If you read my last post, “ I just don’t get it,“ you know I’m embarking on a journey to explain the Mass based on my own studies and personal experience.
I’ve been struggling with where to begin. There’s just so much one could say. I’ve decided to start at the beginning. I mean the very beginning–as in when you walk in the doors of the church to go to Mass.
The first thing you’ll notice Catholics doing when they enter the Church is dipping their fingers in water and making the sign of the cross.
Why do we do this?
Chances are good if you asked the average Catholic you’d get a variety of answers. When Scott and I ask this question of the parents in the Baptism class we teach we even have a few who shrug their shoulders and shake their heads, as if to say, I have no clue.
Besides blessing ourselves, which is the most common answer we hear, the act of dipping our fingers in holy water and making the sign of the cross when we enter the church has great significance.
Let’s start with the water.
Catholics (and some main-line Protestant traditions – like the Methodists) believe that we becomes members of the Body of Christ, the Church, through baptism. While circumcision was the sign and means of initiation into the Old Covenant, baptism is the sign and sacrament of initiation into the New Covenant.
Just the like Jewish parents brought their infant male children to be circumcised because of their faith in the God of Israel, Catholic parents bring their children to be baptized into Christ, into the New Covenant because of their faith in Jesus –a faith they plan to pass on and raise their children in (Acts 2:38; Acts 16: 13-15; Acts 16:31-33).
We believe baptism is the beginning of our salvation journey, which is a lifelong journey of faith, love, grace and perseverance. It is through baptism that we…
…become children of God and members of His Body (Acts, 3:27; Acts 2: 38-39; Mark 1:9-11).
…are born again (John 3:3; Acts 3:27).
…are washed clean of sin (Acts 2: 37-38; Acts 22: 12-16; 1 Peter 3:18-21)
…receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; Mark 1:9-11).
We are baptized into Christ and his Body and washed clean through the water and the word (Ephesians 5:26). The water obviously being the waters of baptism and the word being those words spoken over us in baptism, I baptize you in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit.
You probably already made the connection but just in case, I’ll spell it out.
The holy water we dip our fingers in each time we enter the church represents our initial entrance into the church through baptism.
The sign of the cross and the words in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit remind us of our baptismal vows (which we affirm at our Confirmation and each time we witness a baptism). It also reminds us of our identity; through baptism we are no longer our own, we now belong to Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Ideally the church has a baptismal fountain near the entrance so people can dip their fingers in the fountain but that’s not always the case. When there’s no fountain there are usually small dishes of holy water at each entrance.
I have to tell you I love this tradition, this “ritual.” It’s a way of centering myself as I walk into church for worship and prayer. I may have been running around like a mad woman trying to school the girls, clean the house, return phone calls and run errands. But, all that stops when I walk into church and dip my fingers in that water.
I stop. I slow down. I’m reminded, in a tangible way of who I am and to whom I belong (to Christ and His Church). I’m not just entering another place like the grocery store, the mall, the gym. I’m entering a place and space set aside for the purpose of worship; a place where Christ’s presence dwells in a unique way because of the Eucharist.
This is so important because we live in a world that constantly courts us and tells us we should be “more like this or that.” We are bombarded with messages that pull our hearts and minds away from the truth. We are a sensing people, living in a physical world. We need more tangible reminders of our true identity and real home.
And, because so many of the places and spaces we occupy each day are full of all kinds of noise, it is good to shift gears before we enter God’s house for worship and prayer. For me, this little ritual begins the process of tuning out some of that internal and external noise before Mass begins, before I sit down to pray or even before I go there to practice with the other musicians.
Of course there are times when we hastily make the sign of the cross and splash ourselves with water but that makes this tradition no less meaningful. At those times it just makes us careless in our remembrance.
Now I know there are those who take issue with the idea of “holy water.” I’ll have to get into that in my next post. This post is long enough as it is. It’s important to address though because the idea of sacramentals (which is what holy water is) is relevant to the Mass.
I can tell this little walk through the Mass might take more posts than I thought (obviously, we’ve only just walked through the doors). Actually, that might not be a bad thing. Bear with me and by all means, if I miss something or need to clarify a comment let me know.