Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Smells, Bells, and What They Tell: Holy Water

For earlier posts in this series on sacramentals, please see here, here, here, and here!

While it seems far away now that we are in the deep freeze that is winter, imagine, if you will, a blistering, scorching hot summer day.  Those were always my favorite summer days, because it set the perfect condition for swimming.  

There are few things as wonderfully refreshing as jumping into a cool body of water on a 90-degree July afternoon.  My Mom would always say that a good swim would make you feel like a new person.

Water certainly has a healing effect on us.  Whether it is a hot morning shower, a good scrubbing after soiling one's hands, or a quenching drink of ice water, we all value the gift that is water.  

For us in the United States, it's a gift that is easily taken for granted.  Just a simple turn of the tap produces clean, cool water for our use, whereas in other countries, citizens must walk for miles to wells, where the water they obtain is unsanitary to consume unless boiled first.

Water is absolutely necessary for our very survival.  But it's easy to forget that and, as I said, we can take water for granted.

Well, the same holds true--even more so, actually--in the spiritual realm.  Water (holy water) is necessary for our spiritual survival.  For, it is with water that we are baptized into the Church and become children of God.

"Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God'" (John 3:5).

So important is Baptism that Christ Himself was baptized.  Though He had no need for Baptism (Christ had no sin to wash away), He submitted to this to demonstrate to each one of us how critical it is.  

Furthermore, as Christ was ascending into heaven, He gave one final command to the apostles: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." (Matthew 28:19).

The gift of Baptism and its abundant, life-saving effects is something we should thank God for each and every day.  

However, the value of holy water doesn't end after our Baptism day.  Holy water is a precious sacramental and one which we should avail ourselves of at every opportune moment.

A little background: holy water has very ancient roots.  For example, the Jewish people had a ceremony of purification before entering the temple.  

Holy water is a combination of water and blessed salt.  Consider the symbolism of these two united elements:

Water cleanses.  The Church wishes this sacramental to wash away sin from her children.  We think first and foremost of Baptism, in which original sin is removed from the child's soul.  However, holy water is also effective for removing venial sin!  Each time you bless yourself with holy water in a spirit of faith, God acts through that sacramental to wipe away any venial sins from your soul.  If our bodies need to be washed daily, why should not our souls as well?

Salt preserves.  The Church intermingles the salt with the water, so that the holy water will thus preserve believers from a relapse into sin.

Water quenches fire and fosters growth.  This sacramental quenches the fire of the passions and, like plants that rely upon water to grow, holy water promotes the growth of virtues.

Salt is a symbol of wisdom.  As such, it typifies Eternal Wisdom, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.  Meanwhile, the water represents human nature.  Thus, the mingling of the salt and water is symbolic of the Incarnation: the Eternal Word assuming a human nature.

Whenever you enter a Catholic Church, you will find a baptismal font or holy water fonts greeting you in the vestibule.  This is very purposeful.  It teaches those who enter that they must be clean of hand and cleaner of thought and affection in order to stand in the midst of the angels who gather around the altar of the Mass...and even more so to stand amidst the Real Presence of Christ in the Tabernacle.

As you bless yourself entering the Church, you can remember with faith and devotion that this sacramental removes venial sins from your soul, thus readying you to assist at Holy Mass. You can always call to mind your Baptism, which made you a child of God and member of the Church.

Holy water isn't just for churches, however.  It is also made for your domestic church: your home!  No family should be without holy water!

We have two holy water fonts in our home.  One is placed in our bedroom.  Before going to bed at night, each family member blesses him or herself.  Upon awakening, we begin our day with a blessing.  It's readying the soul for the day's work.

Our second holy water font is stationed by the door we use to leave the house.  We bless ourselves upon exiting, asking the holy angels to watch over us, wherever we may go.  

There have been so many times we have had recourse to holy water.  

As a student, I would dip my pens or pencils in holy water before I woud leave for a big exam.  

Before handing in a paper, I would put some holy water discreetly in the corner.  

When I mailed in my applications for graduate school, I sealed the envelopes with holy water.  

When we had a long journey to take or needed to drive in a major snowstorm, we would bless our car.

In times of sickness, labor, before job interviews--we have blessed one another with holy water.

I often smile to myself when I recall my mother bringing an empty liter of soda to Easter morning Mass and filling it to the top with holy water.  But God bless her for doing so, because we always had a supply on hand.

We also keep a bottle of holy water in our car in case of emergencies.  Recalling the necessity of baptism for salvation, the Church teaches that--in a case of emergency--anyone can baptize, as long as you have water and use the proper words ("I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit").  

So, if your domestic church is missing some holy water, make a point of acquiring some and using it frequently!  Don't allow your soul to experience a draught.

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