ASK FATHER: Must Holy Water fonts be flowing all the time?

From a reader…


Quick question. In our diocesan review today for a new church I’ve designed, our progressive director of liturgy said that we are REQUIRED to have flowing water in our font according to the authority of the Book of Blessings.

I’m only seeing a “should” not a “must” in this regard, but also question whether that document has any real weight.

Trying desperately to avoid this tawdry little fad.


The Book of Blessings (“Bob”) is not the primary authority over the construction of churches. That is the purview of the USCCB document “Built of Living Stones,” which make no reference whatsoever to any requirement that baptismal fonts have “flowing water.” While “Bob” states “In order to enhance its force as a sign, the font should be designed in such a way that it functions as a fountain of running water…” (paragraph 1085) this is more descriptive and prescriptive.

Having a spigot at the baptismal font in order to fill it up when needed for baptisms could be a useful thing, rather than have to haul buckets from the sacristy to the entrance of the church (where the baptistry should be placed). I can see no need, or requirement in any of the legislation (or even in “Bob”) mandating that it be perpetually, or even regularly flowing.

In general, “Bob” is a mess and should be relegated to the dustbin of history. Sorry “Bob”.

Fr. Z adds: “Bob” al rogo!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    and it has to be deep enough for the full immersion of the liturgy committee.

    [full, active, and conscious submersion]

  2. mo7 says:

    St John’s U has a rock type sculpture that has water moving across and over it, so you just touch it. It looks like something you’d see in a hotel lobby, but in the church its use is obvious. Very modern, but not so bad.

  3. iamlucky13 says:

    On a semi-related topic, I’m disappointed to report our parish has removed holy water from the fonts at the entrances due to the coronavirus. Fortunately, there is a cistern nearby, from which we can fill our own holy water containers.

    [FWIW… the Archdiocese of New York sent out a note to pastors saying that, “Holy water fonts should be emptied, cleaned and refilled on a regular basis.” Refilled! However, they went to the zoo on Communion on the tongue. “Given the frequency of direct contact with saliva in the distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue, every consideration should be made by each individual to receive the host reverently in open hands for now for the protection of all.” Fail.]

  4. Gab says:

    In our TLM parish, our water fonts are empty as of yesterday. However, there are two small plastic bottles with pump lids containing holy water, resting in the font. Problem cleverly solved.

  5. GregB says:

    I wonder if running water, in some cases, would help to aerate the water in a baptismal font to keep the water from getting stale?

  6. JMody says:

    My ‘home’ parish here insists on “living water” during Eastertide – the baptistery was wrecked and the font was moved to the front, and so they put down a bunch of duct tape and put in a pump fountain for forty days. Are they aware that in many folks, that burbling induces a certain reaction … ?

  7. Alaskamama says:

    Yes, all the little kids pee their pants when we visit a church with flowing water.

  8. JustaSinner says:

    With the use of the proper rites, can anyone bless water, or is it exclusive to the priesthood?

    [Lay people CANNOT bless Holy Water and must NOT try to. There are exorcisms involved. Don’t ever go there.]

  9. robtbrown says:

    My first reaction in churches with running water has sometimes been: “That toilet stool is running. Someone needs to flip the handle”

    Generally, this obsession with water-park-like holy water fonts is found only in America. Churches in Europe are not well attended–the Euros are not comfortable with attending mass while rejecting Catholic doctrine. The SSPX is not interested in “liturgical” gimmicks. Neither is the Third World, which doesn’t have the money anyway.

  10. JustaSinner says:

    Excellent! I understand that the best practice is with blessed salts, but many times done without. [Not if you are using the Rituale Romanum, it isn’t.] If so, can a priest bless sealed containers of water?

    [The priest has to follow the prescribed rite.]

  11. L. says:

    Our parish church was wrecked several years ago, at great cost, by a couple of Priests who had as their ambition the “modernizing” of churches in the diocese. They were overheard compiling a list of the churches they intended to wreck. Many of the churches they wrecked (they had influence with several Bishops over the years) feature a hideous Olympiad design featuring a platform in the center of the reordered church, with three steps coming up three sides, more or less, with an ADA approved ramp in the back. No communion railing, obviously. Our church’s platform– which I think was the apotheosis of the design– has a “water feature.” It’s got an expensive baptismal font on the floor beside the platform, in which the water wells up from the bottom, and runs down a chute that noisily piddles into a square pond in the Olympiad platform that holds the water and from which it is recycled to the font by a pump in the basement. There used to be a big hot water heater in the basement to heat the water, but I don’t think that’s used any more. The pond isn’t deep enough to immerse anyone, except maybe a baby, but that’s what the expensive font is for. Since the pond is on the same plane as the floor of the platform, it would be hard for a Priest– sorry, “presider”– to bend over far enough to do anything in it anyway. Several people have fallen into the pond since there is no railing or barrier to make it obvious that it’s there– step backward from the altar far enough and you’re in it. It all serves no purpose at all except to flatter the conceit of the Priest– sorry, “Monsignor” — who designed it that he is a talented amateur architect and to provide the pointless but annoying leaky toilet sound (mentioned by someone else in an earlier comment) throughout Mass. Our previous pastor (God bless him) turned it off and refused to use it. Now it runs all the time, to absolutely no good purpose.

  12. An Liaigh says:

    Dear Father,
    I share your concern about the prayers in the Book of Blessings. They don’t actually bless anything. They just pray that the people use use said thing will themselves be blessed. A fine prayer, perhaps, but not a blessing. As a deacon, I am told I give every blessing in the Book of Blessings except those reserved to a priest or bishop. My question is: Does this mean I must use the form given in the Book of Blessings or can I bless the given object (house, rosary etc.) using another, more explicit, form? Keep up the great work.

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