Over the next few weeks, if you were to stroll around Prague or Budapest or Kraków, you might see curious grafitti scratched in chalk over some doorways: “20+C+M+B+20.” The families dwelling behind those doors have celebrated the Epiphany door blessing. They have gathered before the feast-day meal, probably after Mass, and the head of the family has traced the sign of the cross on the piece of chalk. Standing on a ladder, the leader traces the numbers for the new year, and the letters C M B for Christus Mansionem Benedicat, Latin for “May Christ bless this house.” The letters also point to the names that tradition has assigned to the mysterious magi, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar – although scripture tells us nothing of their number, their country, or their names.

The blessing speaks of journeys ended and journeys begun at the doorway, and prays that all journeys be as satisfying as was the magi’s. It prays that the house beyond the door have the quality of love and peace that the magi marveled at when they at last arrived in Bethlehem. In some countries where the Soviet Union tried to impose a harsh atheism, the vigor of this household custom survived all efforts to erase Christian customs. In the years of struggle, the chalked blessings were a pervasive sign of defiance, and now they are a sign of the resilience of our tradition and the fulfillment of the magi’s quest for meaning and peace.

Rev. James Field
© J. S. Paluch Co.