ASK FATHER: Removing Holy Water during Lent

Boy Holy Water FontFrom a reader…

I am currently serving at a parish as a transitional deacon. On Thursday I noticed along with the parishioners that the Holy Water was removed from the entrance of the church. They were looking all around for it and asked me where it went. I learned that the pastor had removed it because we are in the “desert days” of Lent. [Dumb! Dumb! DUMB!] Even the laity knew that the water is only removed during Holy Week. [After the Holy Thursday Mass.]  They are afraid to speak up. What would be the best way to approach the pastor to bring this up? I offered to bless some water for the people if they wanted some. Thoughts?

Thoughts?  Yes, I have some thoughts.  In the past I have called this “Dumb liberal idea #3464 = Reason #583739 for Summorum Pontificum”.

Each year we are seeing a lessening of liturgical stupidity, as those of a certain age go to their retirement or reward (the so-called “Biological Solution”) and young people with less strange liturgical baggage step into their positions. Nevertheless, some aberrations continue. One particularly dumb and annoying liturgical oddity is the removal of holy water from stoups during Lent.

If you are a new Catholic or catechumen and haven’t yet seen that, just remember that the people doing this, … know not what they do.

To all the priests out there still… unbelievably still putting sand in holy water fonts during Lent…


I’ll rant for a bit later, but in the meantime someone put this question to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.  They responded.  Enjoy.

The emphases are mine:

Prot. N. 569/00/L

March 14, 2000

Dear Father:

This Congregation for Divine Worship has received your letter sent by fax in which you ask whether it is in accord with liturgical law to remove the Holy Water from the fonts for the duration of the season of Lent.

This Dicastery is able to respond that the removing of Holy Water from the fonts during the season of Lent is not permitted, in particular, for two reasons:

1. The liturgical legislation in force does not foresee this innovation, which in addition to being praeter legem is contrary to a balanced understanding of the season of Lent, which though truly being a season of penance, is also a season rich in the symbolism of water and baptism, constantly evoked in liturgical texts.

2. The encouragement of the Church that the faithful avail themselves frequently of the [sic] of her sacraments and sacramentals is to be understood to apply also to the season of Lent. The “fast” and “abstinence” which the faithful embrace in this season does not extend to abstaining from the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church. The practice of the Church has been to empty the Holy Water fonts on the days of the Sacred Triduum in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated (i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday).

Hoping that this resolves the question and with every good wish and kind regard, I am,

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Mons. Mario Marini [Later, the Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, now with God.]

Did you get the part where the Congregation said: “is not permitted”?

Holy water is a sacramental.

We get the powerful theology of its use in the older Roman Ritual in the prayers for exorcism of the water and salt used and then the blessing itself.  The rite of blessing holy water, in the older ritual, is powerful stuff.  It sounds odd, nearly foreign to our modern ears, especially after decades of being force fed Novus Ordo pabulum.

Holy Water is a power weapon of the spiritual life against the attacks of the devil.

I would ask these priests:

  • You do believe in the existence of the Enemy, … right?
  • You know you are a soldier and pilgrim in a dangerous world, … right?
  • So why… why… why would these liturgists and priests REMOVE a tool of spiritual warfare precisely during the season of LENT when we need it the most?

Holy water is a sacramental.

It is for our benefit.

It is not a toy, or something to be abstained from, like chocolate or television.

So, don’t stand for this nonsense.  If the Holy Water has been removed… clamor for its return!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. dbrigtex17 says:

    Looks like the pastor needs to see a copy of the letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship.

  2. Joseph-Mary says:

    In my former parish, they used to put sand in the holy water fonts. And they would set up a table with dirt and dry bones and one year that gave off a stink! They would also drain the baptismal pond which was fine with me because the constant noise of tricking water was aggravating and also, for some, meant additional visits to the restroom it seemed.

    One parish here likes to take away the bells at the consecration during Lent which I find jarring by the silence.

  3. Benedict Joseph says:

    Obviously I have not seen everything, heard everything from the cornucopia of heterodoxy. This is a new one for me.
    Perhaps the desert days of Lent could be best observed by conforming to the unambiguous Decalogue, the Precepts of the Church, liturgical rubrics and the perennial Magisterium – like “Humanae vitae” – which appears to be weathering another assault today from “someone” who should know better.
    Sand in the Holy Water font seems like a waste of sand. Surely there are a multitude of ways to employ sand as a means of personal mortification while we are remembering that we individuals are merely dust, and not priceless fonts of wisdom.

  4. Here’s my suggestion, although the transitional deacon mentioned above should have absolutely nothing to do with this:

    If the holy water disappears in your parish, what about going to a nearby parish and getting a half-gallon or so of holy water, and replacing it? Every time it disappears, replace it. With a group of, say, ten dedicated laypeople, the priest will get worn out.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  5. Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick says:

    If sand is put in the Holy Water stoups, add cigarette butts. This will deter most people from blessing themselves with the sand, which THEY WILL DO otherwise.

  6. lmgilbert says:

    Msgr. Marini writes, “2. The encouragement of the Church that the faithful avail themselves frequently of the [sic] of her sacraments and sacramentals is to be understood to apply also to the season of Lent. The “fast” and “abstinence” which the faithful embrace in this season does not extend to abstaining from the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church.”

    This reminds me, and I believe you have addressed this before, but I need similar documentation about this business of Confession not being offered during the sacred Triduum. My understanding is that this practice is incorrect and based on a misunderstanding of a phrase in the GIRM.

    I myself returned to the Church by returning to Confession and the Eucharist on Holy Saturday 1964, and it pains me greatly to see Confession withheld from the faithful on that day of all days of the year. It seems like it is the *perfect day* to return to Our Lord. Liturgically speaking, has not Our Lord just died for our sins the previous day? By confessing our sins we enter into his death, and rise with him the third day. Am I wrong?

    [It is NOT forbidden to have confessions during the Triduum.  That was explained by the Holy See and the rubrics of the newer edition of the Novus Ordo Missale Romanum were clarified. More HERE.]

  7. Traductora says:

    Thank you! I absolutely hate it when they remove the holy water from the fonts. They completely misunderstand the whole thing. But then again, that’s VII in a nutshell. A complete misunderstanding.

  8. scholastica says:

    Then you have the overzealous and ill-informed who have already veiled everything in purple at a local parish. They have hidden my Lord.

  9. I have run across sand in the font, or nothing at all. (Never in my parish) I always have a bottle of Holy Water in my purse, as well as exorcised salt. When I enter a Church that has sand in a font or it is dry, I take my Holy Water out of my purse and make great use of it. Other have enjoyed my private bottle of Holy Water as well.

  10. JARay says:

    I am also interested to read from Joseph-Mary that one Congregation ceases the ringing of bells at the Consecration. My parish does that. I have protested and in reply we now have a gong which is struck instead of bells which are rung. As I understand the tradition, the bells continue until Holy Week when, on the Thursday the bells are rung for the last time at the Gloria and a claque takes over from then until Easter Sunday Vigil when the bells are again rung through the Gloria all the time it is being said or sung.

  11. They were doing this in my area a few years ago. I started carrying around a jug of holy water in my car, and if I found an empty font, I filled it. (And I have a few gallons blessed according to the Rituale Romanum.)

  12. Huber says:

    “On Thursday I noticed along with the parishioners that the Holy Water was removed from the entrance of the church.”

    Father, I think what we should be focusing on first here, are the missing parishioners.

  13. Kathleen10 says:

    Holy water we got, but we too have statues already covered in purple. ?

  14. frjim4321 says:

    I don’t get abstaining from the sacraments at all. Unless, of course, a person isn’t disposed to receive them. This would include, by extension, the removal of holy water during lent, since it is a reminder of baptism.

    What’s more weird here is that there are a few people (I think they are Opus Dei) who abstain from receiving communion at mass, and this does not seem to be a matter of perceived sin on their parts, but rather some kind of odd ascetic practice. Because they will go to communion on alternate days; like Monday, Wednesday and Friday they go to communion and Tuesday and Thursday they don’t.

    I think this might be something they teach O.D. people to do.

  15. IloveJesus says:

    Hasn’t the Holy Water, in a sense, been removed year round?

    Since the blessing of holy water according to the new Book of Blessings lacks an exorcism of the salt and water, the blessed water is not as effective against demonic influence as holy water blessed according to the Rituale Romanum.

    Does the “blessed water” have the power to remit venial sins like Holy Water does?

    When I ponder this issue I imagine the masses of people entering and exiting Catholic Churches around the world for the last 50 years and not receiving the protection against demonic influence they could have received.

    I think about all the times our family sprinkled what we though was Holy Water in our home or hotel room for protection. :/

    Wow! What a coup for Satan!

  16. comedyeye says:

    To borrow from a previous post,
    STOP IT!

  17. robtbrown says:


    I completely agree with you about abstaining from the Eucharist as an ascetic practice. I do know a priest, however, who many years ago was given the Ignatian Exercises (not by a Jesuit) who was advised not to receive Communion during the retreat. That seemed a bad idea, and I haven’t changed my mind.

    I have never heard of Opus Dei advising anyone not to receive Communion, except in the usual conditions. I’m not denying that it happens, just that I have never heard that it is an Opus Dei practice.

    In the 18th century Ascetical and Mystical Theology began to be considered separately, whereas, previously the former was part of the latter. In the 20th century certain theologians, e.g, JG Arintero op and R Garrigou LaGrange op, worked to restore the proper relationship.

    At any rate, the separation of Ascetical and Mystical Theology unfortunately produced a tendency for the former to usurp the latter. I have to wonder whether not receiving Communion for reasons of asceticism is a residue of such usurpation.

  18. Rosary Rose says:

    Our priest from Nigeria shared an interesting story about holy water. After becoming a priest, he made a visit to his village where he said Mass. As he was preparing to sprinkle the congregation with holy water several men throughout the congregation jumped up and bolted away. After Mass, he asked someone why the men had run. Apparently, those men practiced voodoo, and knew the holy water would render their magic useless.

    My Dad would bless us with holy water when he put us to bed at night. Prayers, poem, holy water. God rest his soul.

  19. Andrew_81 says:

    (Tough heavily implanted in cheek)

    If we’re in the “desert days of Lent”, perhaps the pastor should be encouraged to follow the example of many of his desert forebearers.

    He could, like St. Anthony, begin by going and living out among the tombs.

    Then, he could then, like St. Symeon Stylites go climb up a pillar somewhere to contemplate at about the hour of Sext that “ignibus meridiem”, and thus be too parched to worry about bother the faithful with his silly ideas.

    Or, maybe, we could just encourage people to wash off the dirt of their souls by a good confession and penance … probably more effective than refusing them the sacramentals.

    For the fellow deacon, I would suggest he say or do nothing overt, for his own good. Perhaps though, if he has the opportunity to preach, he should speak about the devil and how Lent is about a very focused combat against the devil and the vestiges he’s left in us. This is done by penance and using even better the Church’s sacramentals. He could speak of their proper use, including Holy Water, and how they are great tools to fight to devil. Without any harshness, though …

    Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea.

  20. Volanges says:

    Our last Pastor, God rest his soul, did this the first year he was with us. The sacristan came in, saw the empty stoup and, using the Holy Water that was reserved in the sacristy, filled it up again. Fr. came in, saw the full stoup, emptied it. Sacristan came in, wondered why we were suddenly using so much Holy Water, filled the stoup again. Rinse and repeat.

    Grumbling that we should know that there was to be no Holy Water during Lent, Fr. simply gave up. . . for that year. For the next three years he simply removed the bowl from the stoup on Ash Wednesday. That eliminated the problem for him, the sacramental for us.

    The newly appointed Administrator has not seen fit to remove either the water or the bowl for which we are ever thankful.

  21. motherof6 says:

    Covering all of the statues and the crucifix with purple cloth happened every year BEFORE Vatican II. They stopped it only after VII. I found it to be a strongly visual reminder of the Lenten season. I miss it.

  22. Peregrinator says:

    Covering all of the statues and the crucifix with purple cloth happened every year BEFORE Vatican II. They stopped it only after VII. I found it to be a strongly visual reminder of the Lenten season. I miss it.

    Yes, but it generally only happened during Passiontide (the last two weeks of Lent). [Even so, most Novus Ordo Ordos will indicated that images can be covered from the 5th Sunday of Lent.]

  23. L. says:

    We seem to lose holy water from the fonts as holy week approaches, but it’s not clear that there is any particular trigger date for it. What is interesting to me is that today at the first Sunday Mass of Lent, while the bell was not rung at all during Mass, the baptismal pond behind the altar on our elevated platform ran full-force as usual, providing the leaky toilet ambiance that I find so meaningful.

  24. un-ionized says:

    motherof6, at one parish here there is a purple cloth bag for each statue. There are so many it looks like a mass kidnapping. It’s great.

  25. PostCatholic says:

    Just a point of information, as I really don’t have a dog in this hunt:

    I’m confused by the letter you quoted. If something is “praeter legum,” i.e. outside the law and unregulated, how can it be “not permitted?” Shouldn’t the phrase here be “contra legum” if there is a requirement to keep holy water at the entrance doors of the church at all times, for the needs of faithful Catholics and vampire huntresses?

    Merely a joke. But I’m in earnest in not understanding the legal phrasing.

  26. Doug says:

    I’m not a Catholic, but I do have an interest in religion and history. I know the RCC is a vestments-and-ritual religion, but can’t some common sense be used here?
    The OP says that holy water is useful against Satan, so why do away with it at any time? Satan is certainly intelligent enough to know the difference between water and sand. Doesn’t that afford him entrée into church? And adding cigarette butts to the mix … well, I wouldn’t let you do that in my home, much less a place of worship!
    Lent is one of those religious times that is completely beyond me. Of course you folks have the right to run your own shop, but the forty day fast I know of, from my reading of the Bible, was just after Jesus’ baptism, not just before his execution. Given that, does it add anything to the worship of God to go through all the extra rituals described in the OP?

  27. un-ionized says:

    Doug, it adds a lot to worship because Christianity is an incarnational faith.

  28. Nan says:

    Doug, just by referencing something we do that’s not on the biblical timeline shows you’re not Catholic. We follow both Scripture and Tradition. Lent dates back to the time of the Apostles, before the Bible was written down, before Christianity was legal and long before Martin Luther thought up Sola Scriptura.

    You should find a copy of Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn and read it.

  29. WYMiriam says:

    In our parish, last year, a zealous (truly) but sadly uneducated layman [that’s generic] put sand in the stoups for the first Sunday of Lent. Somehow we wound up with a “compromise” — holy water in one, and sand in the other — for the remainder of Lent.

    This year, our priest “just happened” to be looking out of the sacristy, toward the front doors of the church, at exactly the same time I “just happened” to have a look of thunder on my face at discovering that both stoups had sand in them.

    Imagine my delight when, as I was leaving the church and contemplating the need to go to the “reserves” up front for holy water, I found holy water in both the stoups and the sand in a stoup on the little table used for literature! (The sand was gone altogether by this morning’s Mass.)

  30. andia says:

    There is a church in my diocese that NEVER has holy water for one to bless themselves with I have been there several times, and in 3 years I have never seen it any place in the church.

  31. Hans says:

    Might anyone have a link to the Notitiae where this letter was officially posted? My parish priest is usually very good about these things, but this year we have a new person in charge of the church “environment” who is of a ‘certain age’ and seems to have convinced him of this novelty.

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