By Msgr. Jonas Achacoso, JCD
This question came up when a parishioner approached me to bless a bottle of water for her. Requests like this would seem to be pious, innocent, and not polemical. Hence, in most cases, bottled water would just be blessed without questions asked.
The usual way to ask for Holy Water is to bring a small empty container for a refill from the tank.
The use of this sacramental does not need gallons, not even liters for effectiveness. The reasoning of the-more-the-better is not applicable here. A couple of ounces should go a long way for what it is intended for.
Asking for a bottle of water to be blessed is rather not the usual way. A bit curious, I asked what the water would be used for. The person said that the water is for a sick person at home to drink.
Can we drink Holy Water? I don’t think so. Hygienic issues aside, the formula of blessing the water never prays, not even insinuates, that the blessed water would be for drinking. The blessings clearly indicate that the blessed water is to be sprinkled.
What then is the proper use of the Holy Water? The proper way is to follow what the Holy Water is used for in church and in celebration of the sacraments.
I am aware that, because of the pandemic, the Holy Water fonts and stoups in our churches are left parched and arid, depriving the faithful of this cherished sacramental.
There are so many reasons why holy water fonts are strategically placed at the entrance of the church. We become full-fledged members of the church by our baptism, which is the pouring of water on the person’s head.
Upon entering the church, we dip our fingers into the holy water font and make the sign of the cross on ourselves with it, precisely to be reminded of the blessing received during our baptism, including the purification from sin.
Such is also a reminder of the baptismal promises made to reject Satan and his evil works.
The Holy Water ceremony at the entrance to a sacred place then is truly a visible gesture of faith and of purification. We can pray with the words of King David: “Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love … thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin cleanse me (Psalm 51).
Part of the popular piety among Catholics is to have Holy Water with them all the time. They use it to bless themselves, their families, their homes, cars, and even pets.
Many people keep Holy Water on their bedside table and would bless themselves and their bed before going to sleep. St. Teresa of Avila, among many saints, is convinced of the spiritual effectiveness of this custom.
Teresa of Avila believed with conviction strengthened by her personal experience that there is nothing like the Holy Water to put evil spirits away and keep them from coming back again.
The great virtue of the Holy Water is for her a most notable spiritual protection.
Going back to the parishioner asking me to bless the bottled water for a sick person to drink, yes, I blessed the water but with a different prayer pleading for the healing of the sick person.
After the blessing, does the mineral water become Holy Water? I don’t think so. The intention is to bless the water but not to become Holy Water.
For me, the water is blessed in the same way that, after blessing the food on the table, the food does not become Holy Food. On the contrary, we should be confessing sacrilege for throwing away leftovers in the garbage.
Giving blessed water to sick people reminds me of water from Lourdes. In a way, the water is blessed by Our Lady.
Back then, when passengers could still carry water in the airplane, pilgrims from Lourdes would bring gallons of water from the spring of Massabielle.
This water is kept as a souvenir or given to those who are sick to drink, and there are countless stories of healing with it. We should be reminded that Lourdes’ water is unique and of a category different from the Holy Water that we have in our churches blessed by priests.
Msgr. Achacoso is the author of “Due Process in Church Administration” (2018), recipient of Arcangelo Ranaudo Award (Vatican), and pastor of Corpus Christi Church in Woodside