“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” – Archbishop Martin
“Bless this house, O Lord we pray, Make it safe by night and day . . .”
When Jesus sent his friends out on mission he told them to greet people in their homes with the words: “Peace to this house”. His own Easter message to the disciples after the Resurrection was: “Peace be with you”.
The beautiful song, Bless this house, was written ninety 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 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 ask God’s protection and ward off evil, and so to bless family members and homes, outbuildings, cars and tractors, and of course the graves of our loved ones.
One of the great joys and privileges of being a priest is to bless a family home. The life of a priest connects with the joys and sorrows of family life, and rightly so! The Gospels speak of Jesus visiting homes: when Simon’s mother-in-law was sick; when Jairus’ daughter had died; or simply to be with his friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Despite criticism, Jesus dined in the houses of tax collectors and sinners.
All over Ireland this Easter season, priests will share with families the joys of baptism, First Holy Communion, Confirmation and Marriage ceremonies. Sadly, however, they will also have to knock on the doors of some houses following the heartbreaking and traumatic news of sudden or tragic loss.
The term ‘family circle’ captures that sense of unique closeness and connection which Family represents. Many families in Ireland, however, are greatly in need of being “circled” around with God’s 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. 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.
With this in mind, I ask the Risen Lord to bless with hope and love this Easter the families and homes of Ireland. I encourage families to take a moment to pray together 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 bed room 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.
A very happy and blessed Easter to you all.
Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland
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