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Holy Water Fonts

May 16, 2009

Did you know that when we dip our fingers into the holy water font and make the sign of the cross upon entering the church, we are ritually purifying ourselves to assist in the holy Mass? We have just crossed the threshold of the Church, which, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is between the world wounded by sin and the world of the new Life to which all men are called.

Historically, water has always had, and still has, cleansing and purifying qualities. Most ancient religions had cleansing rituals to purify people and things. The Catholic Church is no exception. We can find endless references in the Bible where water is used for purification and salvation; the flood with Noah purified the earth, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, and Jesus’ first miracle was changing water into wine, to name a few. In the ancient Church, Christians would actually wash their hands and their feet in a fountain in the basilica’s atrium before entering for the Mass. Over time, the structure of the churches changed and the fountain was reduced to a font at the entrance. The holy water fonts in the church should always be filled with holy water, except on the two days of the year when the Eucharist is not celebrated, which would be Good Friday and Holy Saturday

The use of Holy Water is three-fold. When we devoutly bless ourselves with the holy water in an act of repentance, we can wash away our venial sins. In addition to the sign of the cross, another prayer can be said when blessing ourselves with holy water:  By Thy Precious Blood and by this Holy Water, cleanse me from my sins, O Lord. According to Bert Ghezzi, author of “The Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer,” in order to participate in the great sacrifice of the Mass, you need to be baptized. Using holy water to sign yourself is saying “I am a baptized Christian and I am authorized to participate in this sacrifice.” In medieval times it was thought that people should only bless themselves with holy water upon entering the church for the purifying aspect, but Ghezzi also says that “when you make the sign of the cross when you leave, you say that the Mass never ends – your whole life is participating in Christ’s sacrifice.”                      

Secondly, a blessing with holy water also protects us from evil. The prayer that is used by the priest in the generation of holy water says, “Lord, God Almighty, creator of all life, of body and soul, we ask you to bless this water: as we use it in faith forgive our sins and save us from all illness and the power of evil. Lord, in your mercy give us living water, always springing up as a fountain of salvation; free us, body and soul, from every danger, and admit us to your presence in purity of heart.”

Finally, according to Fr. William Saunders in the Arlington Catholic Herald, “making the sign of the cross with the holy water, we are mindful that we are called to renew those baptismal promises of rejecting Satan, all his works, and all his empty promises, and to profess our creedal faith…. Just as water and blood flowed from the Sacred Heart of our Lord as He hung upon the cross — signifying the great sacraments of Baptism and Holy Eucharist, the taking of holy water and making the sign of the cross remind us of our Baptism in preparation for the reception of the Holy Eucharist.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bob permalink
    May 17, 2009 1:33 pm

    He I like the new site. You really got a lot done on this already. Good article as well.

    • catholicwideweb permalink
      May 17, 2009 1:50 pm

      thanks 🙂
      just getting ready to add a few links for the sacraments

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