Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Using Holy Water in Daily Devotions

Many Episcopal churches now have holy water available, often in, or near, the baptismal font. This ancient practice reminds us that it is by baptism that we are born into the Church.

When entering or leaving, it is customary to dip the fingers of the right hand in the water and make the sign of the cross on one’s self, saying silently “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” These are the words used in the administration of baptism, and serve as both a mental and physical memorial of the gift of New Life in Christ. Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, strongly advocated the use of Holy Water as both a tool for re-affirming our faith and as a way to arm one’s self against evil’s deceptions and temptations to forget whose we are.

Holy Water may also be used at home. Typically, domestic use involves applying Holy Water (as at church) before and after daily prayers. Some people drink blessed water, especially at times of sickness, as a further way to affirm their total connection with God. Others will place Holy Water near their home’s most-used entrance, for blessing one’s self when leaving home.

When using Holy Water, we must be clear that it is not “magical.” Rather, it is a physical reminder and manifestation of God’s transformative power in all Creation, in the sacraments, and in our lives. We are physical and spiritual beings. Water is essential for life. The Spirit is essential for Christian life. Holy Water brings these two “essentials” together, recalling Baptism, in which they are joined. The Christian life is not about magical talismans for avoiding things; it is about engaging reality in the secure knowledge of God’s power to transform and redeem. All of Creation is holy because God made it. This water, offered to God to be a sign of his desire for all things to be whole and holy in him, is blessed so that we might literally be "in touch" with the truth once more.

Like all such devotional tools in our tradition, there is not requirement that any Anglican use Holy Water. Rather, it is a gift, and gifts are given without requirements. They are offered in love and for the benefit of the recipient. So may it be for us all as we journey more and more into God's redeeming embrace.

Some considerations for domestic use:
  • St. Timothy’s provides ready access to blessed water in the chapel (a dispenser is in the marked cabinet; bottles for taking Holy Water home with you are provided free of charge).
  • At home, water is put in a shallow bowl, or a stoup (a kind of wall-mounted font), near where daily prayers are said. Another place for a stoup is by the main door.
  • Putting a piece of natural sponge in with the water will help keep the water clear longer.
  • Holy Water should not be put down the sink. It should be poured out in the garden, as it has been blessed.

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