Ancient Custom Symbolizes Opening Doors to Blessings and Mercy

By the Rev. Bill Christy, C.S.Sp., and Debbie Kostosky

A tradition in the Catholic Church has been to bless chalk at the Masses for Epiphany and then use that chalk as part of the blessing of one’s home in the new year.

Rev. Bill Christy, C.S.Sp.

For the first time, this custom will be part of the Masses in the Duquesne University Chapel on Saturday, Jan. 9, and Sunday, Jan. 10. The chalk to be blessed is placed in a basket for the faithful to take home with them after Mass. Blessing prayers are included on cards with the chalk.

The home blessing is a simple, meaningful ceremony. Use the blessed chalk to write 20+C+M+B+16 above the doorway in the home or residence hall. This inscription represents: 2016 for the year, C, M, B for the three Magi–Casper, Melchior and Balthasar, and for “Christus Mansiones Benedict,” which is Latin for “May Christ bless this house.”

Debbie Kostosky

In 2016 this ancient custom has even more significance as Pope Francis has declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy, enabling the faithful to embrace the mercy of God and asking that every Catholic diocese around the world dedicate one door of its cathedral as a Jubilee Door. Since the 14th century, a “jubilee year” has been a regular celebration in the Catholic church, normally occurring every 25 years. In past celebrations the pope would open the Door of Blessing at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, while simultaneously three other jubilee doors were opened at the major basilicas of Rome. Pilgrims were encouraged to travel to Rome and enter through these jubilee doors to receive blessing and forgiveness of sins.

The campus community is invited to take part in this tradition, especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Our hope is that by blessing and distributing this Epiphany Chalk to our students, faculty and staff, we will highlight the Year of Mercy, encourage visits to our diocese’s Jubilee Door and inspire them to make their own dorm room, apartment or home a place of blessing.