Our Cross is described as our only hope: spes unica! Let it therefore be shown as a mark upon the doorposts of our homes...

The Mark on the Door

by Victor J. Donovan, C.P.

It is commonly believed that beggars, seeking food from door to door, have a system of leaving an identification mark upon a home where they have once found people sympathetic to their requests. This mark serves to inform their fellow travelers where they too may expect to find satisfaction for themselves.

Text of the mezuzahGod seems to have had a similar plan in mind when he commanded the Jewish people to mark the outside doorposts of their homes with the sacred sign of the Mezuzah (a Hebrew word for ‘doorpost’). This is a metal tube affixed for all to see at the right side of the entrance into most Jewish homes. Rolled up inside this narrow metal container is a scroll with the words of the Book of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 written upon it. By these words, the Jews bind themselves to God’s law while God, on his part, guarantees his constant blessing upon their daily lives. right: text of the mezuzah

God’s blessing is described under the figure of sending “the early rain and the late rain that you may have your grain, wine and oil to gather in… Thus you may eat your fill” (Deut.11:14). The pious Jew affectionately raises his hand to touch this sacred symbol with his forefinger as he enters and leaves his home. He next kisses that finger in public demonstration of his love for God’s holy Word, like a priest kissing the Gospel at Mass.

This mark of the Mezuzah is God’s way of teaching men that “Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Deut.8:3; Matt.4:4). To those hungering for the food of the soul as well as for the food of the body, this comes as a saving reminder in the world today.

The Mezuzah properly belongs to Jewish homes; yet, Catholics should not be left without an equivalent sign for the sake of the stranger in the street and for their own spiritual welfare. For we have seen our Lord changing the waters of “the early and the late rain” of the Mezuzah into “the wine of the marriage feast at Cana” and then into his precious blood at the Last Supper. We know that God has given us a sacred sign with which to mark our lives and our homes in the symbol of the Cross.

Christ’s blood shed at his circumcision was the “early rain” that fell upon souls parched by the drought of sin. By his agony in the garden and his scourging at the pillar, God willed to soak the soil of human souls further in the effusion of his most precious blood. “The late rain” fell in the last hour of our Lord upon the Cross. Thanks to the soldier who opened the Savior’s side with a lance, we have been shown that not one single drop of that blood was held back from us. God has fulfilled his promise to us with a divine prodigality.

The rains of the Mezuzah were promised to the Jews in order that they might have an abundance of grain, wine and oil. Pentecost was the Jewish feast of the harvest. But our Lord wished to raise our minds to a higher and greater harvest – namely, the ingathering of souls into the kingdom of his Father. Hence, Christ chose Pentecost, the Jewish feast of the harvest, in which to send his laborers into “the fields white for the harvest” of his precious blood. The apostles gathered an overflowing abundance of spiritual fruit in human souls. The Scriptures tell us “And there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). What a sublime fulfillment of the promises made to us in the Jewish Mezuzah!

This is the spiritual manner by which we should come to understand the meaning of that little mysterious metal plate attached to the homes of our Jewish neighbors. Furthermore, it should prompt us to think of a similar sacramental of our own. For what the Mezuzah is to the Jew, the Cross is to us. It is the divine guarantee of God’s mercy and protection upon us in return for our love and loyalty to his holy will.

Fittingly, therefore, we can apply the words of St. Paul to ourselves: “And you, when you were dead by reason of your sins and uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought to life along with him, forgiving you all your sins, canceling the decree against us which was hostile to us. Indeed, he has taken it completely away, nailing it to the Cross” (Col.2:13,14).

Christ had men nail that decree to his Cross. For what no ordinary Jew could do (namely, fulfill God’s will of the Mezuzah perfectly unto death), the perfect Jew from Nazareth, Jesus, King of the Jews, has done by his life, death and resurrection.

The decree was placed there for all humans to read. “For it was written in Hebrew, in Greek and in Latin” (John 19:20). Being true God and true man, Jesus had said, “Behold, I comeóin the head of the book it is written of me – to do your will, O God” (Heb.10:7). By his death on the Cross, Jesus had brought the sacred covenant contained within the Mezuzah to its perfect fulfillment.

When he bowed his head after saying “It is finished,” he had given his divine assurance, once and forever, that our claims to God’s mercy would never be rescinded. As a result, the world today stands bathed in the showers of God’s grace foretold by “the early rain and the late rain” of the Jewish Mezuzah.

Our Jewish neighbors boldly proclaim to the world their undying love and devotion to God for the natural blessings promised to their fathers. Surely, we Catholics should show no less a love and devotion to the same “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing on high in Christ” (Eph.1:3).

In the same position where the Jew places his most sacred symbol, we too should place our Cross. The little metal form of the Cross may be only as small as the three- or four-inch Mezuzah. But it contains the whole abridgement of our entire life in Christ Jesus.

Our Cross is described as our only hope: spes unica! Let it therefore be shown as a mark upon the doorposts of our homes, as is the Jewish symbol on theirs. There it will be the first sight we see as we enter, and the last to be seen when we leave.

The Cross need only be three or four inches in size. But when the divine beggar of souls, our Lord Jesus Christ, comes our way at the end of our life, it will be comforting to hear him say, “Everyone, therefore, who acknowledges me before humans, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven” (Matt.10:32). He will see the mark of the Cross, the Mezuzah of our Catholic homes, placed in the same position upon the homes of “those who have received him.”

Fr. Vincent J. Donovan, C.P. (1908-2004) spent his years working to improve Jewish-Christian relations. He actively promoted the cause of Auschwitz martyr Edith Stein and lived to see the success of his efforts when she was canonized as St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross in October, 1998.

this article reprinted with permission from Worship Vol. XXXI No.6 May-June 1957
 in this issue
Victor Donovan, C.P.
Victor Donovan, C.P., 1998, with special images of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

above and below:
mezuzahs, a word which in Hebrew means “doorpost”

English translation of the first part of the parchment enclosed in each mezuzah:
Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is one. You shall love the L-rd, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources. And these things that I command you today shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you go on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your arm and they shall be an ornament between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The Door Cross

Melvin Wathen (above), an associate of the Passionist Nuns from Whitesville, Kentucky, is a native carver who makes door crosses from the cedar trees from the nuns’ lands.

The reddish cedar wood, with its mixture of light and dark colors, is a powerful symbol of resurrection shining through the darkest moments when lived with Jesus. Even when not seen, the delicate scent makes the presence of the wood felt.

By your Holy Cross be with me, Lord, going and coming, today.