MARION HEIGHTS — The Rev. John A. Szada Jr. walks purposefully through a couple’s borough home, sprinkling holy water in each and every room.
With scripture read and prayer recited, he presents a piece of chalk and turns toward the home’s front entryway.
“And now is the other interesting part,” Szada said, before reaching up to the door frame and scrawling “20+B+C+M+13.”
“That’s it. Now, he’s looking here and saying, ‘What’s those strange marks up there?’ ”
Szada blessed the home of Lance and Melissa Stabinski, parishioners of Divine Redeemer Roman Catholic Church, Mount Carmel, the church to which Szada was assigned two years ago. In doing so, he explained the technical aspects of the ritual along with the “strange marks.”
The blessing is made during the Feast of the Epiphany season, a 40-day celebration beginning at Christmas and ending Feb. 2 that, according to Szada, celebrates both the baptism of the Lord and the visit by the three wise men to the Christ Child. The actual date of the feast was Jan. 6.
“They are both expressions of the revelation of the divinity of Christ,” he said.
Home blessings can occur throughout the calendar year, Szada said, but “the blessings during Epiphany are special because it’s an ancient ritual.”
Blessing ritual
It’s simple in its process. Passages are read from the Gospel, prayers of intercession are given by the priest and the home’s occupants, holy water is sprinkled throughout the home and the chalk marking is made above the main entryway, or other entrances upon request.
The holy water is blessed, as is the salt Szada mixes with it, which, he says, is traditionally believed to aid in warding off evil spirits.
The chalk, too, is blessed. The phrase written on the door frame,  “20+B+C+M+13,” represents the initials of the Biblical magi — Balthasar, Caspar and Melchior — and the year in which the blessing is performed.
It is asked of God that the home, and all who live there, be blessed with peace, that those occupants reflect the love of Christ and that that same love is found by all who enter the home.
“Lord Jesus Christ, through you every dwelling is a temple of holiness. Build those who live in this house into the dwelling place of God and the Holy Spirit, we pray, stay with us Lord,” Szada said during prayer.
“Bless this house and all who inhabit it. Fill them with the light of Christ that their concern for others may reflect your love.”
Szada said that the blessings can be requested to combat any presence of evil in the home but treads lightly on public comment on the topic of demonic possession or exorcism.
Perhaps outside of changes in the prayers recited or the scripture read, Szada suspects not much has changed since the ritual’s beginnings. He believes the tradition has waned locally, in part due to the fact that there are less priest assignments due to church consolidations.
Catholic experience
Some priests perform the blessing upon request. Other parishes share prayer cards for the blessing, which is allowed to be performed by parishioners and traditionally by the man of the house.
Szada said having a priest perform the ritual provides the fullness of the blessing.
“You don’t have the reading of the scripture and the prayer blessing and the sprinkling of the water; the whole blessing that comes with the blessing of the home,” he said about when prayer cards are simply used.
Szada performed about 40 blessings last year. He completed 17 before Wednesday’s blessing at the Stabinskis, and expected to perform as many as 10 by week’s end. His hope is to eclipse last year’s total.
The Stabinskis had their home blessed by Szada last year, too. Melissa said she’s happy the ritual is offered and promoted at her parish.
“I’m very happy to have it done,” she said.
For Lance, he said it helps round out the Catholic experience.
“It fits in the whole package of what I consider keeping my faith as a Catholic,” he said.