The Chalking of the Doors: A Rookie Anglican Guide

By

The Chalking of the Doors is a festive tradition for the Epiphany season, marking the blessing of Christ on the home and all who enter. Moreover, the mysterious Epiphany formula is a sure conversation starter and an evangelical tool. It creates an opening for theological reflection on Christ and his promise of abundant life.

Marking the Lintel

Often, pieces of blessed chalk will be distributed in church on either the Feast of the Epiphany or the First Sunday of Epiphany. It is appropriate to chalk the doorway anytime within the next week. Traditionally, the door is marked on the lintel (that’s the board directly over the door itself on the door frame). A prayer for blessing (or a blessing itself, if a priest is present) is typically said as this is happening. One typical that you can use at home is this (adapted from the Book of Occasional Services):

Sponsored

Visit, O blessed Lord, this home with the gladness of your presence; bless all who live here with the gift of your love, and grant that we may manifest your love to each other and to all whose lives we touch. May we grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of you; guide, comfort, and strengthen us; and preserve us in peace, O Jesus Christ, now and for ever. Amen.

Saying or singing the Magnificat or the Nunc Dimittis, as well as any other related hymns, are appropriate.

The Epiphany Formula

So what do we mark above the door? The Epiphany formula is as follows:

20 + C + M + B + 24

Notice that the first and last numbers together form the new calendar year: 20 + + 24. So last year it was (20 + C + M + B + 23), and next year it will be (20 + C + M + B + 25). In other words, the Epiphany formula is a great way to start a new year, to begin the new year with a blessing in Christ.

But what about those letters: C + M + B?

They have a double meaning!

  1. The letters represent the traditional names of the three magi (or “wise men”) who visited baby Jesus: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar.
  2. The letters also stand for a traditional Latin blessing: Christus Mansionem Benedicat, which means, May Christ bless this house!

A Conversation Starter

The Epiphany formula is sure to prompt questions from visitors. What do the symbols mean? Why are they written on the door? Once the initials are explained, there is an opening to go further, to consider the evangelical meaning of the magi, of the blessing of Christ who is the door, and the Passover door.

The Meaning of the Magi

In its first meaning, the Epiphany formula points to the magi and their gifts. C + M + B = Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar. It is fitting that these names should be written on the door, for the scriptures speak of the magi entering a house to find Jesus. Many of our visitors will know the basic story:

And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11).

But many will not know the symbolic meaning of these gifts, especially at the time of Jesus. Gold was a kingly gift; it was given in tribute to kings, who would display the gold to show the wealth and splendor of royalty. Frankincense was a symbol of divinity, burned in the Temple daily as a visual representation of prayer ascending to heaven. Finally, myrrh was a sign of mortality, a spice used especially to anoint the body.

Therefore, the gifts of the magi point to the identity of Jesus: his royalty, his divinity, and his mortality. And so the Epiphany blessing reminds us, whenever we enter our home, to worship Jesus as King, God, and Saving Sacrifice.

Christ the Door

In its second meaning, the Epiphany formula points to the blessing of Christ. C + M + B = Christus Mansionem Benedicat, which means, “May Christ bless this house.” Here, it is especially fitting that the blessing should be written on the door, for Jesus tells us that he is the door:

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:9-10).

Jesus is the door, the portal through which his people pass to receive abundant life. Therefore, to put the name of Christ on the door is to invite the blessing of Christ, who is the door, so that we who come through him will receive love, joy, peace, and the entire fruit of the Holy Spirit.

The Passover Door

Most powerfully, the chalking of the doors recalls the marking of the doors in the Biblical Passover.

The story is recounted in Exodus, just before God brings his people out of Egypt. The tenth and final plague on Egypt was the death of every first-born son. But God gave his people a way out, instructing them to sacrifice an unblemished lamb and then to put the blood on their doors:

The whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it (Exodus 12:6-7).

The marking of the door pointed to the substitutionary sacrifice of the lamb. Instead of the sons of the Hebrew people, God accepted the lamb. When he saw the lamb’s blood on the door, he would pass over the house.

For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt (Exodus `1)

As Christians, we understand that the Passover Lamb points forward to Jesus, “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Jesus is the true and ultimate sacrifice by whose blood we are delivered from death.

Jesus Knocking

In his resurrected body, Jesus has the ability to pass through locked doors to reach his disciples (see John 20). But in the book of Revelation, Jesus is depicted waiting at the door of some in the church, especially the “lukewarm” who think they “need nothing” (Revelation 3:16-17).

The wise, however, realize that they are “wretched” and that they need the “white garments” of Christ to cover their “shame” (Revelation 3:17-18). For those who humbly admit their need, Jesus is ready to enter the door:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)


Image by nambitomo for Getty Images, courtesy of Canva.

Published on

January 8, 2024

Author

Peter Johnston

The Ven. Dr. Peter Johnston is the Ministry President of Anglican Compass. He is a priest and archdeacon in the Anglican Diocese of All Nations and the rector of Trinity Lafayette. He lives with his wife, Carla, and their seven children near Lafayette, Louisiana.

View more from Peter Johnston

Comments

Please comment with both clarity and charity!

Subscribe to Comments
Notify of

2 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments