Holy Water

Liturgy We Live
By Dr. Gil Haas
Containers (a font or, if smaller, a stoup) of holy water have been located at churches’ entrances since the Eleventh century. Congregants dip their fingers in the water before making the sign of the cross verifying the centrality of baptism in their lives and to purify themselves before entering God’s holy space. Holy water is prepared with a little blessed (and exorcized, in the Catholic tradition) salt to memorialize Elisha casting salt over the fouled water to purify it (2 Kings 2:19-22) as well as providing a preservative. A priest then blesses the water. Although the rites of the Church of England do not mention holy water, the Episcopal church does mention the optional use of holy water in some liturgies. When a priest sprinkles holy water to sanctify persons or objects, the priest says (from Psalm 51:7), “Cleanse me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed” (A Priest’s Handbook, p 268). Holy water is similar to incense in that they both “purify” or “make holy”. Holy water, like consecrated bread and wine, is usually disposed directly on the ground and not in regular plumbing.