Schuyler embraces Epiphany tradition - Catholic Courier

Schuyler embraces Epiphany tradition

Schuyler County is hundreds of miles and many years removed from Tom Malina’s childhood existence in Brooklyn. Yet Malina cherishes a tradition from that era so strongly — home blessings on the Feast of the Epiphany — that it’s now been adopted by his Schuyler Catholic Community cluster.

This year’s Epiphany celebration on Jan. 2 saw Father Paul Bonacci, pastor, and his deacons, Rick Roy and Dan Pavlina, spending the afternoon visiting a total of 33 homes. Working off sign-up sheets that had been made available in the churches, the clergymen split up to travel among the cluster parishes of St. Mary of the Lake in Watkins Glen and St. Benedict in Odessa. They also ventured into several nearby communities including Reading Center, Rock Stream, Burdett, Hector, Montour Falls, Dundee and Elmira Heights.

Each presider, with residents often joining in, recited prayers for the home, its inhabitants and its visitors, sprinkling holy water as well. In addition, the presider used chalk to make an inscription near the main doorway, marking the current calendar year; crosses; and the initials C, M and B for the Latin phrase Christus Mansionem Benedicat — "May Christ bless this house." These letters also stand for Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar — the names of the three Magi who visited the baby Jesus and are commemorated on the Feast of the Epiphany.

Malina, who accompanied Father Bonacci on his rounds Jan. 2, noted that the inscription often remains visible all year: "We have to wipe off last year’s in some places."

The home blessings were begun approximately five years ago in Schuyler County, after Malina asked Father Bonacci about bringing this longtime Epiphany custom to the cluster.

"Father Paul is always open to new things to do to incorporate the people to the church. He was very willing to jump right in and take the bull by the horns," said Malina, a Watkins Glen resident. He added that home blessings fall in line with the practice of a parishioner seeking out a priest to bless any important possession, from a rosary to a new car.

The blessings also put a special local spotlight on the Feast of the Epiphany, which is still observed as a holiday in much of Europe. Malina, who is of Polish descent, said the rituals were an annual occurrence in his youth.

"The priest would show up at our apartment building and bless the homes. We were rather poor, but my mom would always have the finest piece of lace, two candles and her own holy water in a dish and a wand for blessing," Malina recalled, adding that "when I got to be an altar boy, the altar boys went with the priest. We were a very population-dense parish, so you didn’t have to go far — our parish didn’t go more than five blocks one way or the other. So normally it was a full day."

Now Malina hopes that young Catholics in Schuyler will carry similar memories forward: "We like when there’s homes with children, because they will pass that tradition along."

That would be pleasing to Father Bonacci, who acknowledged that the practice of home blessings at Epiphany isn’t as widespread among American Catholics as in Europe.

"For whatever reason I don’t hear a whole lot about it," he said.

Malina said this might owe in part to the difficulty of a single priest covering a wide geographic area in one day. But he ventured that not all parishes might realize deacons can be designated to do the blessings, as they are in his parish; and that this knowledge might lead more parishes to institute the tradition.

It has certainly been embraced in Schuyler County, as evidenced by the positive response on Jan. 2. Father Bonacci said that "many of the people were ‘repeat business’; for some people this was new and they were very touched." The pastor also noted that he, Deacon Roy and Deacon Pavlina were invited in for coffee and conversation at a number of their stops.

Father Bonacci said participants covered "the gamut of all God’s people" in regard to their living situations — "typical ‘Leave It to Beaver’ families, and families that have known a lot of hardship like illness and financial loss." Yet he emphasized that they all had a key common denominator that went beyond a family’s circumstance.

"We’re acknowledging that we need God, and that God loves us enough to bless us in our homes. In this day we really need to develop the concept of the domestic church, which is in our home," Father Bonacci said.

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