Tau: A Mark of Christian Faith
Followers of Saint Francis throughout the world wear the Tau as a sign of their faith and friendship with the Poor Man from Assisi. Tau is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet and means ‘mark.’ But what are the origins of the Tau as a sign of Christian faith? As a sign or symbol of faith, the Tau first appears in the Old Testament’s Book of Ezekiel in the following passage:
The Lord cried aloud for me to hear: “Come, your scourges of the city!” With that I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate which faces the north, each with a destroying weapon in his hand. In their midst was a man dressed in linen, with a writer’s case at his waist. They entered and stood beside the bronze altar. Then he called to the man dressed in linen with the writer’s case at this waist, saying to him: “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and mark a ‘Tau’ on the foreheads of those who moan and groan over all the abominations that are practiced in it.” To the others, I heard the Lord say: “Pass through the city after him and strike! Do not look on them with pity nor show any mercy! Old men, youths and maidens, women and children, wipe them out! But do not touch any marked with the ‘Tau’. Begin at my sanctuary.”
The passage from the Book of Ezekiel continues: So they began with the men, the elders, who were in front of the temple. “Defile the temple,” he said to them, “and fill the courts with the slain; then go out and strike in the city…” Then the glory of the Lord left the threshold of the temple and rested upon the cherubim. These lifted their wings, and I saw them rise from the earth, the wheels rising among them. They stood at the entrance of the eastern gate of the Lord’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel was up above them. Then the cherubim lifted their wings, and the wheels went along with them, while up above them was the glory of the God of Israel (Ezekiel 9:1-7; 10:18-22).
Obviously, this scripture passage is frightening! However, it was not so frightening for the followers of Christ. Tradition holds that Saint Anthony of Egypt (AD 251-356) bore a cross in the image of a tau on his habit. And in November 1215, while observing the deliberations of the Fourth Lateran Council in Rome, Francis listened as Pope Innocent III raised the Tau as a symbol of Christian faith and fidelity. The pope said: “The Tau has exactly the same form as the Cross upon which our Lord was crucified on Calvary; and only those will be marked with this sign and will obtain mercy who have mortified their flesh and conformed their lives to the Crucified Savior.”
From that moment, Francis used the Tau as the sign and symbol of his faith and the faith of his followers. Over the years, he painted it on the walls of the caves and hermitages where he retreated to pray. He signed documents with it. And he traced its form upon the foreheads of those whom he blessed. In his famous last blessing to Brother Leo, one of his most faithful followers, Saint Francis wrote: “May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord show His face to you and be merciful to you! May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace! God bless you Brother Leo!” Francis then sketched a profile of Brother Leo and drew a tau over it. For more than eight centuries, the Tau has been the ‘mark’ of the worldwide Franciscan movement. For Franciscans, the Tau represents not just the Passion of Christ, but also their aspiration to live like him in poverty, chastity, and obedience. May the Lord give you peace!
For our families & friends, we pray: Hail Mary…
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For our Holy Father, Pope Francis, we pray: Hail Mary…
For our departed brothers & sisters, we pray: Hail Mary…
For the Catholic Church around the world, we pray: Hail Mary…
For all who have asked us to pray for them, we pray: Hail Mary…
For faith, hope, and love in our troubled world, we pray: Hail Mary…
A Prayer by Saint Francis of Assisi
My Lord Jesus Christ,
I pray that you grant me two graces before I die:
the first is that during my life,
I may feel in my body,
as much as possible, that pain which you, Lord Jesus,
sustained in the hour of your most bitter passion;
the second is that I may feel in my heart,
as much as possible, that extreme love which you, Son of God,
were inflamed in willingly
to endure such suffering for us sinners.
Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us!
Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us!
Holy Men & Women of Assisi, pray for us!
Our Lady of Angels, pray for us!
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit that seeks to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the inspiration of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. Our mission is to serve the Church and to give witness to the Good News of Christ through formation and prayer, pilgrimage and retreat, and educating others about our way of life. In 2018, we will lead our eleventh annual fall pilgrimage to Assisi; meet monthly for Mass, faith formation, and faith sharing; and offer adults other opportunities to experience a Franciscan day of prayer and reflection. For more information about the Assisi Project and upcoming opportunities for formation, prayer, and pilgrimage in the Franciscan spiritual tradition, please contact Cliff Garvey at email@example.com. May the Lord give you peace!
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