Lent: the silly season in some places

As a preamble.

From a reader:

Here is a a picture I took, instead of Holy Water, or the sand, its a purple cloth. This is not my home parish, but I happen to be in that town this weekend and decided to go to the nearest church.

I was surprised to see this and also that the Mass was packed. I am not sure that anybody has said anything to the priest about it.

However there was a lady that asked one of the ushers where the water had gone and he just smiled with a nod. She exclaimed “this is the time when we need it the most”.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. ejcmartin says:

    Funny, saw the same thing at our Basilica this weekend. It must be the new sand.

  2. benedetta says:

    Maybe someone ought to put a little stick-note next to that, “BYOB”. Bless yourself, anyway, and, to pastor & entourage/committee sorry to wreck your whole “Lent in the desert” experience thing you’ve got going on…If you’re going to force people to go without holy water then I’m sure you’re not going to do the eye roll/grin when someone has to compensate by receiving communion on their knees…Just because we’re into doing things differently?

  3. The hideously ugly, bumpy bronze stoop (meant to hold the missing holy water) is the first sign that you’re in an AmChurch nightmare. Finding liturgical foolishness in such settings should always be disappointing but never surprising. Quamdiu, Domine?

  4. irishgirl says:

    You are so right, Father Newman-and Father Z!
    ‘How long, O Lord?’

  5. SimonDodd says:

    Happily, we have not done so, although a number of pebbles have been put in the fonts which reduces the overall volume. At first I thought this was perhaps a way to accomplish the same result by attrition, but they have been attentively kept full, which satisfies me. Between that and sand, I’ll take the former.

    Shortly before Lent, I wrote a memo summarizing various reasons why the fonts should not be emptied—I doubt it had any effect whatsoever here, but I offer it in case others find it useful.

  6. dans0622 says:

    My memory is a bit foggy but I think I have had the misfortune of experiencing this at some point in my travels. It looks like a priest’s stole. What next?

  7. disco says:

    They gave up the holy water — but they sure kept the guitars!

  8. Fr Martin Fox says:

    Good news: not here!

  9. Fr Martin Fox says:

    Oh…I might add that for the First Sunday of Lent, I blessed water and sprinkled the faithful at the “high” Mass. My pastor at my first assignment taught me well, when he referred to Lent as the “baptismal-penitential” season. And we have baptisms during Lent if requested, no fuss no muss; just more subdued, no cope and no “alleluia” after the baptism.

  10. Joseph says:

    Last Friday I went to my local parish for a way of the cross. It was issued by Development & Peace a rather doubtful organisation. Each station was the usual tripe of the J&P agenda and included such gems as: Holy Spirit, empower us to be witnesses of inclusion. I was gratified to notice a great many people felt cheated as I was by that 10 minute production.

  11. Centristian says:

    I am all for the display of Lenten symbolism in our churches during Lent: violet paraments or banners, veiled crosses, displays of crowns of thorns, of hammers and nails, of sand, of desert flora; very pro it, indeed. It is wholly appropriate and it makes perfect sense for a parish to do such things. I come from a parish, alas, which doesn’t display any purple or any symbolism at all during Lent, and I frankly find that complete absence of any visual Lenten reminders very disappointing.

    I’ll confess, I am not one to regard lustral water as something so essential that the absence thereof, for a season, would vex me, except insofar as the Church does not permit the absence of it. Should the Church permit the absence of it during Lent, I would certainly not lose sleep over it. But it doesn’t permit that, so there it is, period, end of story. I have never, personally, encountered the practice of removing holy water from the Church during Lent, but the alternatives that have been recounted on this blog are intriguing.

    Since Lenten symbolism is important and should not, in my opinion, be neglected, and since it is not permissible, evidently, for a parish to remove the lustral water from the Church during the whole of Lent…and since the absence of it is really is not a very good symbol, in any case, if you ask me…why not go ahead and veil the stoups, decorate them with sand and cacti and rocks, or what have you…but keep the holy water, too?

    One could drape a holy water font bracket in violet, as in the image shown, AND provide holy water; clearly it hasn’t got to be one or the other. As far as those parishes that want to fill their holy water fonts with sand or rocks or cacti, fine. But put a small dish of holy water amidst the sand, rocks, and cacti.

    The display of Lenten symbols is important, and I really enjoy seeing creative (but tasteful) approaches to visual reminders of Lent explored in parishes; some do a really spectacular job at creating an appropriate liturgical atmosphere. But there’s no reason the symbols of the liturgical season and holy water cannot happily co-exist.

  12. MichaelJ says:

    Hindsight being what it is, can anyone be really surprised when things like this are encountered? We can get into an endless and futile debate about the cause, but the fact remains that for many Parishes anything beyond the superficial has been completely stripped away.

    Incidents like this, in my opinion, reflect a desperate search for deeper spititual meaning. People instinctively know that there is something much larger than themselves and that the Mass is not primarily “about them”. How sad that this need is not met in so many places to the point that the people have to invent “meaningful” things such as this.

  13. Brooklyn says:

    I think MichaelJ hit it exactly. When you’ve lost the substance of Lent – penance and self mortification – you just make up for it by using symbols which, unfortunately, don’t convey very much. Funny how the Church never made up or needed these kind of “symbols” when fasting and penitence were emphasized. The spiritual journey is about a lot more than good feelings.

  14. Jenny bag of donuts says:

    God bless you Father Fox!

  15. Will D. says:

    Not pictured: A big pot full of twigs by the altar.

  16. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I never heard the term “lustral water” before.
    At my parish in Columbus, it is “all sacramentals, all the time.”
    We have probably 100 relics too. I need a bumper sticker that says, “I brake for relics.”

  17. GloriaDei says:

    Several years ago my father died a few days before Ash Wednesday. When I arrived at our parish church a half-hour before the Funeral Mass, I saw the “Lenten Display” in front of the altar. It included several cacti in pots and the bleached skull of a coyote (or maybe a small cow!)

    The pastor did remove it temporarily when I asked that he do so. I was afraid I would also lose my mother to a massive heart attack or stroke if she walked in and saw the skull lying in front of Dad’s casket.

  18. JKnott says:

    Here is something (from an Order of nuns’ website) to go with the sand and stoles!

    “Compassionate God, journey with us through Lent. Warm us! Be the sun to bring robins and purple crocuses — Easter us home! ”

    I came across this after reading Father Z’s great exhortation on the need for Lenten purification and rooting out our vices. Gee Father, you are so mean!

  19. JKnott: Easter us home… ?!?

    Right. And Jesus is sort of like the Easter Bunny.

  20. westmountensis says:

    This is, almost certainly, from my childhood parish. I haven’t set foot in it for five years, but clearly nothing has changed. The horrible bumpy bronze stoops are matched by a horrible bumpy bronze thurible. While made of rough wool, the vestments may have at one point touched silk. Through the Triduum about half of the consecrated sacrament is leavened bread (almost but not quite pumpernickel), distributed out from wicker baskets. The quitars are usually supplemented by a very loud drum set and a Peruvian rain stick or two. While there aren’t any clowns this parish has become a burlesque of the excesses of the Ordinary Form.

  21. The Astronomer says:

    My wife and I went to confession at a prominent old Franciscan shrine church on the Jersey Shore Saturday. It’s stunning inside, even retaining the altar railing and magnificent high altar…really looking like something out of the glory days of Holy Mother Church.

    All holy water (lustral water???) had been replaced by baskets of small rocks and pebbles, to “remind us of the spiritual starvation we experience until we once again become a Resurrection People.”

    How long, Oh Lord???

  22. OtherMary says:

    After reading Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s post on empty fonts recently, we weren’t that shocked to find our fonts to be empty at our parish yesterday when we arrived (it’s a new parish for us). We made a mental note to say something to our elderly pastor, who is caught somewhere between his past (well catechized and devout) and the “progressiveness” of many of his parishioners. As we were speaking to him on the way out, my husband dipped his hand in the dry font and said, “Oh Father – by the way – someone needs to fill the fonts – they’re empty!” Father smiled and told us (as if he had told many) that it was a tradition – and a penance for Lent – that there would be new holy water at Easter, when the fonts would be refilled – that people take these things for granted and that they appreciate them more when they are deprived of them, etc., etc. I looked at him, sad and disappointed and said, “But Father – holy water is a sacramental! It remits venial sin when I arrive for Holy Mass and make the sign of the cross! We need holy water more than ever during Lent!” He smiled some more and kept insisting it was a tradition that many churches have, mentioning how baptisms used to be delayed through Lent – how we give up things, and this is just another little penance. I told him that this was like telling me I couldn’t use my rosary during Lent – I told him I just couldn’t understand, nor could I agree. I told him that I did realize that the fonts were emptied for the Triduum and refilled with the new holy water, but had never heard that it was appropriate to empty them for ALL of lent!

    He then (smiling all the more) turned to our parish council president, saying that we were asking about the empty fonts. He said (with MORE smiling) – “Yeah! That’s a tradition we have for Lent! Fr. X used to put sand in them when he was here!” Major frustration!!

  23. isnowhere says:

    Did not Jesus even have water during His 40 days in the desert?

  24. Centristian says:

    (lustral water???)

    Pardon my Fortescue and O’Connell terminology. Old habits die hard.

  25. Ellen says:

    I was curious, so I went to the brand spanking new church in my home town. No holy water in the stoops, lots of dead twigs and pebbles around, and the tabernacle is hidden. We had to introduce ourselves to our neighbors and they applaud all the visitors.
    The priest tied himself into knots to avoid referring to God as Father, he preached about the Transfiguration as the “Transfiguration event” and they didn’t say the Creed. I’ve seen all I want to see. Next week I’ll be back at my parish church where we still have holy water, the priest is orthodox, we don’t mind calling God Father and the tabernacle is right in plain sight.

  26. Daniel Latinus says:

    I want to know, which cacti are native to the deserts of Palestine? I always thought cacti were native to the Americas. Or did Jesus spend his forty days in Arizona?

  27. Will D. says:

    Or did Jesus spend his forty days in Arizona?

    Well, if you ask a member of the LDS “Church,” they’d say it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

  28. ReginaMarie says:

    Our former parish had large baskets of a variety of dried legumes & beans in the vestibule during Lent. ..?? Small, squirmy children loved to get fistfuls of those when taken out to be quieted down during Mass. Sometimes these same children were known to plunk a few remaining beans into the emptied holy water fonts. There was also a large, felt-covered “circle of life” (a la Disney’s “Lion King”) in the vestibule…I was never really sure of the purpose of that. Sadly, the “circle of life” replaced the portrait of the Holy Father, as well as a beautiful artistic rendering of the Crucifixion, that used to hang on the wall. The last time we attended the Stations of the Cross at this parish, it was apparently a social-justice themed Lenten devotion, for all the old Stations (unsightly & abstract as they were) were replaced with large posters of the poor & disenfranchised of the world. I thought the Stations of the Cross were to be a focus on the Passion & death of Our Lord, Jesus Christ… … …

  29. albinus1 says:

    Easter us home

    From one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes strips: “Verbing weirds language.”


    The priest tied himself into knots to avoid referring to God as Father

    A Jewish friend of mine once visited one of the big Protestant churches in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He glanced through the service book, and he told me that not only were no masculine references to God, but there not even any masculine references to Jesus. He commented, “Even we admit that Jesus was a boy!”

  30. AnAmericanMother says:

    It’s not just Catholic parishes that have gone nutz: one of our local Episcopal parishes has replaced the Stations of the Cross with the “Stations of the United Nations Millenium Goals”. I was there for a concert by a local brass quintet and could not believe my eyes.

    The father of my best friend in high school was Senior Warden at that parish. Sensible, devout, High Church Episcopalian. He has probably gotten up to about 3500 rpm by now.

  31. Stephen says:

    There’s a parish I’ve been to which puts ribbon over the holy water fonts for Lent. You reach for the holy water and feel like an idiot because you’ve knocked their silly ribbon off of the font. Thank God there’s been holy water at all the parishes I’ve been to this year for Lent.

  32. Jenny bag of donuts says:

    LOL Daniel and Will!

  33. Brad says:

    On Ash Wednesday I came to church terrified to find no water awaiting us. Thank God our Polish and Filipino priests kept it. I suppose their backgrounds were not so progressive being from those countries.

  34. Catherine L. says:

    Great news! A parish here in Sacramento, one that replaced the holy water with sand during previous Lents, did NOT do it this year. Praise God!


  35. cothrige says:

    This is done at our parish too, and it drives me crazy. I have always wanted to ask the priest why, if we are supposed to give up good and holy things for Lent because we are in a “spiritual desert,” should we not give up going to Mass altogether? Or maybe I could also give up “stewardship” and skip giving any money to the parish during Lent. After all, we shouldn’t be selfish. The parish should get to experience being in the desert too.

  36. amenamen says:

    I thirst

    All day I face the barren waste
    Without the taste of water, cool water
    Old Dan and I with throats burned dry
    And souls that cry for water, cool, clear, water.

  37. priests wife says:

    the Roman-rite chapel (very large for a chapel) where we are blessed to have permission to celebrate the Divine Liturgy on Saturday evenings has a large display of river rocks and empty clay jars in the middle of the sanctuary area- I suppose the display would be right up against the altar, but we push the movable, wooden altar back so that our Liturgy is done ad orientam- looks pretty silly with the 4 life-size icons used as a portable icon screen- and father doesn’t have much room – celebrating Church diversity (?!)

  38. Mitchell NY says:

    This is one of the many reasons we need a new syllabus about 100 pages long. This is just another example of wrong on a very long list.

  39. APX says:

    Well, if you ask a member of the LDS “Church,” they’d say it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

    I was just thinking this as I was reading its preceding post. My Mormon friends would say it’s in Central America.

    “Easter us home”
    Why do people insist on verbing

  40. Brad says:

    “easter us home” makes me want to puke. That sort of pablum is not why I became a catechumen and neophyte as an adult. This is (which is what “easter us home” attempts to say without a modicum of human or divine dignity):

    We praise you, O God: we acclaim you as the Lord. Everlasting Father, all the world bows down before you. All the angels sing your praise, the hosts of heaven and all the angel powers, all the cherubim and seraphim call out to you in unending song: Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God of angel hosts! The heavens and the earth are filled with your majesty and glory. The glorious band of apostles, the noble company of prophets, the white-robed army who shed their blood for Christ, all sing your praises. And to the ends of the earth your holy Church proclaims her faith in you. Father, whose majesty is boundless, your true and only Son, who is to be adored, the Holy Spirit sent to be our advocate. You, O Christ, are the King of glory, Son of the eternal Father. When you took our nature to save mankind, you did not shrink from birth in the Virgin’s womb. You overcame the power of death opening the Father’s kingdom to all who believe in you. Enthroned at God’s right hand in the glory of the Father, you will come in judgment according to your promise. You redeemed your people by your precious blood. Come, we implore you, to our aid. Grant us with the saints a place of glory everlasting. Lord, save your people and bless your inheritance. Rule them and uphold them for ever and ever. Day by day we praise you: we acclaim you now and to all eternity. In your goodness, Lord, keep us free from sin Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy. May your mercy always be with us, Lord, for we have hoped in you. In you, Lord, we put our trust: we shall not he put to shame.

    All of creation groaning for salvation, all of human history awaiting the savior, the prophets, the martyrs, the unknown souls, the souls making their way right now to the vigil font, are reduced to pablum by “easter us home”.

    How about, sisters, we stop looking at cute signs of created springtime and look at the Lateran baptistery’s font’s take on “going home”:

    A heaven-destined race is quickened here from holy seed:
    begotten by the Spirit that upon the waters moved.
    Plunge sinner then, who would be pure, into the sacred streams;
    whom the flood old receives, return to life renewed.
    No difference divides the newly born,
    united by one source, one Spirit, and a common faith.
    What children of God’s Spirit she receives as virgin progeny does Mother Church bear here from out this stream.
    Would’st thou be sinless? Cleanse thyself beneath the show’ring flood,
    by thine own sins or by thy father’s guilt oppressed.
    Here springs the fount of life by which the entire earth is laved
    since from Christ’s wound it takes its origin and source.
    Await the heavenly kingdom, who are reborn in this font:
    eternal life does not accept those who are born but once.
    Though his sins be many or grievous, let none draw back afraid;
    reborn from out this stream, a Christian he shall be.

  41. Christo et Ecclesiae says:

    I had to share this.

    My friend who is a fellow Knight of Columbus at our school, who really started living out his faith since he’s come to college asked me, when he saw my holy water stoop in my apartment, “Aren’t you not supposed to have this out? It’s Lent!”

    See what we have taught our youth?? I explained to him the reasons why it is silly to deprive the faithful of holy water and it took him no longer than 2 seconds to understand.

    God bless the Catholic education I received. Pray that all may be blessed with the glorious sounds of Truth!

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