ASK FATHER: Continuously adding tap water to Holy Water

holy water bottleFrom a reader…


I recently discovered that a Sacristan at the NO parish I attend is filling the Holy Water tank with water taken from the public washroom tap…no priest is blessing this. The Holy Water in this tank is used to fill the fonts in the Church as well as freely available to anyone who wishes to take it home. The tank is marked as Holy Water. I believe this Sacristan is thinking it’s ok because as “normal” water is being added to the tank, it is being “blessed” or absorbed by the Holy Water in the tank already. I have heard some priests say this too: As long as you don’t add more than half of regular tap water, this is fine to do and all the water is blessed. This doesn’t sit well with me for some reason. Can you ease my mind on this matter or give me something concrete to give to our parish priest so it can be rectified?

That should be ended as soon as possible. People want Holy Water. They should not be deceived. The agents of Hell know the difference!

It is possible, in a pinch, to add a small amount of water to Holy Water or Baptismal Water if there isn’t a sufficient quality for the task for which it is needed. However, that should not be the usual practice and only a small amount, proportionally, should be added.

It is better simply to bless more Holy Water and make sure it is in sufficient supply.

It doesn’t take much time to bless Holy Water, even with the older rite in the traditional Rituale Romanum (which is the only rite which I have ever used or which I would even consider using). If the priest is too lazy to do even what the Novus Ordo indicates… well… shame on him.  Someone should kick his backside into gear.

However, it is far more likely that this problem doesn’t even pass through the priest’s radar, because he is not asked to bless Holy Water. Thus, he doesn’t think about it.

A good practice is for every sacristy to have a large card with the words “BLESS” and “BLESSED” on either side. Prop up that card with the “BLESS” side displayed near the water containers (I’ve done several buckets at a time, no problemo) and the page-marked book and the stole (and the salt). When the priest is done, he turns the card over to “BLESSED”.  Bada bing.

I am sure that Father is a diligent man who will happily bless any amount of Holy Water, even often, if the request is made and everything is laid out.

Why wouldn’t he?  This is precisely the sort of thing for which we was ordained?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common practice. My former Pastor told me he NEVER blesses Holy Water because “all water is holy already.” [?!? That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve heard in a while.]
    I have shared an excellent and thorough paper on the interwebs on the substantive differences between old and new-rite blessed Holy Water. The main difference is that the old rite water is both blessed and exorcised, whereas the new rite water is – at most – blessed. I say “at most” because the Book of (non)Blessings doesn’t even require the Sign of the Cross be made over the water – nor any other action or imperative words that actually do anything. [That’s right! Not even a sign of the Cross. Nor does the priest ask God to bless the water.]

    I never regard water in the fonts as blessed anymore, and instead bring my own water and salt to the sacristy, together with the proper book, and ask it be blessed. One would think that, at a minimum, laity could trust that water labeled as Holy Water was actually … Holy Water. But no. We can’t.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  2. Charles E Flynn says:

    Antoine de Saint-Exupery on water (he had been near death from the lack of it):

    Airman’s Odyssey

  3. Papabile says:

    Even in the Book of Blessings, the Sign of the Cross is still required to be made.

    From AAS 94 (2002), 684


    De signo sanctae Crucis in benedictionibus semper adhibendo

    Cum ex usitato more semper liturgica viguisset consuetudo, ut in ritibus benedictionis [that’s a problem]
    signum crucis adhiberetur, id dextera manu a celebrante super personas aut res describendo, pro quibus misericordia impetratur, [misericordia but not benedictio?]
    haec Congregatio de Cultu Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum ad dirimenda dubia statuit, ut, etiam si textus illius partis Ritualis Romani cui titulus De Benedictionibus silentio signum ipsum praetereatur vel expressa in eo careat mentione temporis opportuni huius actionis, [Why should it be “silent” at all! Okay… we know the reason.]
    attamen tamquam necessarium [not that the text has to be clear…]
    in quavis benedictione sacris ministris peragenda supradictum signum crucis usurpetur.

    Hac vero absente mentione, tempus opportunum habeatur cum textus benedictionis verba benedictio, benedicere vel similia praebeat vel his deficientibus verbis, cum concluditur ipsa oratio benedictionis. [Just use the older Ritual.]

    Contrariis quibuslibet minime obstantibus.

    Ex aedibus Congregationis de Cultu Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum, die 14 Septembris A. D. 2002, in festo Exaltationis Sanctae Crucis.

    GEORGIUS A. card. MEDINA ESTÉVEZ, Praefectus

    ? Franciscus Pius Tamburrino
    archiep. a Secretis


    Good research.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  4. JBS says:

    While I understand complaining about not having weekly access to a reverent Mass, I don’t understand complaining about this. [You don’t?]
    All you have to do is take several jugs of water to a bi-formal [?!?]
    priest and ask him to exorcise and bless the contents (adding salt, of course) at his convenience. You can pick them up later, even if this requires traveling some distance, but then have enough for many months. Right? [Easy to say.]

  5. jaykay says:

    O dear Lord, I never realised that the new rite was so, ummm, basic. That said, my local priests are pretty good guys (and read this blog, I know!) so our Holy Water will at least have the Sign of the Cross made over it. After this post, I would think there may be a bit more too ???? Anyway, I’m privileged to work near to our EF Chaplaincy and so get my supply there.

  6. Latin Mass Type says:

    I’m fortunate to have a nice supply of Epiphany Water. I use it instead of Holy Water.

    (Father Z wrote about it here I see.)

    Our priest got permission from the bishop, of course. It was a powerful ceremony! People brought their own water to be blessed–from bottled water to open pitchers directly from their kitchens.

  7. jasoncpetty says:

    It’s the Ship of Theseus paradox applied to holy water!

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  8. iamlucky13 says:

    Oh great! Now not only do we have to combat the intrusion of relativism into the Church, but also homeopathy.

    “When the priest is done, he turns the card over to “BLESSED”. Bada bing.”

    Is the blessing both valid and licit if he doesn’t add “Bada bing” at the end?

    [Only obligatory for liceity in Sicily… and some parts of New Jersey.]

  9. JMGDD says:

    I’ve seen and wondered about the exact same thing, so thank you for this answer, Father. If one has holy water from Lourdes, say, and wants to make it last as long as possible, I believe it is permissible to add regular water, so long as the total quantity is at least half “original.” But it soon becomes impossible to tell, and therefore safer just to make another trip to the source!

  10. Father P says:

    This is a solution to a problem that no longer exists. In the days when Baptismal water was only blessed at the Easter Vigil there was the ability to add (only once BTW) additional water to the Baptismal water so that it would last the whole year. With the possibility of blessing Baptismal water at every Baptism there is no longer the need to resort to this older practice.

  11. PA mom says:

    What interesting points about the missing elements in the new blessing.

    Has there been a what does the prayer really say comparison of the new and old blessing?

  12. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Seems to me that asking a priest about the details of how he blesses holy water would not be considered especially friendly. At the same time, I would very much like to get some unambiguously holy water. Could someone perhaps post an online resource of parishes, chapels, friaries, monasteries and the like where we can be reasonably sure the holy water is indeed what the faithful should expect it to be? (I’m confident all FSSP parishes would be in that illustrious company, but there must be others as well.)

  13. Woody79 says:

    Allen S. :
    Wow, I never knew that. Thanks for the info. I’ll start getting my holy water from an FSSP parish now.

  14. ray from mn says:

    In a chapel where I regularly serve Mass, we have a 5 gallon amber jug of blessed holy water on hand all the time and when it gets low, we inform Father and he gets a few days to make time for his blessing.

  15. FrankWalshingham says:

    The devil portrayed in the Exorcist surely felt the effect of real and not watered down holy water!

  16. Elizabeth D says:

    I blame homeopathy.

  17. Federico says:

    The sacristan has invented homeopathic holy water and, as every homeopath knows, the greater the dilution the greater the effect!


  18. Siculum says:

    Oopsies. I feel like an idiot now. But I was afraid to ask my priest at the time for a new blessing for more Holy Water. Didn’t want to get my head bitten off. We didn’t get new Holy Water officially until Easter each year.

  19. iPadre says:

    The Liberals all claim to be generous, but it’s not being generous when you play around with the Churches Sacraments and sacramentals. Maybe it’s a lot of work to bless the water, but I haven’t found that to be the case.

    Maybe this will help!

    Get up offa that thing
    And bless and bless the water
    Get up offa that thing
    And you will feel better

    Get up offa that thing
    And bless and bless the water
    Get up offa that thing
    And use God’s gifts for others

    Get up offa that thing
    And bless, till you feel better
    Get up offa that thing
    And bless till

  20. jameeka says:

    jasoncpetty: that is actually quite pertinent as we get to head transplants and the seat of the soul.

  21. OlderCatholic says:

    I cannot believe this would be a big deal even for a busy priest. It takes what? Maybe 5 minutes max?

  22. Fr. John says:

    Question from an Orthodox interloper:

    In our tradition, one of the most common uses for Holy Water is drinking it. After we perform the Great Blessing of the Waters at the feast of Christ’s Baptism, the faithful come up and each drink a small cup of it and are then given some to take back to their homes, both to sprinkle as a blessing and to drink throughout the year.

    A Catholic friend of mine was horrified at the idea but I wasn’t sure that was just because certain liturgical usages are no longer common everywhere in the Catholic world these days or if that is genuinely a difference between us. Do Catholics drink Holy Water?

  23. Sliwka says:

    Fr John, I wouldn’t from a font but would have no problem doing so otherwise, mind you I learned about the Byzantine Rite more fully before the Latin Rite into which I was baptized.

    I think the best part of the IOrdan blessed water is it being breathed on.

  24. Pastor Bonus says:

    Incidentally I’ve always wanted a holy water sprinkler just like that. Does anyone know where I can get one? All there seems to be available are those stainless steel ones.

  25. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: drinking holy water

    I don’t think this was a ritual anywhere. Of course there were many saint’ s days associated with water and blessings, but usually drinking water was associated with holy springs and wells associated with the saints or with miraculous occurrences, or sometimes just dedicated to a saint. I think there were special blessings that priests could use on feast days associated with holy wells, etc.

    This was an important part of European popular devotion and pilgrimage culture, and almost every little village seems to have had one. Many cities also had holy wells and springs, but many were overtaken by development unless on the grounds of a parish or religious order. Nobody talks about it except in folklore journals, but many local European blogs talk about their local springs and wells still being dressed. I don’t think we have them in the US; we just have Lourdes devotion. I don’t know about Quebec or Latin America.

    Relying on holy water blessed by the priest instead of blessed by a miracle or shadowed by a local saint was maybe more urban or seasonal – Epiphany and Baptismal water, for instance.

    In the more recent past, holy water from church was sometimes part of prayerful treatment of the sick. However, it seems to have been more common to cook with holy water. Given that holy water was usually salty in the past, this was probably easier on the stomach. But you usually wouldn’t want to drink from a font. If you want to do this, you want the holy water tank.

  26. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I forgot to say that of course a lot of the decline in respect for holy wells is the habit of thinking everything old is pagan. Also, a lot of country festivals got rowdy.

    But you don’t just go around despising popular piety if you care for people. And there are places in Europe where Catholic bishops and priests are positive about these little old shrines.

  27. Allan S. says:

    For those wishing a complete analysis of why and how the two rites for blessing differ, and the effect this has on the water, Daniel G. Van Slyke (Assistant Professor at the Liturgical Institute
    of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary) wrote THE definitive, researched and footnoted article on the matter here.

    Fr. Z also has another excellent thread with updates on this here.

    I shared the linked pdf with my new Pastor, and I can tell you priests are usually shocked to learn that there is another, better rite out there – that they may lawfully use – and why the two produce completely different outcomes.

    The key quote is this:

    At this point numerous theological questions arise. For instance, at the completion of this Order, is the water used therein blessed? Does it differ from any other water? Can one answer “yes” to these questions when the Ordo itself provides no justification for an affirmative answer? Are the members of Christ’s faithful deceived who believe the water in their churches’ fonts is blessed? Will the farmer who sprinkles such water on his failing crops only benefit to the extent that it helps him recall his salvation? If a mother sprinkles it on her sick infant, does the infant who has not yet the use of reason – and so cannot “recall Christ” – benefit? For whom is the blessing intended – the mother or the infant? Indeed, if the purpose of blessing is primarily praise and thanksgiving, can anyone who is absent from the liturgical celebration of the Order participate in the blessing? The implications of this radical shift in the euchology of blessings have yet to be considered.

    The benefits and users/uses referenced above were all part of the older blessing, whereas the new one mentions none of them, and merely references the “blessed” water as an aid to recall scripture.

    Print the article from the first link, above. Spread it wide and far, with copies of the correct blessing.

  28. Imrahil says:

    Rev’d dear Fr John,

    it just doesn’t seem the thing to do with holy water to us, drinking it. And that’s not because there would be dirt in it but because, well, being blessed and all, it just doesn’t seem right. I don’t mean that in a way disparaging of your practice (I don’t see any intrinsic ground on which holy water would be less apt for drinking than, say, food which is blessed), only describing an instinct.

    That said, the pious practice to add drops of it to food (and presumably drink) has been heard of, and (for water blessed with exorcism) one hears outright miracles, conversions and so on attributed to it.

  29. Imrahil says:

    By the way, Wikipedia tells me that the (quasi-)Nestorian Church, uniquely among all non-Protestant denominations, does not bless any oils. Why not? They have some oil which they claim goes back to the Apostles. Fine, but even accepting the tradition, wouldn’t all of it have been spent long ago? Well, no. They just keep mixing fresh oil with it.

  30. acricketchirps says:

    In my late wife’s dialect (Piemontese) va bene was va bing. Though it’s Northwestern not Siciliano/Calabrese I still wonder whether that was the etymology of bada bing.

  31. JBS says:

    Fr. John,

    Do ya’ll put salt in it?

  32. JBS says:

    I live in a rural diocese that is less than 5% Catholic, and yet no one need drive more than 30 or 40 minutes to find a priest who’ll bless water using the older rite.

  33. PA mom says:

    Allen- Wow! I just read the article and the difference is incredible!

    To hear a priest speak those words in English (such that those like me listening could understand) would be amazing!

    They need to “reform of the reform” that one back.

  34. StWinefride says:

    Suburbanbanshee says: “And there are places in Europe where Catholic bishops and priests are positive about these little old shrines.

    Yes, and “my” shrine is one of them! The only shrine in Britain to have survived the Reformation:

  35. ppb says:

    I prefer to gather holy water for home use only from parishes where I know the priest is orthodox and/or I have actually seen the blessing rite done over the water. If the traditional blessing is used, so much the better!

    On the other hand, I don’t agree with those who would argue that the new rituals don’t bless the water. Not all blessings need be constitutive, and some of the other new rites for blessing water (i.e. within Mass or at the Easter Vigil) do include the phrase “bless this water.” I don’t think people should go down the road of thinking that you can only get “real” holy water from traditional priests. And I say this as someone who almost exclusively attends the EF.

  36. Supertradmum says:

    Someone just phoned me two weeks ago about the sacristan in her local cathedral who just puts tap water in the stoops. She mentioned this to the priest in charge of the cathedral, but apparently he does this as well.

    She took it up with another priest in the diocese. Should she go to the bishop about this? It is his cathedral, after all.

    [If that has been the result of inquiries so far, then yes, a letter to the bishop might be in order.]

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