What’s up with the holy water?


I promised in my last post that I’d follow-up on the holy water “thing.”

We’ve probably all watched those movie scenes where the priest throws holy water on the possessed man who then writhes in pain as his skin comes into contact with this substance. Entertaining for some I suppose but its a bit dramatic. And no, it doesn’t happen at Mass. 🙂  Although on some ocassions the congregation gets a good sprinkling (more on that later).

Holy water isn’t some “magical” cure-all Catholics use as it’s often portrayed in the movies or on TV. And it’s not something we place our faith in above or apart from our faith in Jesus. But, as I explained in my last post, it is a daily part of the practice of our faith at church and the sacramental life of the Church.

Catholics believe in sacramentals which are sacred signs that possess a likeness to the sacraments.

 [Note: A sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. We celebrate seven sacraments in the Church–Baptism, Reconciliation, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick.]

Holy water is a sacramental.

Jesus, God, became a man and used the things of this earth to communicate the truths of the faith. Because we’re not just “spirit” but we have bodies and we’re a sensing people he gave us tangible sacred signs of the faith for the Sacraments he instituted through his ministry and the Church. (i.e. He used bread and wine for Communion. He was baptized with water.)

The Bible is full of stories about how God used water to cleanse and set His people free (Noah, the parting of the Red Sea, baptism). At a baptism the priest or the deacon prays and blesses the water. Scripture tells how the Spirit hovered over the waters of the earth in Genesis. In a similar way he asks the Spirit to come upon the water.

 It’s important to say that the blessed water is not all of the sudden some magical remedy or potion. But, by faith we trust that the Holy Spirit comes upon the water, thereby making the water a holy sacramental.  

As the priest or deacon baptizes with this water in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit this person is washed of their sin, born again in Christ and given the Holy Spirit (see my last post for Scripture references). The holy water is the sacramental sign of having your sins washed away, of purity and holiness. 

I like how our pastors put it, God takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary The bread and the wine, the water, the oil, they’re all ordinary things but in God’s economy they become extraordinary. That even goes for us.

We are, in a certain way, like sacramentals – we are ordinary a part from God’s touch of grace but through His Spirit we become sacred signs of the faith for the world to see. We’ll talk about that more when we get into the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

As a Protestant I probably would have shunned the ideas of sacramentals or so I thought. However, our deacons and pastors often anointed people other with oil when we prayed. When I served on a women’s retreat we prayed over the crosses given to the women to wear. We had baptismal fonts and we used bread and grape juice for our symbolic remembrance of the Last Supper.

Although we never called these sacramentals, the idea was very similar. Like holy water, they were material signs and reminders of our faith. And just like Protestants who anoint with oil for different types of blessings and prayers, we use holy water for different blessings. The most common being when we enter the church, which was the focus of my last post. 

Bottom line: When Catholics use holy water it’s as a sacramental sign that points us back to Christ, our baptism, holiness and the forgiveness of sin. This practice is rooted in our faith and trust in what He’s done and is doing for us.

So there you have it. Amy’s unofficial explanation of holy water.

Whew, we’re finally through the church doors (took a while I know). Come back soon. Mass is about to begin…

One Response to What’s up with the holy water?

  1. […] of traditions. Sometimes at a special Sunday Mass the priest will sprinkle the congregation with holy water as a reminder of their baptismal promises (to reject sin and follow Jesus) and as a symbol of […]

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