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Epiphany chalk house blessing

[Updated for 2014] On Epiphany (or New Year) you can bless your house. You can make this as simple or as intricate as you like; include (liturgical) greeting (eg. “The Lord be with you…”), song or carol, holy water (sprinkling door, each room), reading (eg. Epiphany Gospel, start of John’s Gospel), more prayers, Lord’s Prayer, incense, assigning parts to different members of the household, collect for Epiphany. Many homes are the dwelling for one person – the blessing of a home is equally appropriate.

Take (blessed) chalk (of any colour) and mark on the lintel of your front door 20 + C + M + B + 11 [for 2014: 20 + C + M + B + 14] saying:

The three Wise Men,
C Caspar,
M Melchior,
B and Balthasar followed the star of God’s Son who became human
20 two thousand
11 and eleven years ago [for 2014: "14 and fourteen years ago].
++ May Christ bless our home
++ and remain with us throughout the new year. Amen.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Christ, God’s incarnation, is present in the love and care we manifest to each other in our ordinary daily lives together.

Other possible prayers:

May all who come to our home this year rejoice to find Christ living among us; and may we seek and serve, in everyone we meet, that same Jesus who is your incarnate Word, now and forever. Amen.

God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only-begotten One to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who inhabit it. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love. We ask this through Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Loving God, bless this household. May we be blessed with health, goodness of heart, gentleness, and abiding in your will. We ask this through Christ our Saviour. Amen.

It is in the home that the first experience of love occurs; it is there that love is nurtured and grows to maturity. The Christian home is also the ground for much of people’s spiritual growth.

The ministry of Jesus occurs in many different homes. Therefore to hallow the home as an environment for nurture and renewal, is a deeply felt need by many Christian households.

The blessing of a home encourages Christians to dedicate their life at home to God and to others.

From A New Zealand Prayer Book page 762

C M B above the door, also stands for Christus Mansionem Benedicat, Latin for “May Christ Bless this House.”

The chalk may be blessed and distributed after communion at the Epiphany or other appropriate Eucharist. Water may also be blessed and distributed at this point. Some also distribute blessed incense, where some households keep five pieces for a family Easter Candle later.

Let us pray.

Silent prayer

Loving God, bless this chalk which you have created, that it may be helpful to your people; and grant that through the invocation of your most Holy Name all those who with it write the names of your saints, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, may receive health of body and protection of soul for all who dwell in the homes where this chalk is used, we make this prayer through Jesus the Christ. Amen.

A part of church history is the custom of blessing homes at the New Year. A family would hold a short service of prayer to ask God’s blessing on their dwellings and on all who live, work with and visit them. In this way, we invite Jesus to be a “guest” in our home, a listener to each conversation, a guide for troubled times, and a blessing in times of thanksgiving.

“Chalking the door” or the door step may be used as a way to celebrate and literally “mark” the occasion. In the Old Testament the Israelites were told to mark their doors with the blood of the lamb on the night of the Passover to ensure that the angel of death would pass them by. Deuteronomy 6: 9 says that we shall “write [the words of God] on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, … and you shall write them on the door posts of your house and on your gates.”

Chalk is made of the substance of the earth and is used by teachers to instruct and by children to play. As the image of the chalk fades, we will remember the sign we have made and transfer it to our hearts and our habits.
From the worshipwell.org

As I researched for this post, I read of “First Footing”, of Rosca de reyes, of priests wandering the streets with an assistant, going from house to house to bless them (some with incense and holy water),…

Please add variant prayers, practices, ideas in the comments.

In the Southern Hemisphere, and certainly in Aotearoa-New Zealand, this is our go-slow time… So – sometimes your comments may take longer than usual to get through moderation…

H/T to my good e-friend, Fr Scott Gunn – I told him I would steal a lot of his stuff (but he acknowledges he stole it from others – that’s how liturgy develops ;-) )

Source of images: here, here, and here

Proclamation of the date of Easter on Epiphany

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58 Responses to Epiphany chalk house blessing

  1. Years ago, in the South Bronx, I led a New Year’s Eve service at which I blessed and distributed chalk, marking the church’s lintel and explaining how to do this at home, and why. Nobody expressed much interest, and I thought it was just one more piece of medieval (white, European) custom that didn’t touch my parish’s modern (African American) members. There was a lot of that.

    Weeks later — maybe months — I was out making my rounds, and dropped in on a home I had never visited. The woman wasn’t a member, but had started to visit often. Her apartment building was utter squalor — no lock on the front door, the door barely on its hinges, the interior apartments secured with padlocks as though they were in a school locker room. Probably no heat or hot water, and possibly no water at all.

    I checked my piece of note paper to be absolutely sure, and then walked upstairs to the apartment the woman had said was hers. And i8t was, because there over the door in white chalk I saw C+M+B, flanked by the year.

    She needed more, of course. Vastly more. But at least she had hope.

    • Thanks for the comments.

      What a great story, Michael.

      I like the simplicity of the idea, its down-to-earthness, and the way it can, without too much artificiality, be a liturgical event at home. Not to mention a witness and discussion starter.

  2. Our catechism class meets Sunday mornings. We learned about chalk blessing last Epiphany and marked each exterior door of the church. A few days later I noticed a “tag” from another group (read “gang” perhaps) that sees our church building in its territory. At first I was saddened, but then I thought others also consider the building “theirs” and perhaps even watch over it.

  3. In 2009, while visiting Germany, I noticed the chalk writing above and beside many doors of German homes. I inquired about it when there, but couldn’t get a satisfactory anser. Upon my return to the U.S., I researched it and found out what it meant. I think it’s a great idea and plan to do it over the door of the home I will move into tomorrow (1/3/11). A great start in a new home.

  4. Bosco, Your liturgical resources are always helpful to me in my nursing home ministries. I’ve decided to get up early and buy some chalk for this week’s Epiphany (ecumenical) communion services. The connections both with Eastern Orthodoxy and Judaism (the mazuza) will also be of help to our diverse crowd of elderly and disabled patients and residents. We can then go forth and bless each room, along with our staff offices, etc. I think it’s a great idea for ministry among “the priesthood of all believers” so that all of us may convey the blessing of God to each patient, as well as to the good staff and administrators who provide such good care. Thank you for this inspiring bit of ancient liturgy. Peace+

  5. Just reading your post reminds me that for the last two years we have chalked our school chapel lintel – and during the year visitors often comment on and ask the significance of the letters and date. Hopefully by now our school children will remember and be able to explain!
    Although we are a Church of England School we have children from around th e world and many from Eastern europe where door chalking is common practice.
    chaplain Dover College UK

  6. Our family moved to a small town in Germany a couple of months ago, and it seems like we learn something every day about living here! I had noticed the chalk writing on houses, but wasn’t sure what it was for, or what it meant.

    This morning my doorbell rang, and 3 local boys dressed as the wise men were there with a parent. They recited a short rhyme, and collected money for poor children. They then offered to write on the lintel. I thought it was a beautiful idea, and caused me to pause to reflect in the midst of my day. I didn’t understand everything that was said, because my German is not really up to par, and I’m glad that I found your post :-)

    Merry Christmas!

  7. I have just recently heard of this tradition and plan to use it as part of our epiphany celebrations within the church. we live in a financially strained area and face many social and economic problems – so i am always looking for ways to encourage and remind folks that we are not in this alone. this seems to be a tangiable way of doing just that. thank you and God bless

  8. Hi Bosco.
    There is a First Footing liturgy/prayer and a New Year’s covenant ligurgy in the Celtic Daily Prayer book from Northumbria. :)

    I’ve never been anywhere that did the blessing of homes at New Year/Epiphany but have been interested, so thanks for the info!

  9. I think that it is wonderful that people still believe in spirits and magical incantations and spells in the 21st century.

  10. I did this last year, but used a postit note paper, as I live in an apartment and they wouldn’t let me write on the walls. Thought I got it from my Celtic Daily Prayer book.

  11. I’m sorry I didn’t read this post until today – I would have liked to do this. I’ll keep it in mind for next year.

    I like how you are able to find aspects of worship that can be done at home in a family setting, not just in Church.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Claudia. Like you, I think being able to do things at home, and fun things that can incorporate all ages and stages, is really important. I know of some who are doing this tomorrow, the first Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Baptism of the Lord. Blessings.

    • You can still do it this year; today is the octave of the Epiphany, and the following Sundays are, in the old rite, still the season of Epiphany.

  12. +JMJ+

    Hello! I was wondering why the “B” of the “C+M+B” is written backwards on a number of Churches that I have seen this done at. What is special about reversing the letter B? Thank you very much in advance, and may you grow ever increasingly pleasing in Our Lord’s sight as each day passes.

  13. Hello,
    I work for a parish and we assembling a resource bin of ideas for our volunteer teachers. Would it be ok to include a copy of this article on chalk blessing? We respect copyright and ask for permission first.
    Thank you!
    peace,
    jo

  14. Hi Father Bosco Peters,
    You might be interested in my book: To Dance With God/Family ritual and community celebration. Paulist Press 1986
    It is still in print. I give thoughts and background, suggestions and prayers for bringing home the liturgy and folk customs we so crave.
    I hope you enjoy the book. Can get it through Amazon.
    Good work! Gertrud

      • The Epiphany house blessing is also in this book.(Above) I have taught it widely here in the States. When folks travel in Poland or Germany, or Switzerland and see the blessing on doorways, they come back and tell me full of wonder:
        They do your blessing in Europe! Then I need to remind them, this is OLD and it is OUR blessing–not mine. :¬)

        • Yes, Gertrud, I have stories like this too – introducing practices that have been part of our tradition for thousands of years, even into our Jewish roots, and having community members come back, wide eyed, to me when they experience this elsewhere: “they are using your [name of practice] there now!” Blessings.

    • Absolutely, Claudia! I know this fits you and your family beautifully. I also thought of you in the comments on this thread with Gertrud’s book. A blessing (or absolution) used by a priest is regularly in the subjunctive – this is normally adapted by a lay person by changing it to “…may…” In the end I know God is delighted with your family celebrations however you adapt this for your context. Christmas Season blessings.

      • There is a delightful custom of sharing a “kings’cake”on the Eve, in which is hidden a dry lima bean (or such). Whoever gets the bean is Royalty for the next day! Paper crown, make the family rules for the next 24 hours, or give a little talk to the family about “leadership vs. authority” or whatever creative ideas the family has. Ritual and play are close cousins!

  15. Thanks for this Bosco. I host an annual Epiphany party at home. It includes a “hunt” for the Three Kings and then their installation in the Nativity setting. In Feb 2013 I will turn 60 so the blessing of my unit has more significance as I look to the values and commitments I wish to live in the years ahead.

    Christmas Blessings from the big continent across the sea!!!
    Tony

  16. Hi Bosco, I realize I’m a bit late, but I’m hoping it’s okay to copy/paste the chalk house blessing to the church website I steward? I know the pastor will be passing out chalk and a printed resource on the Feast of the Epiphany, but I’m also trying to make the site interesting. Besides, I’m probably not the only person who won’t be there. Peace and light, Leah

  17. thanks, Bosco–and yes, of course a link back to this page on this page:

    http://www.allsaintsuniversitycity.org/commons.html

    As I develop the site and add content, I plan to link to the front page of this site, possibly to your fb page, and to Vanderbilt’s RCL feed, the main one we use in USA and Canada. Thanks also for the new to me blog badges that include Ordinary Time, Time after Pentecost, after Trinity… I’ve long had your basic badge on my theology blog (included with my sig), but plan to spring for one of those when they’re timely.

    Blessed Feast of the Epiphany!!! but I guess the day is over now for you?

    • Thanks, Leah. I also really like the picture of “the feast of the Nativity 2012″ on your page – what software did you use to create that photo album effect? Blessings.

      • Hi again, Bosco, I made that picture in Adobe InDesign; that’s my go-to app for almost everything related to page layout, though there are some excellent online resources for achieving similar results.

  18. Hi, I pinned this on my pinterest account last year having discovered it too late. This year I am planning to do a simple version with my two sons (1o months & 4 years)
    Our prayer will be; ‘God, you gave us our home. In our home we respect each other, we nourish each other and we love each other. We pray that you will help us to do that this year. In your name, Amen.

  19. Greetings for this New Year 2014… 2014 is actually a few hours away here in Southern California.

    I was happy to get an email notice of an update to this thread, and I’m very excited to tell everyone I moved into a new living place late November, and will be delighted to bless this house with my two (so far) housemates. If anyone is interested, we’re seeking a 4th and 5th person to help with community and expenses.

  20. Thanks Bosco, I really Appreciate all you do, as I am planning my service for Sunday will include both. (From the land of no information on church notice boards). Blessings Sue

  21. My wife and I recently bought a house with these markings but I was wondering if there was a date that you are supposed to erase these markings? We are practicing Catholics and are planning on having our priest bless our new home.

    • Why not ask your priest, Jeff, if he would like to incorporate that into his blessing? He might like to remove it, or have you remove it and he re-do it as part of the blessing, etc. Blessings.

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Rev. Bosco Peters Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.