The ritual is simple and well-known: walk into a church, dip hand in font of holy water, make Sign of the Cross, proceed to pew. And the reverse: exit pew, dip hand in holy water font, make Sign of the Cross, exit church. It’s rote, it’s mundane, it doesn’t seem all that significant. But the meaning and significance of holy water is so much more!
In his book Holy Water and Its Significance for Catholics, Rev. Henry Theiler points out and directs readers to the deep relevance for holy water in the Catholic life. He begins by explaining the significance of water, moves on to why it’s sacramental, and then moves through its effects and uses. Here are some awesome takeaways from the book.
Actual Grace is obtained through the use of holy water
Not sanctifying grace, mind you, but the grace to enlighten the intellect to avoid evil and do good. We call it Active Grace. Like any grace, though, to receive the effects from holy water, we must be in a state of grace, be of firm faith, and in submission to Christ and the Church. Once we are in this way disposed to the Holy Spirit and effects of holy water, the largest effect of holy water can then be obtained, which is protection against the evil spirit.
There are, of course, physical effects, such as health, possible cure from illness, and bodily welfare in general. But the spiritual effects are far greater. “The petition is that holy water may shield us against the influence of the evil one––hence the purifying effect––and secure for us assistance in the grace of the Holy Spirit, wherein is expressed the sanctifying effect.”
The Church uses holy water a lot
Holy water is, of course, used to bless ourselves as we enter the church and also at Baptism to cleanse from original sin, but the Church also has many other uses for holy water. One is the blessing of the altar, the priest, and the faithful before mass begins. “The priest, the altar, the faithful, shall become, as much as can be, clean and holy, for the worthy celebration of Holy Mass,” the author reminds us.
Holy water is also used when visiting the sick to banish any influence of the evil one. Holy water is used in most blessings and dedications; for example, when wine is blessed on the feast of St. John the Evangelist. The purpose here is for the object to receive the same power as the holy water. Moreover, holy water is used in funerals with the prayerful hope that the soul of the departed may be cleansed and renewed to receive eternal life.
“The Church applies the holy water in funeral ceremonies not only to aid the soul of the departed, but likewise for the sake of the lifeless body. This body was a temple of the Holy Spirit, the bearer of an immortal soul, which will be again united on the last day. The Church consequently sanctifies the corruptible corpse that it may be the more worthy to become an incorruptible body unto resurrection, to be forever the dwelling place of the soul.”
The laity can and do use holy water a lot, too
So, we dip our hands in the holy water fonts at church, that’s kind of a twofold use of the water both by the Church and the faithful. But the faithful are also encouraged to take to the holy water with them in special little vessels! Growing up, we had a holy water font by our front door and every few months, my mom would take a little plastic bottle marked “holy water” to church with us and fill it up again at the baptismal font, so we would have some in our home. The author tells us that ,”The Roman Ritual admonishes the faithful to take some of the blessed water with them and to sprinkle the sick, the homes, and the fields. And, too, they should keep it in their apartments and frequently during the day sprinkle themselves with it.”
Holy water from places of pilgrimage, like Jerusalem or––especially––Lourdes, are highly desirable because of their closeness to miracles and extreme graces. Once, while staying in a house I didn’t particularly feel safe in, I drank from my bottle of Lourdes holy water, asking for protection and purification. And this isn’t superstitious, it’s real and powerful. The same effects that holy water has in uses by the Church are the same effects in has when the faithful use it. This is the true effectiveness of holy water, that it “should awaken a contrite disposition in the faithful . . . that they may appear in God’s presence with a pure heart.”
Keep holy water in your homes! Bless yourselves and your families with it often. Bless the utensils of your work––whether that be within or outside the home. Bless each other when sick and when going to sleep. Heck, bless your medications and pray that they might be as effective as they ought! Take holy water into yourself that you may be protected from the devil and purified.
Ways to use holy water in the home
Holy water is awesome and great and we should use it often. But where to start? Here are some ideas.
Bless yourself every time you leave and enter your home. Pick up a holy water font at a local Catholic bookstore or online and place it in the most-used hallway or by your front door. Then take a clean bottle to church, fill it with holy water (easiest is from the baptismal font), take it home, fill up your holy water font. Go to town!
Bless your home! You can do this yourself by going around and sprinkling holy water throughout, praying for God’s protection over the dwelling and all who live there. You could also invite over a priest to do a formal blessing. Or, better yet, do both!
Bless your car! We spend a lot of time in cars and car accidents are neither jokes nor infrequent. So this one makes a lot of sense in the safety department. This is pretty much the same as blessing your house, so nice and easy to attain those graces.
The feast of St. Francis is not the only time to have your pets blessed–– you can do it anytime! Now, of course, it might be extra special to take your beloved pet to your parish on the feast of St. Francis and have the priest bless it along with a bunch of other animal companions, but maybe you have a pet that just gets a little too excited (or scared) for that to be feasible. Just sprinkle your pet (or any animals and livestock you keep) with holy water at your house and pray for God’s blessing upon the creature and your family and that you may give further glory to God through the glory reflected in that creature.
For so much more information on why holy water is extra awesome and more ways to use it more frequently, pick up a copy of Holy Water and Its Significance for Catholics by Rev. Henry Theiler. At the back of the book is also an extremely helpful appendix of prayers for use with holy water!