Holy Water - 12th April 2015

I received an email last week enquiring where Holy Water could be purchased. I must admit that the question surprised me; it had never occurred to me that people might think of holy water as a commodity that could be bought. But then bottles of Lourdes water in all shapes and sizes were on sale in Lourdes when I visited recently, so perhaps it is not such a strange question after all.

I explained to the enquirer that holy water is ordinary water that has been blessed by a priest for use by the people of God, usually in association with baptism, and is not sold.

The use of water in Christian ritual crossed over from pagan and Jewish religions where a ritual of submersion in water was commonly used as an external sign of internal purification. Initially the water used for Christian baptisms was not blessed but an elaborate ritual for blessing this water developed gradually over time.

The blessing of water is always part of the Easter Vigil liturgy whether baptism is celebrated or not. The following lines from the text of the blessing help in understanding what it means to “bless” water and why it is then becomes for the faithful “holy water”:

May this water receive by the Holy Spirit
the grace of your Only Begotten Son,
so that human nature, created in your image
and washed clean through the Sacrament of Baptism
from all the squalor of the life of old,
may be found worthy to rise to the life of newborn children
through water and the Holy Spirit.

Holy water is kept in the font, which is located at the entrance to the church as a symbol of the centrality of baptism as the primary rite of initiation into the Christian faith. Smaller vessels, called stoups, are usually placed at the entrances of the church. As a reminder of baptism, the faithful dip their fingers in the holy water and make the sign of the cross when entering the church.

Holy Water is a “sacramental”. The Code of Canon Law describes sacramentals as “sacred signs by which spiritual effects especially are signified and are obtained by the intercession of the Church”.

With regard to the Introductory Rites of the Mass, the rubrics in the Roman Missal say: “From time to time on Sundays, especially in Easter Time, instead of the customary Penitential Act, the blessing and sprinkling of water may take place as a reminder of baptism.”

The use of the rite of sprinkling is very appropriate in the Easter season as it is a tangible reminder of the Easter Vigil and the baptismal promises that were made and renewed on that occasion. This is reflected in the words of the rite for blessing the water that is used during Easter Time:

Therefore, may this water be for us
a memorial of the Baptism we have received,
and grant that we may share
in the gladness of our brothers and sisters
who at Easter have received their Baptism.


Elizabeth Harrington