The blessing of chalk

Over on Facebook, a number of people asked me about the blessing of chalk at Epiphany. I said I’d post the prayers we use to bless the chalk and also share what we give people to take for use at home. It’s a great custom, and people respond well to this tradition, which was new to the parish when I came. I think we need to find more ways to connect our liturgical life with life at home.

At Christ Church, the clergy also offer to visit homes for blessing, but many people like to do this together as a family. I sort of like the fact that people gather to offer prayers without a priest, though I’m always glad to go bless homes. Today I read about a custom of the priests going up into the church tower and blessing all the homes of the parish, facing each of the four directions. That’s just the sort of thing I might do next year. I’ve never attempted to send blessings that far, but presumably the height would be an advantage.

Here are the prayers we used yesterday.

ORDER FOR THE BLESSING OF CHALK

We do this at our Holy Eucharist on January 6, right after the postcommunion prayer. We’ve used ordinary classroom chalk and large sidewalk chalk. I usually try to find a variety of colors. The chalk is placed in a simple basket. The chalk may be sprinkled with holy water. Incense may be used.

Presider Our help is in the name of the Lord,

People Who made heaven and earth.

Let us pray.

O Lord 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. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

After the service, the priests give each family a piece of chalk and a sheet with some instructions. Here’s what we have on our sheets (stolen from other churches, with credit).

THE BLESSING OF HOMES AT EPIPHANYTIDE

Since the Middle Ages there has been a tradition that on (or near) the feast of the Epiphany we pray for God’s blessing on our homes, marking the entrance with chalk (an incarnational image reminding us of the dust of the earth from which we were made). We mark the main door of our home with the initials of the Magi and the numerals of the new year, connected with crosses:

20 + C + M + B + 10

The initials remind us of the legendary names of the Magi – Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar – and also stand for the Latin motto: Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless this house.” In the Book of Exodus, the Israelites marked their doors with blood so that the Lord would pass over their homes; but in this ritual, we mark our doors with chalk as a sign that we have invited God’s presence and blessing into our homes.

It is traditional to write the inscription on the lintel, above the door, but it can be written anywhere near the entrance. The following prayer may be said while the entrance is marked:

The three Wise Men,

C             Caspar,

M            Melchior,

B            and Balthasar followed the star of God’s Son who became human

20           two thousand

10            and ten years ago.

++            May Christ bless our home

++            and remain with us throughout the new year. Amen.

May this Epiphany Blessing be a reminder that Christ is incarnate in the love and care we manifest to each other in our ordinary daily lives together.

Text from St James the Great, Haydock, UK, via St. Paul’s, Pawtucket.

The chalk blessing prayer is adapted from various traditional sources.

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4 Responses

  1. Kevin says:

    Here is the blessing we used:

    Priest: God dwels in you
    People: And also with you.
    Priest: Let us pray.

    Bless, O Lord, this chalk that it may be a sign of your blessing upon the homes of your people. Watch over our going out and our coming in and grant that the love of Christ and the wonder of his grace may be bestowed on every inhabitant and every guest.

    We pray that, like wise men and women of old, we may serve him as our only King, worship him as the one true God, and honor him with lives of sacrifice and praise, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

    And this was sent home in a ziploc baggie with the chalk:

    Epiphany Blessing of Homes

    The blessing of the house begins with all members of the household standing outside of the main entrance of the home. A member of the family leads the blessing. In some families, the person who finds the bean or token in the Twelfth Cake or the King Cake has the privilege of presiding at this blessing.

    Leader: Peace be to this house.
    People: And to all who enter here.
    Leader: Wise ones came to Bethlehem to honor the Savior and offered him gifts:
    People: Gold for a great king.
    Leader: Incense to the true God.
    People: And myrrh for his body, for he would suffer and die.

    The initials of the legendary names of the wise men are written with blessed chalk on the door or the lintel of the house, framed by the numbers of the new year, in this way:

    2 0 C M B 10

    Everyone then enters the house. In some places it is customary to cross the threshold with the right foot first, thus starting the year out “on the right foot.” Once inside, everyone may gather in the vestibule or another room for the blessing of the house.

    Leader: God dwells in you.
    People: And also with you.

    Leader: Let us pray. God of Heaven and Earth, who has revealed your only-begotten Son 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 love for others may truly reflect your love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

  2. Scott Gunn says:

    I found traditional prayers, mostly because I lack the kind of creativity to start from scratch. Kevin, the prayers you’ve shared are nice — theologically sound — and pleasantly participatory.

    Some would have an issue with a layperson saying “Bless this house” as opposed to “May God bless this house”.

    However, my big issue is the rightist view implied in entering with right foot first. Do you think God hates lefties (even though many of them ARE sinister)?! What about people in wheelchairs?

    Sure, it’s all “God be with you” and everything until it’s time to goo through the door. And then you throw differently abled people under the bus. Possibly for the second time. Nice.

    Peace,
    Scott

    P.S. For the humor-impaired, I’m kidding. Thanks for sharing, Kevin. I might steal from here next time.

  3. Kevin says:

    lol. “The LORD said to my Lord, sit at my RIGHT hand, until I make your enemies a footstool.” Hmmm, I wonder if that applies to feet as well? 😉 Definite rightist. 🙂 I’m not sure where these prayers came from – think at least the blessing was adapted from the Full Homely Divinity website.

  4. Erp says:

    IIRC The mother of the sons of Zebedee asked that they sit on the right and left hand of Jesus.

    And from Proverbs

    Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.

    So being on the left wasn’t always bad.