Holy water

Holy water

In Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Oriental Orthodoxy and some other churches, holy water is water which has been sanctified by a priest or bishop for the purpose of baptism or for the blessing of persons, places, or things.

Holy water is water that has been blessed and set apart for baptism. It is also used as a sacramental. Holy water is kept in the "font", the church furnishing used for baptisms, which is typically located at either the entrance to the church (or sometimes in a separate room or building called a baptistery); its location at the entrance serves as a reminder of the centrality of baptism as the primary rite of initiation into the Christian faith. Smaller vessels, called "stoups", are usually placed at the entrances of the church. As a reminder of baptism, Roman Catholics dip their fingers in the holy water and make the sign of the cross when entering the church. The liturgy may begin on Sundays with the Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water, in which holy water is sprinkled upon the congregation; this is called "aspersion", from the Latin, to sprinkle. This ceremony dates back to the ninth century. An "aspergill" or "aspergillum" is a brush or branch used to sprinkle the water. An "aspersorium" is the vessel which holds the holy water and into which the aspergillum is dipped. Salt may be added to the water "where it is customary."

For more on sacramentals, see the "Catechism of the Catholic Church". [ [http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p2s2c4a1.htm ss. 1667, 1668] ]

Biblical references

In the Old Testament, holy water is mentioned in Numbers 5:17, with regard to the preparation of the Bitter Water in the rite of the Jealousy Ordeal. Numbers 5:17 actually uses the phrase "holy water".

Other verses that may be used as a reference for understanding the sacrament (not so much its effects) are Exodus 29:4, Leviticus 8:6; Exodus 30:17; Numbers 5:17; Numbers 8:5-7; 1 Kings 7:38-39; John 9:6-7; John 13:4-10; John 19:34

In John 9:6-7 Jesus uses clay, spit, and the water of the "pool of Siloam" to heal a man. In John 13:4-10 Jesus washes the feet of the Apostles and seems to imply that the water cleanses. This event occurs right before the Last Supper, where Catholics believe that Jesus established the Eucharist and the Priesthood, thus John may be alluding to the rites described in the Old Testament (such as in Exodus 29:4, Leviticus 29:4, and Numbers 5:17)

Rituals and uses of holy water

The rite of blessing takes place during the Easter Vigil in preparation for baptism. Holy water can also be blessed on any day as part of the baptismal rite; the same prayer of blessing is used.


Father, You give us grace through sacramental signs, which tell us of the wonders of Your unseen power.

In baptism we use Your gift of water, which You have made a rich symbol of the grace You give us in this sacrament.

At the very dawn of creation, Your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness.

The waters of the great flood You made a sign of the waters of baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness.

Through the waters of the Red Sea, You led Israel out of slavery, to be an image of God's holy people, set free from sin by baptism.

In the waters of the Jordan, Your Son was baptized by John and anointed with the Spirit.

Your Son willed that water and blood should flow from His side as He hung upon the cross.

After His resurrection, He told His disciples: "Go out and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Father, look now with love upon Your Church, and unseal for her the fountain of baptism.

By the power of the Spirit give to the water of this font the grace of your Son.

You created man in Your own likeness: cleanse him from sin in a new birth of innocence by water and the Spirit.

We ask You, Father, with Your Son to send the Holy Spirit upon the waters of this font.

May all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism rise also with Him to newness of life. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Once blessed, more ordinary water can be added to the supply of holy water, and the entire quantity of water remains blessed provided that the amount added is less than the amount of water that was there.

The ritual of preparing holy water is itself in form an exorcism; the priest first exorcises the salt, and then the water itself; the traditional Latin formula for exorcising and blessing the water is:

Exorcizo te, creatura aquæ, in nomine Dei Patris omnipotentis, et in nomine Jesu Christi, Filii ejus Domini nostri, et in virtute Spiritus Sancti: ut fias aqua exorcizata ad effugandam omnem potestatem inimici, et ipsum inimicum eradicare et explantare valeas cum angelis suis apostaticis, per virtutem ejusdem Domini nostri Jesu Christ: qui venturus est judicare vivos et mortuos et sæculum per ignem.

(I exorcise thee in the name of God the Father almighty, and in the name of Jesus Christ His Son, our Lord, and in the power of the Holy Ghost, that you may be able to put to flight all the power of the enemy, and be able to root out and supplant that enemy and his apostate angels; through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire.)

Deus, qui ad salutem humani generis maxima quæque sacramenta in aquarum substantia condidisti: adesto propitius invocationibus nostris, et elemento huic, multimodis purificationibus præparato, virtutem tuæ benedictionis infunde; ut creatura tua, mysteriis tuis serviens, ad abigendos dæmones morbosque pellendos divinæ gratiæ sumat effectum; ut quidquid in domibus vel in locis fidelium hæc unda resperserit careat omni immunditia, liberetur a noxa. Non illic resideat spiritus pestilens, non aura corrumpens: discedant omnes insidiæ latentis inimici; et si quid est quod aut incolumitati habitantium invidet aut quieti, aspersione hujus aquæ effugiat: ut salubritas, per invocationem sancti tui nominis expetita, ab omnibus sit impugnationibus defensa. Per Dominum, amen.

(God, Who for the salvation of the human race has built your greatest mysteries upon this substance, in your kindness hear our prayers and pour down the power of your blessing into this element, prepared by many purifications. May this your creation be a vessel of divine grace to dispel demons and sicknesses, so that everything that it is sprinkled on in the homes and buildings of the faithful will be rid of all unclean and harmful things. Let no pestilent spirit, no corrupting atmosphere, remain in those places: may all the schemes of the hidden enemy be dispelled. Let whatever might trouble the safety and peace of those who live here be put to flight by this water, so that health, gotten by calling Your holy name, may be made secure against all attacks. Through the Lord, amen.)

Proper disposal

In Catholicism, holy water, as well as water used during the washing of the priest's hands at mass, is not allowed to be disposed of in regular plumbing. Roman Catholic churches will usually have a special basin that leads directly into the ground for the purpose of proper disposal. A hinged lid is kept over the holy water basin to distinguish it from a regular sink basin, which is often just beside it. Items that contain holy water are separated, drained of the holy water, and then washed in a regular manner in the adjacent sink.

Anglican holy water

The use of holy water within Anglicanism closely adheres to Roman Catholic practice. Holy water is used for baptism, the asperges, and the blessing of objects by a priest. Fonts with holy water are found at the doors of most Anglican churches for the faithful to use in making the sign of the cross upon entering the church.

Eastern Christian holy water

Among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians, holy water is used frequently in rites of blessing and exorcism, and the water for baptism is always sanctified with a special blessing.

Although Orthodox do not normally bless themselves with holy water upon entering a church, a quantity of holy water is typically kept in a font placed in the narthex (entrance) of the church, where it is available for anyone who would like to take some of it home with them.

Often, when objects are blessed in the church (such as the palms on Palm Sunday, Icons or sacred vessels) the blessing is completed by a triple sprinkling with holy water using the words, "This ("name of item") is blessed by the sprinkling of this holy water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Holy water is sometimes sprinkled on items or people when they are blessed outside of the church building, as part of the prayers of blessing. For instance, in Alaska, the fishing boats are sprinkled with holy water at the start of the fishing season as the priest prays for the crews' safety and success.

Orthodox Christians most often bless themselves with holy water by drinking it. It is traditional to keep a quantity of it at home, and many Orthodox Christians will drink a small amount daily with their morning prayers. It may also be used for informal blessings when no clergy are present. For example, parents might bless their children with holy water before they leave the house for school or play. It is not unusual for pious Orthodox Christians to put a little holy water in their food as they cook their meals. It is also often taken with prayer in times of distress or temptation.

There are two rites for blessing holy water: the Great Blessing of Waters which is held on the Feast of Theophany, and the Lesser Blessing of Waters which is conducted according to need during the rest of the year. Both forms are based upon the Rite of Baptism. Certain feast days call for the blessing of Holy Water as part of their liturgical observance.

The use of holy water is based on the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, and the Orthodox interpretation of this event. In their view, John's baptism was a baptism of repentance, and the people came to have their sins washed away by the water. Since Jesus had no sin, but was God incarnate, his baptism had the effect not of washing away Jesus' sins, but of blessing the water, making it holy—and with it all of creation, so that it may be used fully for its original created purpose to be an instrument of life.

Jesus' baptism is commemorated in the Orthodox Church at the Feast of Theophany (literally "manifestation of God") on January 6 (for those Orthodox Christians who use the Julian Calendar, January 6 falls on the Gregorian Calendar date of January 19). At the Vespers of this feast, a font of holy water is typically blessed in the church, to provide holy water for the parish's use in the coming year. The next morning, after the Divine Liturgy a procession goes from the church to a nearby river, lake or other body of water, to bless that water as well. This represents the redemption of all creation as part of humanity's salvation.

In the following weeks, the priest typically visits the homes of the members of the parish and leads prayers of blessing for their families, homes (and even pets), sprinkling them with holy water. Again, this practice is meant to visibly represent God's sanctifying work in all parts of the people's lives.

Great Blessing of Waters at Theophany

On the Great Feast of Theophany, holy water is blessed twice: at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy on the eve of the feast, and on morning of the feast itself. After processing to the place where the vessel of water is prepared to the singing of appropriate troparia (hymns) of the Theophany there are a group of Scripture readings (, and , .

The Sikhs prepare holy water, which is called "amrit", and used in a ritual Sikh baptism.

Among the Mandaeans, baptism is the central sacrament of their religious life.

Hindus believe that the water from the Ganges is holy.

Though the term "holy water" is not used, the idea of blessed water is also used among Buddhists. Water is put in to a new pot and kept near a Paritrana ceremony, a blessing for protection. Thai 'Lustral water' can be created in a ceremony in which the burning and extinction of a candle above the water represents the elements of earth, fire, and air. [cite web|url=http://www.thailandlife.com/lustralwater.htm|title=Buddhism in Thailand: Lustral Water] This water is later given to the people to be kept in their home. Not only water but also oil and strings are blessed in this ceremony. Bumpa, a ritual object, is one of the Ashtamangala, used for storing sacred water sometimes, symbolizing wisdom and long life in Vajrayana Buddhism. Kundika is the version in Korean Buddhism cite web | last =Smithsonian Institution | first = | title = Buddhist ritual sprinkler (kundika) | url= http://www.asia.si.edu/collections/singleObject.cfm?ObjectId=4442 | accessdate=16 July | accessyear=2007] , cite web | last = The British Museum | first = | title = Stoneware kundika (water sprinkler) | url= http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/asia/s/stoneware_kundika_water_sprin.aspx | accessdate=16 July | accessyear=2007] whereas the vase of holy dew is known to Chinese and Japanese Buddhism cite web | last =Harvard College and Diana Eck | first = | title = Chua Bo De Buddhist Temple | url= http://www.pluralism.org/research/profiles/photos.php?profile=72598 | accessdate=16 July | accessyear=2007] ,cite web | last = Red Maple Connection | first = | title = Goddess of Mercy | url= http://www.red-maple.jp/kakejiku/kannon/page/kannon_copy(14).htm | accessdate=16 July | accessyear=2007] .


* (Mother) Mary; Ware, (Archimandrite) Kallistos (Tr.)(1998). "The Festal Menaion" (reprint), pp 348-359. South Canaan: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press. ISBN 1-878997-00-9.
* Isabel Florence Hapgood (Tr., Ed.)(1983). "Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church" (6th ed.), pp 189-197. Englewood: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.
* "Collectio Rituum ad instar appendicis Ritualis Romani pro dioecesibus Statuum Foederatorum Americae Septentrionalis". Milwaukee, Bruce (1954)


ee also

*Anglican devotions
*Catholic devotions

External links

* [http://www.traditio.com/office/aquabene.htm "Ordo ad faciendam aquam benedictam"] (Latin). Pre-Vatican 2 Roman Catholic rite
* [http://www.orthodoxphotos.com/readings/john/2/ On Holy Water blessed at Theophany] by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco (Eastern Orthodox)
* [http://en.liturgy.ru/photo/fop.htm Photo of Great Blessing of Waters] at Theophany (Russian Orthodox)
* [http://en.liturgy.ru/photo/fop6.htm Photo of Lesser Blessing of Waters] (Russian Orthodox)

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  • holy water — n. R.C.Ch. water blessed by a priest and used (as in the Asperges) as a sacramental …   English World dictionary

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