Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Chalk It Up to a New Year

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Chalk It Up to a New Year

Article excerpt

In the feast of the Epiphany some lucky church goers collect a stick of chalk. On Epiphany Sunday, celebrated January 8 this year, I'll be there to receive this unusual Catholic sacramental. Arriving home, chalk in hand, I'll inscribe some symbols over my doorway.

This practice, not known to every Christian today, dates to the Middle Ages and seems a bit whimsical in today's world. In this graphically high-tech age, writing on a concrete sidewalk or brick wall with a stump of chalk feels too temporal for religious messaging. A good hosing from a maintenance man or a downpour from Mother Nature quickly obliterates whatever the message, be it carefully crafted or impulsively inscribed. Usually people communicating divine messages strive to secure much more permanent footholds than hieroglyphics etched with chalk on outside walks and walls.

Before we get our piece of chalk on our way out of church, a little instruction and, of course, a blessing takes place. The priest explains that by writing the inscription "20+C+M+B+06" above one's front door, and reciting a prayer, all who cross the marked threshold will enjoy Christ's goodness. Then the chalk sticks are blessed: "May God, who provided a safe dwelling for the eternal Word, bless this chalk, the homes of the faithful, and the people who live there, through Christ our Lord. …

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