Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 15, 1999
When is it okay to use holy water?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
I have noticed certain practices which may not be wrong but may not be right. A few simple guidelines might help us. Most people make the sign of the cross with holy water upon entering the church. Is it necessary to repeat the act upon leaving the church or is it only customary?
Holy water is one of the many sacramentals by which Catholics were easily identified although today many are not as evident as they used to be. Catholics have always been people who practise their religious faith in tangible ways.
Sacramentals are associated with or imitate the Church's official ritual. They are reminders of God and of official Church rituals throughout our day. They include signs and symbols, gestures, rituals, music, images, devotions, objects such as candles.
They might not be religious in themselves but in their religious purpose or use, they become sacramentals. They have been part of Christian religious practice from the early centuries, but since the Protestant Reformation, most of them have been preserved only by Catholics.
Holy water is one of these sacraments. It is blessed during the Easter Vigil and is used to bless oneself as well as objects such as rosaries and homes. During the blessing of the water, God's blessing is invoked upon the water and upon those who use it.
The holy water font placed at the entrance to the church reminds us of the baptismal font at which we became part of the Church, the Body of Christ and the communion of saints.
In Baptism, we were given the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit which give us strength and wisdom enabling us to grow in goodness and holiness.
By Baptism, we become sharers in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1105, 1266, 1268). God knows that we are needy and sinful and because of that has accepted and empowered us to live as loving members of the human family in loving dependence on God.
Blessing ourselves with holy water as we enter the church is a reminder of our Baptism. Wow! What a glorious moment of which to remind ourselves! In effect, we are renewing the baptismal promises that our godparents took for us.
Each time we do this, we call on God, the Holy Trinity, in whose name we were baptized to grant us the grace to live as faithful Christians.
Blessing ourselves with holy water at any time is a good and commendable practice when it is done thoughtfully. Catholics use holy water in their homes too. People used to have (and maybe still do) little fonts at the entrance to bedrooms or elsewhere in their homes. Children were taught to bless themselves before going to bed and at other times.
However, there was never any obligation to do these things. Neither can I find any evidence of blessing with holy water being made an obligation upon entering or leaving the church. It really is more of a pious practice than a part of the official Liturgy of the Eucharist.
I do not believe that any sacramentals are obligatory. Rather, their purpose is to help us live holy lives by reminding us of God and of holy actions. They are not meant to be burdensome obligations.
Therefore, if worshippers wish to make the sign of the cross with holy water, either before or entering the church, they should certainly be free to do so. There is great value in reminding ourselves of our commitment as Christians before beginning the Mass.
The same could be said for going back to our everyday lives where we live out that commitment spelled out in our Baptism and in the Eucharistic Liturgy.