The Blessing of the Chalk and Candlemas

On Sunday the 15th of January we’ll return to our normal 7:30, 9:00, and 11 o’clock worship pattern. That day I will introduce the Blessing of the Chalk at all three services. What, you ask, is the Blessing of the Chalk? St Matthew tells us that when the magi arrived in Bethlehem to visit Jesus, they found him and his mother in a house, not the stable where they had found their first temporary shelter. This is a cue that our Epiphany celebration should focus on our own houses, and it is a very old custom to bless houses on Epiphany. In the East, in particular, it is the custom for the parish priest to go through the parish blessing houses—not the elaborate blessing of a new home, but a special blessing that is also often given at Easter, a renewal of the homes in which the people of God dwell and live out the mystery of faith day by day. In recent years, this custom has been revived in some places in the West, and The Book of Occasional Services of the Episcopal Church provides forms for this blessing. 

However, there is another way of blessing homes at Epiphany that begins in church but does not require the priest to go from house to house—something that would be quite impossible in many non-geographical parishes in the modern world. This custom involves chalk that is blessed by the priest and taken home by families to mark the doors of their homes.

On the 15th of January at all services, we will bless chalk to be used to hallow all our homes. The chalk will be available at the entrances to the church and in the atrium, so please take one piece home with you along with these instructions. The initials of the legendary names of the magi are written with blessed chalk on the lintel above the front door of the house, framed by the numbers of the new year, in this way: 20 + G + M + B + 23

After making the inscription, the following prayer is offered:

Leader:  The Lord be with you.
People:  And also with you.
Leader:  Let us pray. 

O Lord, holy Father, Almighty, everlasting God, we beseech you to hear us and vouchsafe to send your holy Angel from heaven to guard and cherish, protect and visit, and evermore defend all that dwell in this home. I call upon your Saints Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar, to protect my family, friends, and all who enter here from every harm and danger, and I place this mark over my door to remain as a reminder to us that my home is truly the house of the Lord. O God, make the door of my house the gateway to your eternal Kingdom. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
All:  Amen.

I also greatly anticipate one of my favorite liturgies of the year, the Feast of the Presentation (“Candlemas”) on Thursday, the 2nd of February. It marks the official end of the Christmas season. We’ll celebrate this feast with a potluck supper in Ashton Hall at 6:30 followed by Choral Evensong by Candlelight that evening at 7:30. The nave will be dark and your faces will be lit as if by fireflies as the Good Samaritan Choir sings us back to the moment when Mary and Joseph, forty days after Jesus’ birth, presented him in the temple. “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word,” old Simeon said as the light of Jesus shone upon his retinae, “for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou has prepared before the face of all people, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.” You’ll see the faces of your brothers and sisters in Christ light up with delight. Make sure to invite your friends. 

Phillip Ellsworth, Associate Rector