It is the Church’s earnest wish that the faithful make pious and fervent use holy water as a means of grace. She therefore on every Sunday, excepting Easter and Pentecost Sundays, in those churches where baptismal water was blessed on the previous day, blesses water and keeps it in a place and vessel especially adapted for this purpose. From this the faithful can, and should, carry it to their homes. In keeping with this, 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 Holy water should awaken a contrite disposition in the faithful on entering the church, that they may appear in God’s presence with a pure heart. And then shall the mind be purified of worldly thoughts, which so greatly disturb devotion and recollection in prayer.
The faithful should herein follow the example of St. Stephen, the third Abbot of Citeaux, whose biographers relate that upon entering the church he was wont to close the door after him and say, “You thoughts of worldly affairs, remain outside and await my return. I have no use of you now, as I have an important task to perform. My time is now entirely taken up with God.”
These thoughts should likewise fill the hearts of the faithful when, on entering the church, they take holy water.
On leaving the church, they should join with the sprinkling of holy water a prayer to God that He would guard the good thoughts and strengthen the good resolutions formed during divine services.
Thus Holy Church plainly shows her endeavor to gain the beneficial effects of holy water for the faithful, who on their part should enter into this spirit of Mother Church and not only take holy water in the house of worship but should often use it in their dwellings, and consequently it should also be found in every Catholic home. With every family there should be a well-filled holy water vase, and every member of the family should enjoy the opportunity it affords. It is a beautiful and praiseworthy custom to take holy water when rising in the morning and when retiring at night.
When a new day dawns, who will say what it may bring with it? Who can foretell the dangers that may await the life of the body, or the more precious life of the soul? Since the Christian, even if he be in the state of sanctifying grace, has much to lose, it is certainly a measure of prudence to use every means at his disposal to guard against any loss of this precious treasure.
We have no doubt sufficiently indicated that holy water is precisely a special safeguard against all dangers. What! If with a drop of holy water one makes the Sign of the Cross upon his forehead, he can banish the roaring lion, the devilish enemy, is it not worthwhile in time of temptation to use holy water?
And again: If the believing Christian considers what dangers he may encounter when entering the mining shaft, or ascending to the burning oven, serving at the machines in the great factories, traveling on railways or steamships, he ought be glad, every morning, to make use of Holy Water that he may share in the blessings and prayers of Holy Church.
Many dangers likewise threaten the children, dangers to body and soul. The child is inexperienced and does not dream of danger. Oftentimes parents are careless or haven’t the time or opportunity to guard their children sufficiently. And how numerous, too, are the dangers for the soul of the child. It becomes almost impossible for parents alone to ward these off entirely from their children. Unfortunately there are too many of the enemy who seek to sow the seed of wrong in the heart of the innocent child.
What better can parents do who are concerned about the welfare of their children than to recommend them to God’s protection and to the care of their guardian angel, to which act we would direct especial attention — what better can they do than to give them holy water and gradually lead them to its use, that by this means they share in the prayers of the Church, and thus safely place them against the influences of the demon and the manifold dangers to body and soul?
Not only in broad daylight, but even in darkness, is mankind threatened with dangers. Man may rest, but the devil, never.
At night, and particularly at night, the devil plans ruin to the soul of man. When the pious Christian is about to lay himself to rest, and with holy water marks his forehead, his lips, and his heart, he well may earnestly plead with God to shield him against the delusions of the devil.
For this indeed does the Church pray in her blessings that “every delusion and wickedness of the devil depart” by virtue of holy water. Consequently, one will take holy water at eventide to cleanse the soul from the venial sins of the passing day, as also to rest secure for the night against the onslaughts of the evil spirit.
It is well also to suggest that holy water is a wholesome remedy for the sick. Let them who nurse the sick be concerned that they have opportunity to use holy water, nor let the sick neglect often to sprinkle themselves with it, being mindful of the prayers of the Church, that holy water may possess the power of driving away sickness. Convinced of this, the invalid cannot too often take advantage of the opportunity given. He may likewise sprinkle in the manner of a cross the medicinal remedies to be used. When the patient suffers, and is in misery from pain, let him use it with confidence and prayer.
When the death struggle approaches and the demon redoubles his efforts, then especially should the patient be frequently sprinkled with the sanctified water, mindful that Holy Church implores in her prayers and blessings against the onslaughts of the devil. The Church especially advises that holy water should be carried to the home in order to sprinkle the sick.
Not alone man, but whatever stands in relation to him, shall by the use of holy water be protected against the power of the destroying angel of wickedness. It is therefore the desire of Holy Church that the faithful sprinkle holy water in their houses and on their fields, to keep away damaging influences and to intercede for the fruitfulness of their acres. For these effects does the Church in her blessings thus implore: “that on whatsoever in the houses or in the places of the faithful this water shall be sprinkled, it may be freed from all uncleanness and delivered from hurt. Let not the blast of pestilence nor disease remain there; and if there be aught that hath ill will to the safety and quiet of the inhabitants, let it flee away at the sprinkling of this water.”
From what has been said it is easy to observe how manifold are the effects of holy water. We cannot at once grasp all these effects nor have them in view at the moment of using it. If we, however, aim to use it with devotion and confidence, we may confidently hope that God will have us share in precisely those effects that will be most beneficial for our bodily and spiritual welfare, even though at the time we had no thought of these.
As Mother Church gives holy water to her deceased members, so is it her wish that the faithful should give it to their departed. Therefore, it is a genuine Catholic custom for the faithful, as is the case in many places when assisting at the “death watch,” to sprinkle the corpse with holy water and also to perform the same pious act when visiting a cemetery, to sprinkle the grave with holy water.
Nor should there be omission at the same time to pray for the suffering souls, which is in accord with the examples of Holy Church; for instance, “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.” Thus holy water becomes a sort of heavenly dew that refreshes the souls in purgatory and soothes their sufferings.
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter from Rev Theiler’s Holy Water and Its Significance for Catholics, which is available as an ebook and paperback from Sophia Institute Press.