In her many rituals, the Catholic Church uses elements from creation: oil, ashes, burning incense, and more. Of these elements, water is one of the most common and the most rich in symbolism. Today, I specifically want to discuss Holy Water, which is a powerful spiritual weapon for your arsenal.
Origins and Meaning
The symbolic importance of water is ancient, and its ritual use can be found in the Old Testament, where it was used for purifying rites privately and liturgically. It is also a sign of God’s creative power (Genesis 1:2), a metaphor for Jehovah as the source of life spiritually (Isaiah 55:1-2), and it is used as an agent of healing (2 King’s 5:10). There are also many Old Testament types of water’s significance in the New Testament, such as Pharaoh’s army (sin) being drowned in the sea (the waters of baptism, Exodus 14:28).
In the New Testament, water takes on even greater significance in its connection with Christ, who identifies himself with the Living Water (John 7:37-39). Baptism in water is also declared as necessary for our salvation, as Jesus himself said, “unless a man be born of water and the Holy Ghost” he cannot be saved (John 3:5).
There are many, many more scriptural references to water, and its significance is deep. But for the Catholic, water is first and foremost a reminder of our baptism—one of the most significant events in the life of a Christian. In baptism, we are freed from sin, born anew spiritually, and adopted into the covenant family of God. Many of the saints, realizing the importance of baptism, venerated the place and day of their baptism with great fervor, just as we would celebrate our physical birthday. St. Louis de Montfort even changed his last name to “de Montfort” as Montfort was the town in which he was baptized.
Holy water is the primary way Catholics encounter water as a sacramental. It is blessed on the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) and is used throughout the year.
Use and Power
Holy water is used in the rites of the church for blessing churches, altars, and other objects. In the Extraordinary Form, each high mass is preceded by a rite known as the “Asperges.” The priest sprinkles the congregation and altar servers with holy water while the choir chants portions of the penitential Psalm 50. This rite is also performed in the Novus Ordo mass during some liturgical seasons.
Holy water is also used to bless ourselves before entering and leaving a church. A church building is a picture of the Catholic Church, and blessing ourselves with holy water upon entering a church reminds us that baptism was how enter the Church, the Body of Christ.
Holy water can also be bottled and taken home for personal use. Many Catholics have holy water fonts in their homes. Again, you can use this sacramental for blessing yourself before bed, when entering and leaving the home or for blessing your children.
But the question arises, why use holy water? What’s the point?
First of all, holy water has the power to forgive venial sins. When we turn to God and remember our baptism, in which we vowed to reject sin and satan, our sins are forgiven!
Second, holy water prepares us to receive the sacraments. With our sins forgiven, our baptism remembered, and with God’s blessing upon us, we are ready to receive the grace of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
Finally, demons hate holy water. St. Teresa of Avila once said, “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” (Autobiography). Holy water is an excellent way to protect yourself, your family, or your home from the attacks of the evil one!
What about you— do you use holy water in your devotional life? Have you ever experienced any signs of its power?