D. of KC, MO: Bp. Finn – don’t remove Holy Water from fonts during Lent

There are several bishops who could for their excellence merit their own WDTPRS category.

This comes from a reader:

Fr. Z:

Thought you might like to see that some good bishops are trying to curb any nuttiness regarding sand/rocks/thumb tacks in the holy water fonts this Lent.  This came from Bp. Finn [of Kansas City, MO] to all pastors in the diocese:



In the recent past, it has been the practice in some parishes to remove Holy Water from the fonts during Lent and replace it with either nothing, or with other material.

While this is a worthy thought, [well…] it is not in conformity with the discipline of the Church.  The Church’s long-standing custom has been for the fonts to be dry only from Holy Thursday until the Easter Vigil.

Bishop Finn asks that all parishes observe the customary practice of empty fonts from Holy Thursday until the end of the Easter Vigil, rather than the unapproved practice of dry fonts for the entire duration of Lent.

Kudos to Bp. Finn!


I wrote about the issue here.

Removal of Holy Water from fonts during Lent is a sign that the people doing so have a less than clear sense of what Lent is for or what Holy Water is.

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  1. Christopher says:

    This may seem a picky question but…

    At what time should the holy water be removed on Maundy Thursday? After the Evening Mass? OR much earlier before Tenebrae (matins)?

    Maybe someone knows!

  2. Jerry says:

    After a complaint I made, our parish removed little signs that stated that Holy Water was not to be used during Lent! The Pastor stated that he didn’t authorize that and had them removed.

    However the rocks remain in the smaller font that is a part of the larger baptismal pool that contains the water. And the parish does not allow for infant baptisms during Lent. Is that proper and if not, please direct me to an authoritive source I can cite.

  3. AnAnonymousSeminarian says:

    Though I do not know the particular text of what went out to the priests of the diocese, we (the seminarians) were informed that similar directives were sent out for the Diocese of Erie to curb some of the nuttiness of past years.

    I know that there is no shortage of his critics here, but on this particular issue, Bishop Trautman is another of the ones to be commended.

  4. GordonBOPS says:

    Bishop Finn is a wonderful and Orthodox Bishop. He’s so good that he’s probably yet got a higher calling in a bigger Archdiocese – we’d hate to loose him from our neck of the woods! The Kansas City Diocese was an absolute mess before he came. He’s definitely got his enemies – but in the same way Pope Benedict does (i.e. devil).

  5. teresa says:

    Sorry to be off topic now, but I get recently the news that the German bishop Conference has just issued a declaration, proclaiming the FSSPX to be in Schisma with the Holy See, and the lift of Excommunication hasn’t yet brought the brotherhood back in the full communion with the Mother Church.

    Under point 1 they mention especially the planned consecration of priests by FSSPX, and they demand a declaration of the Holy See, which legal consequences a bishop will draw to himself, if he consecrates priests while still dispensed.

    Moreover, the last passage of the declaration says:

    “Ob es eine volle Gemeinschaft der Priesterbruderschaft St. Pius X. mit der katholischen Kirche geben wird, ist noch nicht geklärt.

    Vieles scheint bis jetzt dagegen zu sprechen. Aber nicht diese Frage kann uns vorwiegend bewegen, sondern die Sorge um die Stärkung und Erneuerung des kirchlichen Lebens und um dessen Bezeugung im konkreten, vielgestaltigen Dienst.”

    (my transl.): It is not yet clear whether there will be a full reunion of the Brotherhood with the Holy See. But a lot of incidences speak against it. But not this question should move us prevalently, but the care for the strengthening and renovation of the Church life and its testimony in the concrete, manifold service”.

    Also the Bishops Conference of Switzerland has spoken about this issue.

    The whole text at kath.net:

  6. Fr. AJ says:

    Bp. Finn is just wonderful. We have a parish in our diocese that removes the Holy Water and replaces it with ashes so the people can ash themselves each time they enter or leave the church.

  7. Maureen says:

    I do wish that the good bishop had reiterated what holy water is and is good for — that you want to be using sacramentals during Lent and being blessed and being reminded of your baptism.

  8. Chris says:

    Jerry: And the parish does not allow for infant baptisms during Lent.

    Are you joking?

    So if a child is born during Lent, it has to wait over a month to be freed from original sin, and ensure it won’t spend an eternity in Limbo if it dies?

    God help us.

  9. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    Jerry: And the parish does not allow for infant baptisms during Lent.

    Perhaps this counts for the situation where anyone, including an atheist, can baptise in extremis using a valid formula. All parents, and especially expectant parents, should know this and learn the formula. Unless this option has been removed.

  10. Chris says:

    Andrew, you’re exactly right.

    If I went to a non-TLM parish, and some priest wouldn’t baptize my child, it would get done within 10 days of birth somehow.

    Either go to another church or do it myself. But it’s getting done!

  11. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    Jerry: Some info on baptisms from the Code of Canon Law (available on the Vatican’s website)

    Can. 856: Although baptism can be celebrated on any day, it is nevertheless recommended that it be celebrated ordinarily on Sunday or, if possible, at the Easter Vigil.

  12. Jerry says:

    Thanks, Andrew. As a convert of only a few years ago, I am continually amazed by the lack of consistency of liturgical practice from parish to parish and the actual practices that take place that are just wrong.

    Pastors pretty much do what they want.

  13. Greg Smisek says:

    I wonder whether the phrase “While this is a worthy thought,” which I’m sure was intended to be diplomatic, could be cited by sand-in-the-font practitioners to support a claim that their practice is “reasonable” in the legal sense (can. 4) and thus a candidate for a becoming a valid custom praeter legem in their parishes.

  14. Fr. AJ says:

    My pastor forbids baptism during Lent and says it’s by order of Vatican II. No text quoted of course.

  15. Chris says:

    Fr. AJ:

    So does your pastor believe in original sin and Limbo? I’m asking seriously, because I cannot understand how anyone can wait past the first week or two after birth to have a child baptized unless they simply do not believe in the Church’s teaching.

  16. I once heard about a parish that put SAND in the Holy Water fonts, since we were all entering the desert experience together! I can only imagine people blessing themselves with sand and what a mess that would be…LOL!

    At the same time, considering the sacramental nature of the liturgical images, how does the removal of Holy Water from fonts differ substantially from the covering of images in the churches?

    Just curious…

  17. Chris says:

    “how does the removal of Holy Water from fonts differ substantially from the covering of images in the churches?”

    Holy water is a sacramental that has invaluable power such as pulling us closer to God and warding off evil.

    It should not be kept from people — people should use it liberally each and every day.

  18. Fr Edward says:

    I think its a good idea to remove the water from the holy water stoups small fonts at the back of ‘most’ churches. The new formula with which it is made is about Easter and baptism, and seems out of keeping with the Lenten season.

    Perhaps these stoups could be filled with Holy Water made using the old formula about driving off evil spirits instead, as in keeping with the 40 days when we accompany the Lord in his temptations by the devil. A pastoral and seasonal way to restore an ancient sacramental. (The formula can be found either in the old ritual or in a somewhat reduced form in the new rite of exorcism).

    Yes, what I’m saying is that there are 2 sorts of Holy Water supplied by the Church – one to remind us of our baptism and the other to drive off evil spirits. So when you go into church taste the holy water – if it tastes of salt then the devils will flee, if it doesn’t then you are reminded of your baptism.

  19. Bos Mutissimus says:

    In defense of my ordinary, HE Bishop Finn, regarding the “worthy thought” comment, he is most likely phrasing that with an abundance of caution because of the liturgical & doctrinal climate here, which is often hostile to tradition & authentic catechesis (spoken as a graduate of the diocesan schools, of which my alma mater was not alone in virtually abandoning religion class altogether by eighth grade, on the flimsy rationale that ‘if we hadn’t learned it already, there wasn’t much more’ they could teach by that age). It has often been described as a theological wilderness; he’s trying, patiently and steadfastly, to restore it. And he is frequently opposed by lay *establishment* holdovers who will not relinquish their hold on their fiefs. It’s not easy to “clean house.” But his mood is one of true hope: at a recent seminarians’ dinner, he quipped that we lost two deacons in 2008 — to the Priesthood! (Thanks be to God!) And there are more in the pipeline. Brick by brick….

  20. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    I’ve heard of some of the more laughable practices before (i.e. sand) but can at least see how a well-intentioned pastor might fall into them. I cannot understand at all, and find it truly frightening, that more than one person has a pastor refusing to baptise during Lent. What else are priests there for if not to give us the sacraments and save souls?

  21. Chris wrote:

    “Holy water is a sacramental that has invaluable power such as pulling us closer to God and warding off evil. It should not be kept from people—people should use it liberally each and every day.”

    I agree. However, that still does not answer my question: what is the difference?

    Consider the teaching of the Catechism on this issue:

    Holy Images

    1159 The sacred image, the liturgical icon, principally represents Christ. It cannot represent the invisible and incomprehensible God, but the incarnation of the Son of God has ushered in a new “economy” of images: “Previously God, who has neither a body nor a face, absolutely could not be represented by an image. But now that he has made himself visible in the flesh and has lived with men, I can make an image of what I have seen of God . . . and contemplate the glory of the Lord, his face unveiled.”

    1160 Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words. Image and word illuminate each other: “We declare that we preserve intact all the written and unwritten traditions of the Church which have been entrusted to us. One of these traditions consists in the production of representational artwork, which accords with the history of the preaching of the Gospel. For it confirms that the incarnation of the Word of God was real and not imaginary, and to our benefit as well, for realities that illustrate each other undoubtedly reflect each other’s meaning.”

    1161 All the signs in the liturgical celebrations are related to Christ: as are sacred images of the holy Mother of God and of the saints as well. They truly signify Christ, who is glorified in them. They make manifest the “cloud of witnesses” who continue to participate in the salvation of the world and to whom we are united, above all in sacramental celebrations. Through their icons, it is man “in the image of God,” finally transfigured “into his likeness,” who is revealed to our faith. So too are the angels, who also are recapitulated in Christ:

    Following the divinely inspired teaching of our holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church (for we know that this tradition comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells in her) we rightly define with full certainty and correctness that, like the figure of the precious and life-giving cross, venerable and holy images of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, our inviolate Lady, the holy Mother of God, and the venerated angels, all the saints and the just, whether painted or made of mosaic or another suitable material, are to be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on sacred vessels and vestments, walls and panels, in houses and on streets.

    1162 “The beauty of the images moves me to contemplation, as a meadow delights the eyes and subtly infuses the soul with the glory of God.” Similarly, the contemplation of sacred icons, united with meditation on the Word of God and the singing of liturgical hymns, enters into the harmony of the signs of celebration so that the mystery celebrated is imprinted in the heart’s memory and is then expressed in the new life of the faithful.”

    Liturgical images or icons bring us into communion with the saints of heaven. Our gazing upon them and prayers before them lead us to the heavenly life. Icons reflect to us the means of living “iconographically,” that is, like the saints. The liturgical image is also Sacred Scripture in color. You would not remove Scripture from the Church either. All means of sanctification should be available to the faithful during this period. So why cover the liturgical images?

  22. Jerry: Some info on baptisms from the Code of Canon Law (available on the Vatican’s website)

    Can. 856: Although baptism can be celebrated on any day, it is nevertheless recommended that it be celebrated ordinarily on Sunday or, if possible, at the Easter Vigil.

    Which of course doesn’t supersede Can. 849’s instruction that “Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptized within the first few weeks.”

  23. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    Fr Deacon Daniel: I’ve never studied this subject but I suspect that there are a few things going on here:

    1. Covering the images, especially those of Christ, may reflect older (medieval western) practices of removing the Blessed Sacrament to a sepulchre during Holy Week and the Triduum, symbolising Christ in the grave. A “sepulchre” is still used in the Byzantine Rites, I believe. Therefore, there is not actually any difference between images and water because they are removed/covered on the same days.

    2. There is probably also some minor liturgical abuse. In several parishes, I know that images are only covered up during Holy Week or the Triduum. The extension of this into the rest of Lent was probably not intended. Therefore, again, no difference between water and images.

    3. This has probably been done in the context of a different understanding of images (or poor catechesis) in the west.

    As I said, these are only suspicions.

    Interestingly, however, I recall in a Ukranian Catholic Church that icons available for veneration on a table before the iconostasis (a cross and Theotokos) were covered up by the custodian before locking the church. Likewise a covering was placed over the Holy Table. The church was only used/opened twice a week. Might something similar be going on here?

    Indeed, should my small icon corner be covered if I go away for several days.

  24. NY Priest says:

    Do the same parishes that remove holy water also discourage weddings during Lent? And when the celebrate them, do they maintain the penitential character of the season?
    Do they forbid instrumental music during Lent?

  25. Chris says:

    “Which of course doesn’t supersede Can. 849’s instruction that ‘Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptized within the first few weeks.'”

    Which is watered down Canon Law — it used to be within 10 days of birth. If I had my way, priests would show up at the hospital or home (if home birth) and do it immediately!

    I always shudder when parents galavant around town, or even take their newborns to Mass, before they have them baptized. It’s the height of irresponsibility.

  26. Bro. Aloysius Mary says:

    “…less than clear sense…” – Surprise! Surprise!

  27. RichR says:

    I wrote a letter to the head of the Parish Liturgy Committee and showed her the letter from the CDW regarding this issue. This was the first Lent we had water in the fonts instead of sand.

  28. Father Totton says:

    A few years back, upon receiving the memo in question, one parish I know of removed the Holy water FONTS. No font, no water. (I don’t know whether the fonts were flush with water hidden away in some closet or not).

    That reminds me, I need to bless some more Holy water lest I be thought to be recalcitrant vis-a-vis the memo.

  29. Mary B says:

    Our Holy Water is gone in our parish.

  30. Mila says:

    How about parishes that have no baptisms during Lent, but do have weddings? That makes even less sense to me.

  31. Kristen says:

    How about planting cacti in the Holy Water fonts?

  32. Dahler says:

    I recall reading somewhere that it was a Cluniac custom to remove the holy water from the font during Lent (or was it during Passiontide?). That sounds like an precedent to me, although perhaps an eccentric one.

  33. Susan Peterson says:

    Would someone clarify Fr. Edward’s comment? Are there really two types of Holy Water? Or just two different formulations for blessing it?

    Holy water isn’t an eastern custom, but eastern Catholic parishes often have Holy Water. I think they must use the water blessed at Theophany. Would this be a third type of holy water?

    Fr. Edward’s comment made it sound as if it is something about the water itself which makes it efficacious. But as a sacramental, holy water works by the devout mental act of the believer. So his comment does not seem quite accurate to me.

    Susan Peterson
    By the way, my browser automatically fills in the antispam word once I begin typing. But then it is not accepted. I have to type it all out. If I forget, and am reminded to fill in the correct antispam word, no matter how many times I put in each antispam word that comes up, the site will not accept them. I usually have to leave the thread completely and come back and start over. I am entering this to see if adding more text will make a difference.

    It didn’t. I had to leave the thread and come back.

  34. Fr Edward says:

    Just to clarify (and it might be helpful to read the article on blessed salt):

    1. There is ‘baptismal water’ – that which is blessed at the Paschal Vigil, and if necessary before baptism. With this we recall various events in salvation history, including primarily the death and resurrection of the Lord. This is the water with which we are sprinkled after renewing our baptismal promises, or during the ‘Vidi Aquam’ at the beginning of Mass in Eastertide.

    2. There is ‘holy water’ – that which is blessed according to either the old formula in the Roman Ritual or the New Rite of Exorcism, which is for the removal of evil spirits. This has ‘nothing’ to do with baptism or the resurrection explicitly.

  35. MPod says:

    His Excellency Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the neighboring Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas issued a similar instruction to his priests this year.

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