Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Door Chalking - A Traditional Epiphany Blessing

Dear Theophilous,

Almost a quarter-century ago I spent 6 months living in Bavaria, near Munich in the south of Germany. It was a culture-filled stay visiting museums, churches, castles, and best of all – monastic beer gardens.

A few weeks into my stay, I noticed a peculiarity I had never noticed in any of my many travels across Europe; at every home I visited, the year and 3 letters were scrawled in chalk over the door – 19 + C + M + B + 94. When I asked about it, I was told in a matter-of-fact voice that Bavaria was still a very Catholic region and that every year on the Feast of the Epiphany, the family would say a prayer of blessing over their home.

I had grown up in a nominally Catholic home in Canada, and although my grandmother had been quite devout, I had never heard of a house being blessed, let alone an annual family prayer of blessing. It was already March, so when I asked for a bit more detail, the prayer had been forgotten, but I was told the letters stood for the 3 Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, who sought Christ as we still seek Him.

Cool! I remember wanting to start this tradition when I got back home to Canada, but by the time the Feast of the Epiphany rolled around again, the idea had faded into the mists of the monastic beer gardens and everyday life.

Fast forward a few years and my wife and I moved into our first house. Our Catholic faith was a big part of our marriage, and had become a strong part of our new identity, so we asked our pastor to come and bless our new home. When I asked Father about chalking the door he responded with a puzzled look. There was no such thing as a smart phone back then, so there was no way of looking it up to show him. When we had our second home blessed, I had completely forgotten about the practice, and didn’t even ask.

Then last year, in the lull between Christmas festivities and back-to-school, the practice of Door Chalking showed up in my social media feed. I mentioned it to my wife, and she thought it would be a wonderful way to pray out the Christmas season. We used the short Carmelite prayer found here, and standing on a chair, I chalked our door for 2016.

Over the year the chalk has faded somewhat, but it is still there. This Sunday, on the Feast of the Epiphany, I’ll climb back up on a chair at the front door and lead our family in prayer. The chalked date and letters above the door reminding us each time we go out that we “Go forth to love and serve the Lord.”

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