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,
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.