Bless this house - and the shared family circle of love, prayer and trust
Easter is a time to reflect on the special delights and challenges of domestic life and relationships, writes Archbishop Eamon Martin
The beautiful song, Bless This House, was written 90 years ago this year. When the great Irish tenor, Count John McCormack, recorded it, the song became famous all over the world.
Here in Ireland, the practice of blessing homes to ask God's protection on the family, and ward off evil, goes back centuries. One such tradition was centred on Easter. I remember well bringing home the "Easter water" from a big barrel outside our parish church. This water, in which the Paschal Candle had been dipped at the Easter Vigil, was sprinkled by our parents and grandparents to bless family members and homes, outbuildings, cars and tractors, and of course the graves of our loved ones.
You may wish to bless your home this Easter using this beautiful blessing prayer which has been handed down to us over many decades:
May God bless this house from top to bottom,
May He bless each lintel, each stone and beam of wood,
May He bless the household and the table on which we place food
May He bless each bedroom in which we seek a peaceful sleep,
May He bless the door we open generously to the stranger and the meek
As well as to our relatives and friends.
May He bless the windows through which come the bright beams of sunlight, moon and stars.
May He bless the rafters above our head and each strong wall surrounding us,
May peace, love and affection dwell herein and flow towards our neighbours.
May God bless this gathering and keep us from danger,
And May He guide us all together to his Heavenly sanctuary. Amen.
Go mBeannaí Dia an teach seo óna bhun go dtí a bharr, go mbeannaí sé gach fardoras, gach cloch is gach clár, go mbeannaí sé an teaghlach, an bord ar a leagtar bia,
go mbeannaí sé gach seomra I gcomhair sámh chodladh na hoíche. go mbeannaí sé an doras a osclóimid go fial
don stráinséir is don bhoctan chomh maith is dár ngaol, go mbeannaí sé na fuineeoga a ligeann dúinn an léas
ó sholas geal na gréine, na gealaí is na réalt,
Go mbeannaí sé na frathacha in airde os ár gcionn Is fós gach balla daingean atá inár dtimpeallú inniu.
Go bhfana síocháin dá réir sin don ár gcomharsan, cion is grá.
Go mbeannaí Dia an mhuirear seo agam agus a choimead ó bhaol. Is go stiúra sé sinn uile go dtí a ribhrú féin. Amen.
Traditional Irish collected by An t-Ath Diarmuid Ó Laoghaire SJ (translated by Pádraigín Clancy)
One of the great joys and privileges of being a priest is to bless a family home. The life of a priest rightly connects with the joys and sorrows of family.
The Gospels speak of Jesus being present in many homes: with his friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus; visiting Simon's mother-in-law when she was sick; reaching out to Jairus when his daughter had died; and, despite criticism, eating in the houses of tax collectors and sinners. All over Ireland this Easter season, priests will share with families the joys of baptism, Holy Communion and Confirmation, but, sadly, they will also have to knock on the doors of houses following the heartbreaking and traumatic news of sudden or tragic loss.
I have always liked the term "family circle". It captures that sense of unique closeness and connection which family and home represent. At the World Meeting of Families this August, we will celebrate the good news of family which is joy for the world! The family circle of love and prayer and trust and care is so important for society, for community, for the Church and for the whole world. This is not to say that family life is always easy. Pope Francis reminds us that no family "drops down from heaven perfectly formed". We all know that relationships in families don't always work out, but there is still something special and unique in that circle of relationships.
Many of our families and homes are in need of great blessing and healing. The reality of homelessness and the scourge of domestic violence and abuse in this country are stark reminders to us never to count our blessings or take for granted the love and sacrifice that are necessary to hold family and home together.
The shadows of family life are never too far away from our doors, including the pain of illness, dementia, and bereavement; struggles with financial burdens and making ends meet; coping with unemployment or the caring responsibilities for children or the elderly; not to mention the immense anxiety that can come with addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling or the internet.
Pope Francis has said that "each crisis (in family life or relationships) has a lesson to teach us; we need to learn how to listen to it with the ear of the heart". It is sad that some of the greatest difficulties and most painful hurts in family life stem from a breakdown in heart to heart communication between immediate family members, or long standing tensions within the extended family.
The custom of blessing homes, especially at Easter time, invites God to "circle us" around and accompany us in the ups and downs of family life. When Jesus sent out his first missionary disciples he told them to greet people in their homes with the words: "Peace to this house." His own Easter message on entering the room where the disciples had gathered after the resurrection was: "Peace be with you."
With this in mind, we might pray this Easter in the style of our ancestors:
Circle us Risen Lord, Keep protection near, and danger afar.
Circle us Risen Lord, Keep light near, and darkness afar.
Circle us Risen Lord, Keep peace within, Keep evil out.
Circle us Risen Lord, Keep hope within, Keep doubt without.
Easter blessings to you and your family.
Eamon Martin is the Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of All Ireland