Start this new chapter of your life off right by inviting the Lord under your roof.
“Whenever we move, we bless our apartment. For us, it is an opportunity to give thanks to God and put our lives here, and the people we welcome in, under his protection.” Thirty-year-old Ben wouldn’t have conceived of setting up his family’s new home without inviting the priest over. The priest held the blessing ceremony of their new house, and went room by room. “Attend, Lord, these your servants who, upon offering you their home today, humbly request your blessing …”
These ritual blessings, accompanied by the sprinkling of holy water, are well known to the priest. Rooted in the wisdom of the Church, they are enthusiastically received by the faithful.
A practice whose roots go back to the liturgy of the people of Israel
Of all the possible blessings—for a workplace, a store, a vehicle—the one for under the roof and between the walls of a home reflects something particularly profound. “This practice has its roots in the liturgy of the people of Israel. It evokes the blood of the Passover lamb that the Hebrews painted around their doors before the flight to Egypt,” explains Fr. Emmanuel Roberge. “During the first centuries, the time of persecution, the faith was practiced within the home, in the domus ecclesiae, the ‘house church’. The first Christian liturgies were celebrated in homes.”
The home is central to many passages of the Bible, from Abraham’s hospitality, to Jesus’ visits to Martha, Mary, Zacchaeus, etc. It also resonates with what Jesus tells his missionary disciples: “Whenever you enter someone’s home, first say, ‘May God’s peace be on this house’“ (Luke 10:5)—a peace that settles in and extends, as well, to all those who live there. The day their house was blessed, a “moment of gratitude, joy, and celebration,” Marion and Louis-Marie invited their respective families over. “It’s a way of putting our house in the hands of the Lord and protecting our family. For us it is very important,” testified these young parents.
Among the faithful, some wish to protect, or even free, their house from all bad influences. “We don’t necessarily know what happened before we got here,” comments Ben. Father Emmanuel Dumont, an exorcist, gets many petitions of this type. “The home is a place of spiritual combat, like any church,” he clarifies. “When I’m done blessing a room, there is a penitential prayer from the ancient ritual that I love to use. It’s to ask for forgiveness for our sins and for the evil that has been committed in this house. It can also be an opportunity to pray for the people who have died there when they weren’t prepared for it.” The priest then uses blessed water and salt, incense, and oil to anoint the doors and windows.
Algebraic formulas inscribed with chalk over the doors
Those who are interested in the rites of blessing will discover a treasure polished by centuries of popular piety. For example, in Calvados County in Normandy, France, we can see algebraic formulas written in chalk at the top of the door frames: “20 + C + M + B + 20.” This resurgence of an Epiphany tradition unknown in France is common in Germanic countries and, more recently, in the United States. The initials correspond to the invocation Christus mansionem benedicat, that is, ‘Christ bless this house,’ flanked on each side by the numbers of the current year. It also refers to the initials of the traditional names of the three magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. “The Magi came to adore Jesus and on their journey back to their homes, they spread the news of the divine birth,” explains Abbot Guilhem de la Barre.
From January 6-13, Abbot de la Barre travels the roads of Normandy to bless some 40 houses and write the inscription in chalk on the door lintels. “Blessing the house is avisible sign that, through his incarnation, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, ‘lived among us’ and acts in our souls every day, in the humility of everyday domestic life.” In the Directory on Popular Piety and The Liturgy the Church proposes we take up this tradition. The head of the family, he or she, can do this family liturgy and inscribe the pertinent formula with chalk blessed during the Mass of the Epiphany.
Unlike chalk, the holy water leaves no visible trace on the walls, but the residence remains in the hands of God. “It is very important to make all the icons, statues, bibles or prayer books visible to everyone,” advises Fr. Emmanuel Roberge, to signify the presence of the Lord in the home. They are signs that testify that this Christian house is “a living cell” of the body of the Church.