The feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord, traditionally celebrated on January 6th, marks the closing out of the Twelve Days of Christmas. In centuries past, some European countries formulated an annual ritual performed on this day, to bless parishioners’ homes at the start of the New Year. While it is not widely practiced, the Blessing of Homes on Epiphany is still celebrated in many Christian traditions.
The account of the visit of the Magi (Mt 2:1-12) is a familiar part of our Christmas heritage. Even very young children can relate to the Baby who received precious gifts from His illustrious foreign visitors, yet the Wise Men’s journeying from afar had a far greater significance than the giving of Christmas presents. Their story represents the manifestation of God’s own Son to the Gentiles, and this momentous event is commemorated in a special way in the Epiphany tradition of the blessing of homes.
The ritual has its precedent in the Book of Exodus, when God directed the Israelites to mark the lintels of their homes with the blood of the Passover lamb (Ex 12:7).
The first phase of the ritual would take place in the parish church, with the blessing of chalk distributed to the faithful following the Mass of Epiphany. This continues in some parishes today.
Then, in times gone by, the priest himself would impart the blessing at each house in his parish. Today, for practical considerations, it is more likely for the head of the household or another adult family member to officiate.
The format can vary somewhat by location, but generally, at a minimum the Lord’s Prayer or the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55) would be recited; the home blessed, room by room, with holy water; and an inscription (for the year 2019, 20+C+M+B+19) written above the outside doorway with the blessed chalk.
This is where the connection between the ritual and the Wise Men becomes clear. The inscription’s formula signifies the current year (divided between the inscription’s start and end) and initials of the names traditionally given to the Magi — Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. The letters also represent the Latin phrase Christus mansionem benedicat (May Christ bless this house). The crosses symbolize Christ’s sacrificial death and the holiness of the Magi, sanctified through their encounter with the Infant Jesus.
An example of a prayer to be recited as the inscription is written follows:
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. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Various websites, such as the USCCB, feature more detailed examples of formats to follow for the ritual process.
The story of the Magi lives on in this annual prayer ritual by which we invite God’s presence into our home; ask His blessing on all those who reside there and all who visit; and pray for peace and protection for its residents throughout the coming year.
Looking for a beautiful tradition to begin with your family this Epiphany? Hopefully, you’ve just found it!
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