Pavlov’s Catholic: Entering and leaving the church building


For a Catholic, leaving and entering a Catholic church is quite the ceremony in itself. Whether we are rushing into the church because we’re late to mass, or we’re rushing out of it to beat the traffic in the parking lot after mass, we still seem to make the extra effort and time for this one ritual.

The ritual I am talking about usually involves dipping a few fingers into some water and then waving a hand quickly in front of our faces. Of course this water is not just normal water. It is Holy Water. And the waving of the hand is not to shoo away a fly. It’s making the Sign of the Cross.

But why do we do this? And do we really think about it when we do it? Or do we just do it because we’ve been trained all of our lives and can’t help it? Because anytime we pass by any font of water our fingers naturally reach down, touch the water, and touch our forehead?

First, it’s good to remember that this is Holy Water. It is water blessed and set aside as a sacramental to be used for baptism or the blessings of people, places, or things. Of course only God gives anything physical any meaning or significance, but in this case, he chose holy water to be the means we are baptized. Baptism is the “basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit” (CCC 1213). Pretty important.

Second, we should remember why it is there. When it’s not being used to baptize somebody, it is there as a reminder of our own baptism. Every time we touch it we should think of our own baptism and its importance to the foundation of our very life. And if we don’t know what that means, then we should spend the next moments of our lives figuring that out.

Finally, when making the sign of the cross…actually make the sign of the cross. Too many of us just wave our hands quickly in front of our faces as if we’re hoping nobody will catch us doing it. Take the extra half-second to make a good cross and reflect on your baptism. And then reflect on the cross. It’s the cross that gives our baptism any meaning at all. It’s the sign of our salvation.

Then you are ready to go to mass…or to rush into the parking lot after mass to take Christ into the world.

6 comments Add comment

Jason Gennaro June 8, 2009 at 9:03 am

Nice post, Matthew.

I learned a little prayer some time ago that helps me with recollection.

After making the sign of the Cross, say “Lord, remind me of my baptism; cleanse me of my sins.”

God bless!

Terry Fenwick June 8, 2009 at 9:09 am

Yes, to all of the above. I am sending you a letter I wrote as a convert. Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio does a great teaching on this. I love going to Mass alone and I always choose to sit alone. I want to be there 15 minutes early and I kneel — no one would dare come near me even to say hello until after Mass. It is so private for me and I thank God it is.

Artie June 8, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Alright I must admit I am some what guilty of being some what conditioned when making the sign of the cross when entering and leaving Church from time to time. Partly is because we have a toddler and it makes it really hard to concentrate at Mass. I have to read the readings before going to Mass and try my hardest to pay attention to the homily while my daughter is in the crying room wanting to get her hands on anything she can get her hands on. I was one of those people that thought, why can’t those parents teach their child to at least stay quiet and sit down. HA HA terrible 2’s are no joke. BTW not nursery at the Mass time we go to, so we may have to switch masses, but at the same time I want our little one to start learning when to be quiet and when to play. It is a difficult challenge.

L June 10, 2009 at 3:00 pm

For the record, this is the BEST BLOG IN THE WORLD!

Carol Marie June 20, 2009 at 1:49 am


FYI, I consider the noise of little ones during Mass to be a special kind of music (unless they really getting going, in which case, I appreciate the parent removing them from the church until they can settle down). But how will they ever learn, as you say, unless they are given the opportunity to establish the habit of attending Mass. Thank you for doing your part to raise up your child(ren) right in the ways of the Lord!

God Bless.

A July 13, 2009 at 11:11 am

From childhood I’ve made a conscious effort to offer every Sign of the Cross with holy water for the souls in purgatory. This quickly becomes a habit and in so doing, the significant indulgence granted upon making the sign is dedicated to someone who can really use it. Try it and see how much more meaningful this blessing is than a so-called “random act of kindness.”

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