St. Paul parish marks Epiphany with doorway blessings

| January 6, 2017 | 0 Comments

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Cindy Pasiuk’s home on St. Paul’s east side has seen many visitors in 64 years. And upon entering, they’ve all walked under a phrase written in chalk above the doorway that changes slightly each year. In 1953 when her parents built the home after her brother was born, the phrase read: “19 + C + M + B + 53.”

This year, it will read “20 + C + M + B + 17” — the “20” signifying the millennium and century; the letters standing for the traditional names of the three wise men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar; and the “17” standing for the decade and year. The initials also are believed to stand for “Christus mansionem benedicat,” Latin for “Christ bless this house.” The crosses in between signify Christ.

Pasiuk, 67, is a lifelong parishioner of St. Casimir, just two blocks from her home. She said the parish has participated in the Epiphany tradition of chalking doorways since its founding 124 years ago. Originally written in people’s homes, and usually by a priest, the sequence of numbers and letters is meant to remind them of the magi’s journey to visit the Christ child and also extend a blessing to the home’s visitors.

“The kids enjoy it, and the families enjoy it,” Pasiuk said of the tradition. “It’s a religious activity that means something, and they understand because it’s being done in the church.”

Pasiuk is the parish’s volunteer liturgy coordinator.

At St. Casimir’s Mass Jan. 7, Father Michael Powell will mark the lintel of the main church door in the vestibule with “20 + C + M + B + 17.” During Mass Jan. 8, the feast of the Epiphany, he will do the same to the church’s side doors. After the Masses, people may pick up bags containing the blessed chalk, incense, holy water and prayers to take home to perform the ritual.

Growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, Pasiuk remembers St. Casimir’s pastor visiting all the parishioners’ homes on Epiphany to take a census while also blessing the home and performing the chalk ritual. She said as the parish grew and no longer had Polish priests, the ceremony continued only at the church.

Pasiuk, whose maternal and paternal grandparents emigrated from occupied Poland, said the Poles brought the tradition to the parish, but is unsure of its origins. Some sources trace the practice to before the Middle Ages, when Catholics blessed their homes to symbolize their commitment to welcome Christ on a daily basis throughout the year. Today, other denominations perform the Epiphany ritual.

Pasiuk is steeped in the tradition.

“It’s a connection with, obviously, my faith. Secondly, to what I was taught, [that] you take in people, you help people,” Pasiuk said. “And it’s a connection to my Polish heritage.”

Some sources say to keep the chalk phrase until Pentecost in June. But Pasiuk leaves it up all year.

She believes it’s her responsibility to pass on the Epiphany tradition to the next generation.

“As the world is running on its own crazy pace, I’m seeing more of this reaching back and pulling these types of things back,” she said. “You need time-honored traditions. We’re not here for Twitter. We’re here to appreciate those who have gone before us who have taught us … who have worked hard to give us what we have today — the foundations to build of our life and our faith on — and honor them by using what they taught us and continue bringing that forward, because those are the things you’re going to hold on to. Those are the things you’re going to remember.”

She added: “It’s something that families can pass forward to enjoy.”

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