Some churches advertise a ceremony of the blessing of chalk on or near the festival of Epiphany. What exactly is the significance and purpose of this annual observance in the church calendar?
The blessing and distribution of chalks with which houses are marked with a special logo commemorating the visit of the Magi is a Catholic custom that seems to have originated in and spread from Central Europe at the end of the Middle Ages.
On or near the feast of the Epiphany, and conveniently close to the begining of a New Year, the tradition has been to ask God’s blessing on homes and mark the door post or lintel with chalks that have been blessed for that purpose. The doors are chalked with the legendary names or initials of the three Magi, and the numerals of the New Year, connected with a series of crosses. The initials C, M, and B commemorate the Magi, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, but also stand for the Latin prayer-request Christus Mansionem Benedicat: “May Christ bless this house.” In this way, the door of a house would be marked as follows: 20+C+M+B+16.
This domestic ritual can be performed as a family gathers together around the main entrance of a house, and a senior member of the household does the chalking with appropriate words: that “as the three Wise Men followed the star of God’s Son who became man, may Christ bless our home and remain with us through the New Year.” If there is sufficient space over the door, the full names of the Magi are often displayed, and children are invited to decorate the names with three crowns.
This Epiphany ceremony is a simple but meaningful act of witness which symbolises Christian willingness to offer hospitality and shelter to the Magi on their journey to Bethlehem, and also, by extension in today’s world, to welcome all and sundry who love or are seeking the Lord’s Christ.
As a valuable link between church and home and family, this old custom deserves to be better known by Anglicans. It is, moreover, a constant reminder that Christ is incarnate in the love and care we show each other in our ordinary lives together, and also our relationship with friends and strangers who cross the threshold of our homes in the course of the year.
(Canon) Terry Palmer
This used to be an annual feature of the Epiphany ceremonies conducted by the Revd Brian Brindley of Holy Trinity, Reading, who was something of a dramatist in liturgical matters.
The idea was that the members of the congregation took home a blessed piece of chalk, and also a piece of black paper, on which they were asked to write the traditional names of the three Wise Men. This was taken home and attached to the front door of one’s house in order be identified with the aim of the pilgrimage of the kings.
It was also suggested, tongue in cheek, that they could come in and have a cup of tea. As they obviously travelled with attendants, assistants, and various lieutenants, the supply of crockery would be at full stretch; also, their camels and horses would appreciate a drink. A supply of troughs and buckets would therefore be necessary. Such are the demands of “associate” pilgrimage. . .
Robert Russell (Reader)
Sarah Lenton shares a liturgy used in her church:
Chalking up the initials of the Three Kings on your front door is one of those great bits of family religion that can be found all over Europe.
Blessing the Chalk
In Church the chalk is presented to the priest in a basket and he/she blesses it as follows;
Priest: Our help is in the name of The Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
Priest: The Lord be with you.
All: And with your spirit.
Priest: Bless + O Lord God, this creature chalk to render it helpful to men.
Grant that they who use it in faith and with it inscribe upon the entrance of their homes the names of thy saints, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, may through their merits and intercession enjoy health of body and protection of soul.
Through Christ our Lord.
It is sprinkled with holy water.
Blessing the Home
V: Peace be to this house.
R: And all who dwell in it.
Using the blessed chalk a child chalks up 20 + C + M + B + 16 as somebody says:
The three Wise Kings, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar followed a star to find the Christ Child, who was born two thousand and sixteen ago.
Visit, O blessed Lord, this home
with the gladness of your presence.
Bless it and all who live or visit here
with the gift of your love; and grant that
we may show your love to each other
and all whose lives we touch.
Lord Jesus Christ, be with us now and for ever. Amen.
At the conclusion of Radio 4’s Morning Service on Sunday 31 January, a deacon pronounced the blessing using the priestly form “you” rather than “us” as appropriate for a deacon. Upon whose authority?
R. W. C.
Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.