Catholics expect Holy Water to be present at the entrance to every church, but many don't realize that it's so much more than a Sunday ritual. It's an ancient and powerful sacramental of the Church that provides protection, imparts grace, and promotes healing. What is the history of Holy Water, and how should we use it in our personal devotional lives?
Rich & Ancient History
Sacred Scripture records Israelite priests purifying both people and places, sprinkling them with water as God instructed in the Old Testament books of Numbers and Leviticus. The priests also used water for ritual cleansing before making an offering to the One True God.
In Jerusalem, large fonts at the entrance of the temple allowed worshipers to cleanse themselves in purification before entering to worship.
The use of Holy Water in early Christianity is well-documented in the New Testament as well as accounts from ancient Christianity and the Church Fathers.
These accounts mention baptismal water and holy water used in healings. The sick were either signed with the Cross and sprinkled with the water, had it poured over them, or were given the water to drink.
Historians found this blessing for water and oil in the rite of the Mass in a 4th century sacramentary:
We bless these creatures in the Name of Jesus Christ, Thy only Son; we invoke upon this water and this oil the Name of Him Who suffered, Who was crucified, Who arose from the dead, and Who sits at the right of the Uncreated. Grant unto these creatures the power to heal; may all fevers, every evil spirit, and all maladies be put to flight by him who either drinks these beverages or is anointed with them, and may they be a remedy in the Name of Jesus Christ, Thy only Son.
Where Does It Come From?
Plain water becomes Holy Water after it is blessed by a Catholic priest. Once blessed, it is reserved in the baptismal font and smaller holy water fonts in the church. Often, parishes will place a large stainless steel receptacle with a tap in the vestibule of the church. This holds Holy Water so the faithful can fill their own bottles easily.
Holy Water cannot be disposed of using regular plumbing. When disposed of at a church, it is placed in a special basin called a sacrarium which leads directly into the ground. Dispose of it at home by spraying or sprinkling it in your rooms or car or pouring it directly into the ground.
Holy Water at Church
Small Holy Water fonts hang on the walls by each entrance to a Catholic church, and a larger baptismal font in the sanctuary holds Holy Water used for the Rite of Baptism.
Though we recognize seven sacraments by which graces are conferred, we also recognize other means by which Catholics can obtain special graces. These devotional aids are known as "sacramentals."
A few examples are medals, rosaries, scapulars, statues, Holy Water, and even the action of the Sign of the Cross. These aid us in our piety, prayer, and obedience as tangible reminders of our Faith.
When we dip our fingers into the Holy Water font as we walk into church, we sign ourselves in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Any time this Catholic action is completed with faith, it imparts special graces to the followers of Christ.
Holy Water in the Liturgy
On Sundays, especially during the Easter season, the priest can bless the congregation by sprinkling them with Holy Water instead of performing the penitential rite. This is called the Rite of Asperges, from the Latin word for "to sprinkle." It reminds us of our Baptism, and brings special graces to help us remain faithful to the Spirit we received then.
In Baptism, Holy Water remits and cleanses original sin. The priest baptizes in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, using the same words we use to bless ourselves with the water throughout our lifetimes.
During a Catholic funeral, the priest sprinkles the casket of the deceased with Holy Water at the entrance to the church as a reminder that the Church is the home of all Christians. By entering these same doors in the past, the deceased was baptized and worshiped God. The sprinkling reminds us that this soul eternally belongs to the Lord and a community of faith.
Holy Water at Home
Holy Water is an incredible sacramental. Through it, God bestows graces on us and protects us from evil. Saints and mystics Teresa of Avila and Faustina Kowalska, among others, attested to the power of Holy Water to put the devil to flight and protect the dying.
“I have found by experience that there is nothing from which the devils fly more quickly than from holy water. They also fly from the cross, but they return almost immediately. Certainly, the power of holy water must be great; for my part, my soul feels particular comfort in taking it, and very generally a refreshment and interior delight which I cannot express.” - St. Teresa of Avila
When we use it, we turn to God and remind ourselves of our Baptism, where we promised to reject Satan and his empty promises. We also call to mind how we received the Living Water of Jesus Christ.
Filling a large bottle from your parish baptismal font and bringing it home allows you to use Holy Water constantly. Pour it into a misting bottle and spray it throughout your home regularly. Mark your bedroom doors with it by dipping your fingers in it and making the Sign of the Cross on each door.
Bless rooms and objects, and of course yourself, directly from your bottles or fonts. Sprinkle it on your children's beds and your own before sleeping. Use Holy Water any time you feel a need for extra grace and strength.
Sprinkle it in your car and in any sacred space to keep it pure and protected. Purchase several small bottles to keep Holy Water on hand in your briefcase, purse, or backpack. Place one in the glove box of your car. Blessing yourself routinely, and in moments when you need special graces, will become a habit and provide protection, blessings, and peace.
Hang a font in your home, near the front door or the entrance most commonly used throughout the day. Hang one at the top of your stairs or the end of your hallway and in your children's rooms. Let them choose their own, and be sure to hang it low enough for them to reach. Bless your children and yourself as you come and go.
We sell many lovely and artistic fonts and bottles, but they are not merely decorative. They are sources of protection and grace that will strengthen the faith of everyone in your home when you incorporate them into your devotional life.
Express the importance of Catholic sacramentals and pass down a rich aspect of our Faith by using Holy Water at home routinely.
We offer a wide variety of fonts in many different styles and devotions.
We carry traditional fonts with classic imagery and Old World appeal. Some are elaborately embellished and reflect sacred art motifs.
We also sell more contemporary fonts with minimal embellishment. There is something for everyone and every decorative style.
In addition to traditional fonts that hang on the wall, we carry fonts that stand alone as statues, holding Holy Water in a bowl at the base.
Fonts and bottles make wonderful sacramental gifts that can be personalized to suit the occasion and will become special keepsakes.
Protection, Power, & Grace
Holy Water is more than just a Catholic ritual or tradition. It's one of many sacramentals that provide great power, protection, and grace in the devotional life.
The Catholic life mingles body, sense, and spirit, and sacramentals provide tangible means for us to live that life to the richest and fullest. In our humanity, we are always seeking something to hold on to. We need things we can see, touch, wear, use, pray, and chant.
Not only are our memories short, but our hearts are fickle and easily led astray. Tangible sacramentals like Holy Water remind us of who we are in Christ, and who we aspire to become.
Using Holy Water or any sacramental is not about superstition or "magic." They do not have power by themselves--rather, God works through them to bestow His graces on us when we use them with an inner disposition of faith. Our use of them reflects our desire to be reminded of Him and His works and represents our longing to show Him love, devotion, and piety.
For You & Those You Cherish
The use of Holy Water reminds us of God's glory, protects us with His power, and opens us up to His graces as we reaffirm our faith outwardly and interiorly. If you don't already keep and use Holy Water at home, bring this sacramental into your devotional life today.
Holy Water bottles and fonts make beautiful gifts for any occasion, especially for sacramental occasions, housewarming, and weddings. They are ideal for small devotional gifts to those whose inspire you with their faith.
Holy Water fonts and bottles are gifts rich with graces and meaning that will strengthen your own interior life or the devotional life of someone you cherish.