|Adoration of the Magi - Fra Angelico (ca. 1455)|
For most of the world , today is the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the 12th Day of Christmas, or "little Christmas". For dioceses of the United States we celebrate the Solemnity this Sunday. The three magi, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, followed the star to Bethlehem to adore the new born King. They brought gifts of gold because the Child was a King, frankincense because the Child was God, and myrrh because the Child was destined to be a sacrifice. Since before the middle ages, Catholics would bless their houses by inscribing with blessed chalk the initials of the three kings above their doorways.
This tradition symbolizes the family's commitment to welcome Christ into their homes throughout the year. We don't have to look back very far (40 years ago but some ethnic parishes continue this today) when priests would wander through the parish neighborhoods-holy water and chalk in hand-blessing homes and marking the portals. In our home we continue this tradition and celebrate the Epiphany with food, gifts, chalk and a little holy water. Santa gifts get top billing on Christmas day but on the Epiphany we each exchange a small present with one another. The highlight of our celebration is the house blessing. The children process holding candles to each of their rooms and take turns sprinkling them with holy water. Fights usually ensue so we have to plan in advance who gets to do what (the boys share a room). Dad inscribes the initials and each child can mark the crosses. Mom (the reader) stands by with holy water/fire extinguisher. We do all the doorways of the house but some customs only do the main entrance. "More is better" is my motto. Though we don't bake a 3 kings cake (even Dora the Explorer has an episode on this) we have a festive meal.
It is traditions like these which build our Roman Catholic Identity. When we know who we are we can more effectively share the gift with others.
Here is one form of an Epiphany House Blessing:
V. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
V. Peace be to this house and: to all who dwell here, in the name of the Lord.
A. Blessed be God forever.
V. A reading from the holy gospel according to St. John
A. Glory to You, o Lord.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be….. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3.14)After the prayers of the blessing are recited, each room of the home is sprinkled with holy water. The year and initials of the Magi are inscribed above the doors with the blessed chalk (Casper, Melchior and Balthasar with the first two numerals of the year preceding the C and the last two numerals of the year placed after the B).
20 + C + M + B + 12
As you inscribe the initials say: “Christus Mansionem Benedicat” which means “May Christ bless this house”.)
V. Lord God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only begotten Son to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who inhabit it. May we be blessed with health, goodness of heart, gentleness and the keeping of your law. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our love for each other may go out to all. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Blessing the Chalk
If you cannot obtain blessed chalk, it is permissible for the head of the household to bless chalk to be used. Here is a simple formula:
V. Our help is the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.
Let us pray.
Bless, O Lord God, this creature chalk
to render it helpful to your people.
Grant that they who use it in faith
and with it inscribe upon the doors of their homes
the names of your saints, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar,
may through their merits and intercession
enjoy health of body and protection of soul.
Through Christ our Lord.
And the chalk is sprinkled with Holy Water.