On Epiphany, the custom — popular in Eastern European countries like Poland — is to take chalk that has been blessed at church and use it to mark the doorway of a house with the numbers for the New Year and the letters: C (or K), M and B. Thus, this year one would mark “20-C-M-B-12” on a doorway. Many people also bring holy water from church — sometimes this is specially blessed “Epiphany water” — to bless the house.
It is also acceptable to mark each doorway to every room in the house in a similar fashion — as the gentleman above did.
The three letters have two different meanings. The first meaning is that they represent the initials of the three Wise Men who visited the holy child in Bethlehem. While they are not named in the Bible account (Mt. 2:1-12), over the years, tradition gave them the names of Caspar (spelled Kaspar in Poland), Melchior and Balthasar: C, M and B.
Another tradition gives the letters a Latin twist: Christus Mansionem Benedicat, or “Christ, bless this house.”
Those who don’t want to mark up every doorway can use the holy water in each room. Incense, another reminder of the Magi as well as of the prayer of the church, may also be used to bless rooms.
A house blessing seems appropriate at this time of year, not only because it is the beginning of a new year, but also because, on Epiphany, we remember how Christ was revealed to the nations. The Magi, appearing at the blessed house in Bethlehem, were representative of all those who will come to recognize the Lord.
Epiphany — traditionally celebrated on Jan. 6 — is the feast of the Revelation of the Lord, called the “Theophany” in Eastern Catholic or Orthodox churches. It is the day that we remember the arrival of the Wise Men at the house in which Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus were staying in Bethlehem in Matthew’s Gospel.
Traditionally, the feast of Epiphany remembers three other revelations — besides to the Magi — of God’s glory in Christ. Latin rite churches celebrate these events on separates days. However, the tradition — still held to in Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches is to remember all four of these revelations on the same feast:
- The Presentation of the Lord at the Temple. The Temple was viewed by Jews of Jesus’ time as the House of God, the place where God dwelt on earth. Here the divinity of Jesus was revealed to the ancient priest, Simeon, and to the elderly widow, Anna. In the West, we celebrate this feast on Feb. 2, and the readings of the meeting with Simeon and Anna are also read on the feast of the Holy Family (which was Dec. 30.)
- The wedding feast at Cana. According to the Gospel of John, the Lord performed his first miracle, in a house, at the family celebration of a wedding. Jesus turned water into wine, not only a wonder for that event but also a foreshadowing of both the Eucharist and the Messianic banquet in heaven.
- The final aspect of the Epiphany feast is the celebration of the Lord’s Baptism. The Latin rite church celebrates this feast on Jan. 9 this year, which is a Monday.
Jesus and houses
It might also be helpful to remember all the other times when Jesus’ ministry took him into people’s homes: the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law; the raising of the daughter of Jairus; the visit to the house of the tax collector, the meeting with Zacchaeus; the healing of the paralytic on his mat; the visits to the house of Martha and Mary; the appearance at Emmaus; and, of course, the hidden life of his childhood in the sacred house at Nazareth.
To ask the Lord to come into our houses to bless them with his presence and love during the new year seems a fitting thing to do on Epiphany — which is also the traditional end of the 12 Days of Christmas.
Sources: Women of Faith and Family at wf-f.org; catholicculture.org; fisheaters.com; ewtn.com; and churchyear.net.