LEARN TO LIVE, LIVE TO LEARN
“To know much and taste nothing-of what use is that?” ―St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio
"Hello Kuya Jeff, I hope you're having a joyful start to the new year. I participated in the Advent pilgrimage to Zambales last December and am excited about joining more of the Catholic formation programs you'll be leading this year. I've been curious about something and wanted to ask you. I've observed a mathematical expression displayed on the doors of some houses. While the symbols are consistent, the calculations vary. Does it somehow relate to the sizes of the rooms inside? Could you enlighten me on its meaning and whether it holds any religious significance? I appreciate your insights in advance. May God bless you!" - J.M.
1. A lot of individuals like yourself have suggested that these symbols inscribed on the doors with chalk look like the start of an algebraic equation. Chalking the doors with these symbols on the Feast of Epiphany is a centuries-old Catholic tradition invoking Christ’s blessing not only on the physical house but on the people who live there and those who visit.
2. The tradition of marking the entrance to one's home has its origins in the Old Testament. The sacred writings emphasize instances where God instructed His people to mark their doors. This custom harks back to the narrative of the Israelite exiles in Egypt, who marked their doors with lamb's blood to ensure the angel of the Lord would pass over their homes, sparing them during the firstborn slaying in Egypt (Exodus 12:7). In Deuteronomy (6:4-9), the Israelites are instructed to inscribe God's words on their hearts, their gates, and the doorposts of their houses, emphasizing the importance of discussing them within their homes.
3. Chalk is used in this custom because it is a common earthly substance, utilizing "dust" in a sacred manner. This choice serves as a reminder that we are made from the dust of the ground, the most commonplace material, yet we are shaped as sacred beings for sacred intentions. The chalk, which won't leave a permanent mark on the dwelling, is likely to fade due to weather over time. Nevertheless, whenever we see the inscription upon entering our homes, it prompts us to recall the purpose behind it and recommit ourselves to that purpose. With the passing of Epiphany and the subsequent days, the chalk may diminish, but the blessing endures. The priest imparts a blessing to the chalk as a sacramental using the following formula:
"Loving God, bless + this chalk which you have created, that it may be helpful to your people; and grant that through the invocation of your most Holy Name, all who use it in faith to write upon the doors of their homes the names of your saints Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, may receive health of body and protection of soul for all who dwell in or visit their home; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
4. The blessed chalk can be utilized to bless one's home for the current year. This blessing can be performed by either members of the clergy or the laity, employing the following prayer:
"Lord God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only-begotten Son to all nations represented by your saints Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. Bless this house and all who dwell in it throughout the new year. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen."
5. The inscription above the door changes annually, and for the current year, it should be written as "20 + C + M + B + 24." The letters C, M, and B carry dual significance. They serve as the initials for the traditional names of the three magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. Additionally, they represent the first letters of the Latin phrase "Christus mansionem benedicat," translating to "May Christ bless the house." The + signs symbolize the cross, signifying the power of God through which we find salvation (1 Corinthians 1:18-25), and 2024 signifies the year.
6. When participating in this tradition, it's crucial to ensure that our outward actions mirror our inner convictions. Merely chalking the door, if that's the extent of our effort, falls short. The impact of this practice should transcend the external and find resonance within our homes and hearts. This involves making a sincere effort to cleanse our hearts, minds, and living spaces to embody the holiness of God. We commit to earnestly seeking to know, love, and serve only God and finally, extending the welcoming spirit of our home to all who come to visit.
Capture a family picture at your doorway and spread the joy. Merry Christmas and a grace-filled 2024 to all. A most blessed, glorious, and joyful Feast of the Epiphany!
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum