make it,” St. John Chrysostom said, “remember what has been given for your ransom, and you will be the slave to no one.”

By making the sign of the cross we are declaring our love for Jesus and our identity as Catholics. We are saying yes once again to his call to take up our own cross and follow his way for our lives.

Pray for me in this holy season, and I will pray for you.

And as we thank Jesus for the gift of new life that we receive by our baptism, let us remember the sign of the cross.

May holy Mary our mother help us to live from the cross, as her Son showed us: as sons and daughters of the Father, sealed with his Spirit, and strengthened by his love until the day of our redemption.