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Holy water


In Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Old Catholic, 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.


Roman Catholic holy water


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, ss. 1667, 1668

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.)

Anglican holy water

Holy water is used in the Anglican Church for baptism, blessings, and for asperges, a ceremony in which the congregation is blessed with holy water on special days to remind members of their baptism. Other uses for holy water in the Anglican Church include blessing one's self upon entering a church, exorcism, and blessing objects and spaces for common use such as homes, chapels, ships and places of work. One can find holy water in the font inside an Anglican church or cathedral except possibly during the season of Lent.

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 feast of Holy Theophany holy water is blessed twice, at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgies both on the eve and on 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 (Isaiah 35:1-10, Isaiah 55:1-13, Isaiah 13:3-6, and I_Corinthians 10:1-4), culminating in the baptism account from the Gospel of Saint Mark (1:9-11) followed by the Great Litany. This is sung just as for the Divine Liturgy, but with the following additional petitions which make clear what is being asked of God and what the use, purpose, and blessing of the water is believed to entail.

That these waters may be sanctified by the power, and effectual operation, and descent of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.
That there may descend upon these waters the cleansing operation of the super-substantial Trinity, let us pray to the Lord.
That he will endue them with the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan, the might, and operation, and descent of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.
That Satan may speedily be crushed under our feet, and that every evil counsel directed against us may be brought to naught, let us pray to the Lord.
That the Lord our God will free us from every attack and temptation of the enemy, and make us worthy of the good things which he hath promised, let us pray to the Lord.
That he will illumine us with the light of understanding and of piety, and with the descent of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.
That the Lord our God will send down the blessing of Jordan, and sanctify these waters, let us pray to the Lord.
That this water may be unto the bestowing of sanctification; unto the remission of sins; unto the healing of soul and body; and unto every expedient service, let us pray to the Lord.
That this water may be a fountain welling forth unto life eternal, let us pray to the Lord.
That it may manifest itself effectual unto the averting of every machination of our foes, whether visible or invisible, let us pray to the Lord.
For those who shall draw of it and take of it unto the sanctification of their homes, let us pray to the Lord.
That it may be for the purification of the souls and bodies of all those who, with faith, shall draw and partake of it, let us pray to the Lord.
That he will graciously enable us to perfect sanctification by participation in these waters, through the invisible manifestation of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.

Then, following a lengthy set of didactic prayers that expound on the nature of the feast and summarize salvation history, praising God's creation of and mastery over the elements, the priest makes the Sign of the Cross over the water with his hand and prays specifically for the blessing to be invoked upon it. At the climax of the service, he immerses the hand cross into the water three times in imitation of Christ's baptism to the singing of the festal troparion:

When Thou wast baptized in the Jordan, O Christ God, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest, for the voice of the Father bear witness to Thee, and called Thee His beloved Son, and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truthfulness of His word. O Christ God, Who hast revealed Thyself and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee!

The priest then blesses the entire church and congregation with the newly consecrated water. All come forward to be sprinkled over the head with the Theophany Water as the kiss the hand cross, and to drink some of it.

The priest will then set out to bless the homes of all of the faithful with Theophany Water. In large parishes, this process will take some time. However, the priest must bless all of the houses of the faithful before the beginning of Great Lent. In monasteries the Hegumen (Superior) will bless the cells of all of the monks.

Orthodox Christianity teaches that the Great Blessing of Waters actually changes the nature of the water,[1] and that water so blessed is no longer corruptible, but remains fresh for many years.[1]

The Great Blessing of Waters is normally only blessed at this one time of the year; however, at the Consecration of a church, a Great Blessing of Waters will often precede the service.

Lesser Blessing of Waters

The Lesser Blessing is called "lesser" not because it is shorter (in fact, it isn't), but because it does not have the same solemnity as the Great Blessing, and does not necessarily change the nature of the water.

While much is the same, the rite begins with Psalm 142 (LXX) and the hymns to the Theophany of the Great Blessing are replaced in the Lesser Blessing with hymns to the Theotokos. The scriptural readings are different (Hebrews 2:11-18, John 5:1-4), and the special peitions at the Great Litany are different:

That these waters may be sanctified by the power, and effectual operation, and descent of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.
That there may descend upon these waters the cleansing operation of the super-substantial Trinity, let us pray to the Lord.
That this water may be unto the healing of souls and bodies, and unto the banishing of every hostile power, let us pray to the Lord.
That the Lord our God will send down the blessing of Jordan, and sanctify these waters, let us pray to the Lord.
For all those who entreat of God ain and protection, let us pray to the Lord.
That he will illumine us with the light of understanding, with the consubstantial Trinity, let us pray to the Lord.
That the Lord our God will show us forth sons and heirs of his kingdom, through partaking of and sprinkling with these waters, let us pray to the Lord.

Then the priest says a prayer very similar to the one used at Theophany, but when he immerses the hand cross into the water three times, instead of singing the troparion of Theophany, he sings the troparion of the Cross:

Save, O Lord, Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, granting unto the faithful victory over enemies. And by the power of Thy Cross, do Thou preserve Thy commonwealth.

In Byzantine times, this troparion was used with the variation:

... granting unto the Emperors victory over barbarians ...

The Lesser Blessing of Waters may be performed according to need. It is specifically called for on August 1 (the feast of the Procession of the Cross); on Bright Friday (Friday in Easter Week) which is the feast of the Theotokos of the "Life-giving Spring"; and on the Feast of Mid-Pentecost, when all of the fields are blessed. There is also a tradition of blessing Holy Water on the first day of each month.

Though there is no special blessing said over it, the water used for the Washing of Feet on Maundy Thursday could be considered a form of holy water, in that the Bishop or Hegumen will bless the faithful with it at the end of the ceremony. Among the Coptics, this water is blessed with the cross before the Washing of Feet. The Coptics also use holy water on Palm Sunday, and at the end of every Divine Liturgy.

Other sources of holy waters

Some Roman Catholics[citation needed] believe that water from Lourdes and other holy wells and shrines have supernatural powers, such as for healing. This water, technically, is not holy water in the same sense as traditional holy water since it has not been consecrated by a priest or bishop. Other Christian groups have sold water from the Jordan River and called it holy water as well, since this is the location of the baptism of the Christ.

In the Orthodox Church there have been many miraculous springs of water throughout the centuries, some of which still flow to this day, such as the one at Pochaev Lavra in Ukraine, and the Life-Giving Spring of the Theotokos in Constantinople (commemorated on Bright Friday).

Non-Christian holy water

Many Muslims believe that water from the The Well of Zamzam in Mecca is divinely blessed. It is also believed to have supernatural properties.

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.

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.[2] 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 [3], [4] whereas the vase of holy dew is known to Chinese and Japanese Buddhism [5],[6].


  • (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)


  1. ^ a b Saint John (Maximovitch), , . Retrieved on 2007-12-29
  2. ^ Buddhism in Thailand: Lustral Water.
  3. ^ Smithsonian Institution. Buddhist ritual sprinkler (kundika) . Retrieved on 16 July, 2007.
  4. ^ The British Museum. Stoneware kundika (water sprinkler) . Retrieved on 16 July, 2007.
  5. ^ Harvard College and Diana Eck. Chua Bo De Buddhist Temple . Retrieved on 16 July, 2007.
  6. ^ Red Maple Connection. Goddess of Mercy . Retrieved on 16 July, 2007.

see also

  • Anglican devotions
  • Catholic devotions
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Holy_water". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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