ASK FATHER: Different kinds of Holy Water

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

To prevent the potential spread of coronavirus, my parish in Tokyo has temporarily discontinued the use of Holy Water upon entrance to the chapel. This has me thinking about the various types of Holy Water. Can you explain the difference between ordinary Holy Water, Epiphany Water, Easter Water, Old Rite Water and their relative merits/uses/capabilities?

Tokyo!  It was about 1 year ago that I was there and celebrated the TLM for a wonderful group of people.  I met the late Fr. Augustin Toship Ikeda at that time.  Prayers for him.

Holy waters!  A great topic.

Here are a few notes about different blessed waters we Catholics use and enjoy.  This is not meant to be exhaustive.  I just want to give a snapshot to those of you who haven’t heard of these things before.

The blessing and use of Holy Water goes back to very early Christian times.  Using the traditional Roman Ritual, the water for Holy Water is first exorcised.  Exorcised salt is mixed with the water.  In both exorcisms the water and salt are addressed directly, as if they were almost sentient, “O you creature of salt, be thou a blessed salt”, and so forth.  The salt has symbolic value, of course, and the saltiness of the water helps retard algae growth.    The prayers for blessing the salt include the biblical image of Eliseus (Elisha) healing the barrenness of the land and water of Jericho with salt, which is counter-intuitive.  God can do all things through his chosen instruments.

The blessing for the water and salt tell us what the Church is doing and what we should do with it:

 May this creature of yours, when used in your mysteries and endowed with your grace, serve to cast out demons and to banish disease. May everything that this water sprinkles in the homes and gatherings of the faithful be delivered from all that is unclean and hurtful; let no breath of contagion hover there, no taint of corruption; let all the wiles of the lurking enemy come to nothing. By the sprinkling of this water may everything opposed to the safety and peace of the occupants of these homes be banished, so that in calling on your holy name they may know the well-being they desire, and be protected from every peril

[…]

wherever it is sprinkled and your holy name is invoked, every assault of the unclean spirit may be baffled, and all dread of the serpent’s venom be cast out.

You see, this is a powerful spiritual tool against the enemy.

Remember that this world has its “prince”, the Enemy, the Devil.  By blessings and consecrations by the priest material things are torn away from the prince and given over to the King, Christ.  We use these sacramental against the Enemy for the sake of body and soul, which are interconnected in this life.

Easter Water is blessed at Easter and at Pentecost.  As you might surmise it is used for baptisms.  Easter Water is blessed while mixing in Oil of Catechumens and Sacred Chrism.  The Paschal Candle is also held in the water.   There is a rite for blessing Baptismal Water apart from Easter or Pentecost.  This is the water we generally use for baptism, though in a pinch, other true water may be used.  We use Baptismal Water for much the same reason as regular Holy Water.  The bonus is the lovely fragrance of the Chrism in the water.

There is a blessing of a rare water used for the reconciliation of a church building, or for the blessing of an altar at the time of the consecration of a church called Gregorian Water, which involves the admixture of blessed ashes and blessed salt and blessed wine.  This water is also used in the rite of “reconciliation” of a church.  A church is a sacred place, normally consecrated.  If something bad happens in the building, say the priest is attacked during Mass or someone breaks in and does a terrible thing inside, then the building should be “reconciled” so that it can be used again for sacred purposes.  We don’t just ignore evil acts, because demons attach through evil acts.  Hence, we exorcise things and people before we bless or baptize.  Gregorian Water, with its use of ash, is a cleansing water.  Ash is an element of ancient soap, after all.   The blessing of Gregorian Water is in the Pontificale Romanum, used by bishops only. The rite for Gregorian Water is particular.  Even the exorcism and blessing of salt is unlike that of the normal Holy Water.  It talks about the reason for its use, the expulsion of demons and temptations from demons.  Similarly, the exorcism of the water describes how it is to be used to drive demons from the even the shadowy places of the church and around the altar.  He blesses ashes without exorcising them, with the image of ourselves confessing our faults.  The wine is blessed invoking the image of Cana.  I’ve never seen this rite.  I’d sure like to.  I hope it will be for the consecration of a church, rather than for its reconciliation!

There is also a blessing of water at Epiphany which involves the basic salt and water combination of Holy Water.  This make Epiphany Water.  The rite is amazing.  I refer you to my post HERE.  However, there is a nice rite which can be performed in the context of, say, Vespers which involves solemn exorcisms of the place and singing psalms, the Litany and Te Deum.  This water would be used to bless houses, along with the blessed chalk, of course.  It is an amazing rite.  This year’s photos HERE.

On different feast days priests could bless water in honor of such and such a saint, for example, St. Raymond Nonnatus or St. Ignatius.  Lots of these.

And we mustn’t forget the Benedictio maris, blessing of the sea, wherein, I believe God has already mixed in the salt.  Spectacular prayers.  I’d love to do that one sometime, preferably with a procession with a statue of the Blessed Mother to the shoreline, with the city’s oompa band.  There are blessings of a spring and a well, as well.  When you don’t get your water from a tap, a state to which we may all soon be returning, you want a priest around to bless your water source.  The blessing for the well includes the serious “repulsis hinc phantasmaticis collusionibus, ac diabolicis insidiis, purificatus atque emendatus semper hic puteus perseveret.”  Nice clausula.

Anyway, we Catholics are deeply interested in water and we like our water blessed, thank you very much.  A thousand and one uses!  Especially against the Enemy of our soul.

The Devil really hates this stuff.

A note.

Newer rite v. traditional rite.

I have never, in almost 30 years as a priest, even once use the post-Conciliar Book of Blessings to bless anything, much less Holy Water.

As a matter of fact, I don’t think that the prayers in that book intend to bless anything.  There is one, I think, which is the traditional prayer for blessing a rosary, tucked in with other options that might bless a person who might use a Rosary.  The book’s preface attempts to change the Church’s theology about blessings.  There are, to be quick, two kinds of blessings, invocative, by which we call down God’s blessing on a person or animal, and constitutive, which ask God to make a thing or place a blessed thing or place with an enduring blessing.   The new book eliminates that distinction.  Hence, I will never, ever, EH-VUR, use the Book of Blessings, which I consider to be a travesty that should never have been promulgated.

I use the older, traditional Rituale Romanum.  I always have and I always will.  The rite tells you what it is doing.  There are the important exorcisms of the elements of the Holy Water (salt, water – in the case of Easter water the oils are consecrated by a bishop).  The prayers say what is going on, the Church’s intention in blessing regular Holy Water.

“God’s creature, salt, I cast out the demon from you…”

“Almighty everlasting God, we humbly appeal to your mercy and goodness to graciously bless + this creature, salt…”

“God’s creature, water, I cast out the demon from you…”

“… pour forth your blessing + on this element now being prepared with various purifying rites.”

“… we beg you, Lord, to regard with favor this creature thing of salt and water, to let the light of your kindness shine upon it, and to hallow it with the dew of your mercy; so that…”

Our rites should describe what we want them to do.  This is also important because

WE ARE OUR RITES.

Use Holy Water.  Sprinkle it around your dwelling. Bless yourself with it.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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12 Responses to ASK FATHER: Different kinds of Holy Water

  1. mamajen says:

    I have a little holy water bottle nearly identical to the one pictured! I bought it from an antiques place. I just loved the little crown on the stopper. I have been wanting to use it, but there is some residue inside…I assume mineral buildup. If anyone has tips for properly cleaning, I would appreciate it. I’m always a little unsure with blessed items.

  2. FrDulli says:

    Thank you for an informative article. The blessing of the sea sounds amazing.

    It also made me wonder if there is a way to bless storm clouds. Could we literally bless the rains down in Africa?

  3. FrDulli says: Could we literally bless the rains down in Africa?

    That’s a very good question. I think we have to ask that noted expert on these matters, the beloved Mons. Totò.

  4. APX says:

    February 3rd being just around the corner, let’s not forget the blessing of holy water for the commemoration of St. Blaise. I keep it frozen for use throughout the year when I get a cold. It hasn’t let me down yet this year for choir related purposes.

  5. The Masked Chicken says:

    I use only one bottle for holy water and I attend both a TLM on Sundays and OF on weekdays. If often wondered what happens if one mixes water blessed in both rites? Do both types of blessings hold?

    The Chicken

  6. Philmont237 says:

    I visited a church in Buenos Aires last weekend, and when I went to dip my fingers in the holy water I noticed that the water barely covered the bottom of the font and that there were some very thin inch worms scooting across the marble surface.
    I think salt could have prevented this.

  7. Josephus Corvus says:

    @Masked Chicken – There are some articles here in Fr. Z.’s blog that lend some serious questions to what you are proposing. The first set of articles make it clear that you wouldn’t want to be in the habit of mixing actual holy water with regular water. The second set questions whether or not the newer forms actually create holy water (or instead “happy water” – just do a search for that term). If there is any question about what is there, it does not seem like a good idea to do a mixture.

  8. Mike_in_Kenner says:

    mamajen, for cleaning the old holy water bottle you mentioned, here is a suggestion. First, fill it with hot water and let that sit for a few minutes. That will dissolve anything that might dissolve in water. To avoid risk of mistreating blessed materials, I’d recommend pouring the water directly into the earth (somewhere outside that’s not right on a path people will step on, or even into the earth of a potted plant). If the bottle has mineral residue, fill it with white vinegar and let that sit for a couple of days. The vinegar should dissolve the mineral residue. Again, I’d pour that directly into the earth. After the vinegar you might rinse the bottle with water and pour that into the earth also. After it has been rinsed that way, there is presumably no remaining blessed material that needs special reverence, and then you could wash the bottle normally. For holy water bottles that get green growth in them, the same white vinegar treatment will clear that up. Also, ultraviolet rays from sunlight will kill that kind of green growth. Placing a bottle on a window sill where it will get sunlight for a few days will kill green growth, and then the same method of rinsing and pouring the water into the earth, and then regular washing after that should take care of it.

  9. mamajen says:

    Thank you, Mike! I will do as you suggest.

  10. Bev says:

    Perhaps the bishops and priests of Japan would be better to encourage everyone to have and use their own personal bottle of holy water. The priests could bless these bottles of water individually and then encourage them for personal use, to reduce the risk of disease.

    We can also add to the Father’s list Torelli Water. Taylor Marshall has information on it here: https://taylormarshall.com/2012/03/what-is-saint-torelli-water-and-how-do.html

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  12. Brian Walsh says:

    I have to laugh to keep from crying about the traditional things my wife and I have requested which are met by our NO priests with no derision–they are always welcoming–and wonderment. I asked one of local priests to exorcise salt and bless holy water in the Old Rite (thanks Father Heilman for the old rite ritual included along with the bottle). He was just amazed “This is beautiful, my friend. Where did you find this? We should bless our water like this all the time!”. HAHA! Old Rite, Father, the Old Rite.

    We’ve had two of our children baptized in the Old Rite. The younger priest who has administered the sacrament loves the rite and the people who’ve been there are always mesmerized. Last time we had nice programs with Latin on the Rite and English on the left so people could follow along. Our Lutheran cousins raved. Fellow Catholics wondered why they didn’t know this was available for their children.

    Funny. Sad. Mostly sad.

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