Looking for a Christmastime tradition with a beautiful age-old custom for your family?
Plan a house blessing for the new year.
As the new year begins, Father Marek Smolka, associate pastor and director of liturgy at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral, told the Register, “People call the rectory and invite a priest to come to bless the house. Here in Chicago, this is a custom.”
Looking to Eastern Europe, where home blessings are a cherished practice, he said, “In Poland, it is mandatory to have a priest bless the house. It starts right after St. Stephen’s Day (Dec. 26), and they do go until Feb. 2,” when the Church celebrates the Baptism of Jesus. While not mandatory in the United States, several Polish churches in the Chicago Archdiocese are also kept busy with house blessings at this time.
The custom is popular in many places, in fact.
The tradition has strong liturgical roots. “The main purpose is to have God’s blessing upon the house,” Father Smolka explained. “And as we start a new year, it’s important to have a blessing with a priest, as he sprinkles holy water, and — God is always there — to invite God into the house to have the connection with the Church as well as with our faith.”
House blessings have long had an association with Epiphany. The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments teaches about the Solemnity of the Lord’s Epiphany:
“Many traditions and genuine manifestations of popular piety have been developed in relation to the Solemnity of the Lord’s Epiphany,” from exchanging Epiphany gifts to the time-honored traditions of “the blessing of homes, on whose lintels are inscribed the cross of salvation, together with the indication of the year and the initials of the Three Wise Men (C+M+B) … which can also be interpreted to mean Christus mansionem benedicat [‘May Christ bless this home’] written in blessed chalk.”
The directory adds that sometimes this custom includes “processions of children accompanied by their parents” to express “the blessing of Christ through the intercession of the Three Wise Men.”
Families can do the blessing with or without a priest present.
The chalk inscription for this season’s blessing will appear as 20 + C + M + B + 20.
Interspersed between each letter and year are little crosses.
The inscription is accompanied by sprinkling each room in the home with holy water.
In How to Make Your House a Home: Family Liturgy and Religious Practices, Franciscan Father Bernard Stokes recommends that pastors make the blessed chalk available to families and that the father or head of the family performs the blessing, if a parish is so large and the priest, or priests, cannot get to every house in the parish.
“The chalk is taken home and is used to mark the year and the initials of the three Magi over the door of the house,” Father Stokes describes in his book, “to remind all who enter and leave through the main door that they also must be ready to leave all, if necessary, and follow Christ. This is a beautiful act of faith.”
Father Stokes added, “As the various rooms are sprinkled, the father reads the prayer: ‘Bless, O Lord, Almighty God, this home, so that in it there may be health, chastity, victorious strength, humility, goodness and mildness, obedience to God’s laws, and acts of thanks to God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, and may this blessing remain upon this house and upon all who dwell in it. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.’”
Father Smolka is of similar mind, saying the cathedral’s priests bless the chalk on Epiphany and make it available to parishioners.
“On the Epiphany everyone can bless the house with the holy water and the chalk. If the priest cannot come, the family can do that by themselves.”
On its website, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops provides “Blessing of the Home and Household on Epiphany” from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers for a family to observe together. (The prayer is available online at https://bit.ly/35n1TNU.)
In Christmas to Candlemas in a Catholic Home, Helen McLoughlin presents a sample prayer.
“Father: Let us pray. O Lord God, through the power of the priest, thou didst bless this creature chalk to make it helpful to man. Grant that we who use it with faith and inscribe with it the names of thy saints Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar upon the entrance of our homes, may, through their merits and petition, enjoy physical health and spiritual protection. Through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.”
Wishing you a blessed new year in your blessed home!
Joseph Pronechen is a