QUAERITUR: using really old Holy Water

From a reader:

Retrieving some books from storage this afternoon, I came across a bottle of holy water that I filled at the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham a *long* time ago — more than 20 years ago.  The bottle is tightly sealed, and there’s no obvious growth in the water.  That is to say, I don’t see any readily apparent reason why it shouldn’t still be used.

Are there are any rules, guidelines, or traditions about how long holy water may (or should) be kept?

I don’t think there are any guidelines beyond common sense.

That said, some people have added Holy Water in the preparation of foods.  I wouldn’t do that with old Holy Water.  Frankly, I wouldn’t do that with any Holy Water that I hadn’t just blessed.  As a matter of fact I have never added Holy Water in food preparation.  I am sure there is something witty to be said about this, but I can’t get my brain into that gear at the moment.

It might be of interest to note that in the traditional form of blessing Holy Water, with the older Rituale Romanum, exorcised and blessed salt is added to the water.  The salt can act as a preservative, reducing the possibility that algae might grow in the water.

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  1. Tim Ferguson says:

    I was recently asked if holy water that had frozen and thawed was still holy water. I am unsure, but it seems to me that, in undergoing the change to ice, it would have lost its blessing, and would not regain it by thawing.
    Yet another reason to utilize the older ritual and add salt to blessed water, as saltwater has a lower freezing point!

  2. Rich says:

    Doesn’t holy water get better with age?

  3. Widukind says:

    Splish, splash, its a spiritual bath,
    to protect my soul from my cooking wrath;
    a pinch of this, of that a dash,
    and of holy water, one good splash;
    my cooking’s so poor, its best to ignore,
    knowing what it might hold in store;
    its either too thin, or way too thick,
    my concoctions do make everyone sick;
    the odds are great. so why take a chance,
    that my food is your death’s dance;
    a zest it does give, ’tis another reason,
    that with holy water my pot to season;
    rather to suffer here now, than forever in hell,
    is why I bless my food inside as well;
    it’s best to cook, with holy water’s blessing,
    to forever quell any eternal guessing;
    to be prepared, is Scriptures’ cry,
    thus holy water goes into everything I fry;

  4. Legisperitus says:

    I didn’t know there was no salt in Novus Ordo holy water. Can’t imagine why they would change that, but that goes for a lot of other things too.

  5. Will D. says:

    In my missal (Vatican II Sunday Missal from the Daughters of St. Paul), the Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water has three options for blessing the water, and then a rubric saying:

    Where it is customary, salt may be mixed with the holy water. The priest blesses the salt, saying:
    Almighty God,
    we ask you to bless + this salt
    as once you blessed the salt scattered over the water
    by the prophet Elisha.
    Wherever this salt and water are sprinkled,
    drive away the power of evil,
    and protect us always
    by the presence of your holy spirit.
    Grant this through Christ our Lord.

    I’ve never encountered a blessing of salt in the NO mass, but it is apparently done in some places.

  6. sprachmeister says:

    The previous priest at my parish, ordained only twenty years ago so NO priest but now retired (he was quite old when ordained) always used salt for Holy Water. I never knew that salt wasn’t used.

  7. albizzi says:

    Tim, I don’t consider why frozen holy water no longer would be holy.
    There are a number of churches here in France, in the US and in Canada that cannot be heated during winter and the temperature may drop lower than the icing point. These churches offers stoops with holy water in the entrance. I never heard that once frozen the priests would discard the water.
    Regarding cooking with holy water, I was told that this may be done for preparing food for exorcisms. There is a clear sign of possession in the case the possessed person reject it.

  8. Tim Ferguson says:

    I think that holy water, when frozen, ceases to be water, and becomes ice – just as when it evaporates, it ceases to be water and becomes steam or vapor. When something undergoes sufficient change so that it ceases to be what it was when blessed, it loses its blessing.

  9. ErnieNYC says:

    “…water, when frozen, ceases to be water, and becomes ice – just as when it evaporates, it ceases to be water and becomes steam or vapor.”

    I think the science disagrees with you on this. Water does not cease to be water when it freezes or boils…it merely changes it’s appearance, or state–an action easily and predictably reversed. When I throw a pound of chicken breasts into the freezer, do they cease to be chicken?

  10. gambletrainman says:

    Getting back to the original question, if in doubt, you can use the old holy water to provide moisture to a plant, or just pour it on the ground, then refill the container with “fresh” holy water. And don’t forget, as the supply in the container is depleted, whatever amount is left in the container, just add up to an equal amount of regular water, and the holy water will not lose its blessing. Any more than an equal amount, it will no longer be holy water, just ordinary water. Example: If you have 1/4 container left of holy water, put no more than 1/4 water into the container. Then, I guess it can be shaken to mix the water. You then will have 1/2 container of holy water. Then, you can fill the other 1/2, and have a fresh supply.

  11. Mark of the Vine says:

    Are you sure about that? If so, you could, theoretically, do that ad infinitum. Doesn’t feel right for some reason…

  12. Rouxfus says:

    I was living in New Orleans when Katrina struck, but we evacuated. My across the street neighbor stayed. His name was Mr. Dedman. The day after Katrina he was walking his dog along the sidewalk, and one house away from his he had a stroke or heart attack and fell stricken on the lawn. His dog began barking uo a storm, and another neighbor heard it and came to investigate, and found Mr. Dedman in a bad way, clearly dying. He ran back home, and fetched a pillow, some water, and a box of blessed salt he had in his kitchen. (My friend is of Lebanese heritage, and attends a Maronite rite Catholic church.) He prayed over Mr. Dedman, and used the blessed salt to bless him, and stayed with him until he passed. I think he may have called his priest who administered last rite prayers over the phone, but my recall is not clear. There was not much else he could do in the situation… no emergency services were available at the time. The next day he commandeered a 14-foot dinghy sailboat from the trailer in my driveway, and used it as a floating hearse to take the body to the National Guard staging post at the end of our street, and it was taken to the emergency morgue facility at St. Gabriel, Louisiana. I don’t know what became of the dog. I still have the sailboat, but mut admit I haven’t sailed it since.

  13. PadreOP says:

    Regarding these two comments:

    “…water, when frozen, ceases to be water, and becomes ice – just as when it evaporates, it ceases to be water and becomes steam or vapor.”

    “I think the science disagrees with you on this. Water does not cease to be water when it freezes or boils…it merely changes it’s appearance, or state–an action easily and predictably reversed. When I throw a pound of chicken breasts into the freezer, do they cease to be chicken?”

    I would side with the first person here. The chicken example isn’t really relevant, as frozen chicken retains the same form as the chicken had at room temperature. However, ice (or steam/vapor) do not retain the same form as liquid water.

    You could look at it this way: would the Church consider it a valid baptism if, instead of liquid water, someone blew some steam on the head of a person to be baptized? Or would the Church consider it a valid baptism if someone rubbed an ice cube on the head of someone to be baptized (with the ice cube not melting at all)? I think the answer in both cases is a clear “no,” which tells us that *theologically speaking*, steam and ice are NOT the “same thing” as water. If they were the “same thing,” if they were still “water,” then they would be valid matter for baptism. Since they are not the same thing, then it follows that water that has been blessed would cease being blessed when it was no longer what it was (water) and had become some other thing (ice or steam) instead.

    It is also worth mentioning that when we are considering freezing here, I think what is being referred to is being frozen solid. A font of holy water in a cold church where, say, a thin layer of ice forms right on the surface is still fundamentally water and I don’t think anyone would suggest that tiny bit of ice would invalidate its nature as water. But if the entire font freezes solid into one block, that’s a very different thing.

  14. MJ says:

    You know it’s gettin’ cold outside when we Catholics talk about holy water fonts freezing over. :) BRR!!!

  15. Legisperitus says:

    I’m surprised no one has made the old joke about “popesicles.”

  16. Agnes of Prague says:


    What I heard about refilling Holy Water is that you can add a not-quite equal amount of regular water (so you have a mixture of 51% originally Holy Water and 49% reg) and then it is all Holy Water, but that you can only do that *once.* (I.e., per batch of water.) That makes sense to me but I don’t know for sure.

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