Chalk it up on Epiphany

A happy and blessed feast of the Epiphany to you. There is a tradition, which seems to have arisen in central Europe in the Middle Ages, of blessing chalk at Epiphany, which is then used by families to mark the doorways of their homes. It is, near the New Year, a prayer for and celebration of Christ’s blessing. This tradition is becoming increasingly common everywhere, and among many denominations.

What surprised me, on looking for texts to use, is that there don’t seem to be that many around. So in this short Epiphany post, I thought I would first of all summarise the practice, and then provide a simple form of prayer, both for the chalk blessing, and then the prayers at home.

The chalk is used to write the year, and three letters, interlinked by a series of crosses, on the lintel, or door frame of the main door in the house. The date is split in two, the first two digits beginning the sequence, the letters C, M and B coming in the middle, and the last two digits of the year completing the sequence. So for this year, someone would chalk the blessing out as:

20 + C + M + B + 20

Why these letters, you may ask? Firstly, they stand for the traditional names given the three wise men: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Secondly they represent the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat!” which means “Christ bless the house”.

The chalks are blessed in church on Epiphany (or thereabouts, which means some people will have done this yesterday rather than on the real Twelfth Night). Then anyone who wants to participate takes the chalk home and marks up their own door.

A blessing for the chalk

God of our journeying,
on this day we celebrate the travels of the Magi,
welcomed at journey’s end into the home of the Holy Family,
and drawn into the presence of your Word
made flesh in the Christ child.
Take this chalk,
and make it an instrument of your blessing,
that what we inscribe upon our doors
may be a reality in our hearts and homes.
May all strangers who cross our threshold be made welcome,
all weary travellers find warmth and rest,
and Christ himself be present with us,
the heart and head of our home;
in whose name we make our prayer. Amen.

Prayers to be used when marking the lintel

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who has made heaven and earth.

From the rising of the sun to its setting,
your name is proclaimed throughout the world.

At their journey’s end, the wise men found a welcome.
May this house always be open to those who need it.

Lord, hear us; Lord, graciously hear us.

By taking from Mary flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone,
your Son overcame the division between heaven and earth.
May we who follow him make in every wall an open door.

Lord, hear us; Lord, graciously hear us.

Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar entered the house,
and found there the one they had long sought.
May all in this house know Christ present here.

Lord, hear us; Lord, graciously hear us.

In the Holy Family’s home, the three kings found their King
enthroned on his mother’s knee, and they worshipped.
May Christ always rule in our home and our hearts.

Lord, hear us; Lord, graciously hear us.

The door frame or lintel is chalked: 20 + C + M + B + 20

Christ bless this house.
Christ bless this house.

All say the Lord’s Prayer

Creator of the heavens,
who led the Magi by a star
to worship the Christ-child:
guide and sustain us,
that we may find our journey’s end
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(This final prayer is the Church of England’s alternative (accessible) collect for Epiphany, and is © The Archbishop’s Council.)

One thought on “Chalk it up on Epiphany

  1. Joan

    Thank youDoug. We heard about the chalking on Sunday at St Martins. We were all invited to take some chalk home and with the prayer write the 20CMB 20 on our lintel – a blessing for the year.
    What a blessing for all of us. Bless you for writing this blog.


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