Deb Wagner
Freelance Writer
December 30, 2019 // Diocese

Ancient Epiphany blessing brings peace, evangelizes

Deb Wagner
Freelance Writer

The feast of the Epiphany used to be called “Epiphanytide,” and celebrated as an octave, until Pope Pius XII removed the octave in 1955. It’s now celebrated on the Sunday closest to Jan. 6. In 2020, it will be celebrated Jan. 5.

Around the feast of the Epiphany each year, Catholic families throughout the world participate in a blessing of chalk. The blessed chalk is used to mark the main entrance to a family’s home. The tradition is not only a symbol of the presence of God in the home, it places the family under His loving care and protection.

Sarah Cheever of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Fort Wayne learned about the Epiphany blessing last year from a friend who attends St. Jude Parish, also in Fort Wayne. Cheever and her husband are parents to seven children ages 4 to 21 years old, all living at home: She remarked that making the directed inscription on her family’s door brings them peace, knowing that their door is blessed by a priest. It also gives her family the opportunity to evangelize and share their faith, when visitors ask why there are markings are over their front door.

In ancient years, the parish priest administered the blessing and marked the lintel of the doorway. But as parishes grew in population, it became more difficult for him to visit everyone’s homes. It then became customary for the chalk used to make the markings to be blessed and distributed to parishioners for their own use in blessing their homes.

The tradition is deeply tied to the Passover. It is written in Exodus 12:1-13 that the Lord said to Moses and Aaron while in the land of Egypt … “take some of the blood [of the lamb], and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it … The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.”

A priest blesses chalk on the Sunday nearest the feast of the Epiphany. The ritual reads: “Bless, O Lord God, this creature, chalk, and let it be a help to mankind. Grant that those who will use it with faith in your most holy name, and with it inscribed on the doors of their homes the names of your saints, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, may, through their merits and intercession, enjoy health in body and protection of soul; through Christ our Lord.”
Catholic families throughout the world mark the main entrance of their home with blessed chalk on the feast of the Epiphany. The tradition creates a symbol of the presence of the Lord in the home and places it under His care and protection.

The blessing incorporates prayers led by the head of the household upon entering the house, including the Magnificat. After they are recited, that person walks through the house and blesses each room with the sacramental of the holy water. The blessed chalk is then used to first write the initials of the three Wise Men, connected with crosses, over the inside of the front door. Then one writes the year, breaking up the numbers and the year so that they fall on both sides of the initials. For the year 2019, the inscription should have looked like 20+C+M+B+ 19, for example. For the year 2020, it will read, 20+C+M+B 20. It is also popularly believed that the kings’ initials stand for “Christus mansionem benedicat,” Latin for “Christ, bless this house.”

Barb Federspiel has been participating in the blessing for at least 20 years. The member of St. Jude Parish said, “Good habits are hard to break, and a lot of people ask about the markings. Over the years, we made it a family tradition and a big deal to change the date each year and spend that time in prayer.”

Blessing of the home and household on Ephiphany

The ceremony of the blessing of the home and inscription of the initials of the three Magi above each door can be performed by a priest or the leader of the family. The following prayer is taken from the book, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” by Elsa Chaney.

On entering the home,

Leader (Priest, or leader of the family): Peace be to this house.

All: And to all who dwell herein.

All: From the east came the Magi to Bethlehem to adore the Lord; and opening their treasures they offered precious gifts: gold for the great King, incense for the true God, and myrrh in symbol of His burial.

All Pray: The Magnificat. During the Magnificat, the room is sprinkled with holy water and incensed. After this is completed,

All: From the east came the Magi to Bethlehem to adore the Lord; and opening their treasures they offered precious gifts: gold for the great King, incense for the true God, and myrrh in symbol of His burial.

Leader: Our Father. . . And lead us not into temptation

All: But deliver us from evil.

Leader: All they from Saba shall come

All: Bringing gold and frankincense.

Leader: O Lord, hear my prayer.

All: And let my cry come to You.

Leader: Let us pray. O God, who by the guidance of a star didst on this day manifest Thine only-begotten Son to the Gentiles, mercifully grant that we who know Thee by faith may also attain the vision of Thy glorious majesty. Through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Leader: Be enlightened, be enlightened, O Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee  ­— Jesus Christ born of the Virgin Mary.

All: And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light and kings in the splendor of thy rising, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon thee.

Leader: Let us pray. Bless, O Lord God almighty, this home, that in it there may be health, purity, the strength of victory, humility, goodness and mercy, the fulfillment of Thy law, the thanksgiving to God the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And may this blessing remain upon this home and upon all who dwell herein. Through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

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