Water is everywhere. It does not consist solely of the “H2O” scientists describe as fundamental to the life of all living organisms, but it also is an element that many civilisations consider as sacred. In Hinduism or Buddhism, water takes a central role. Temples are always filled with water for ablutions – those rituals of purification to which a lot of time is devoted, especially in the morning (people wash themselves to get rid of their nightly bad mood). In India, water is often very dirty but still has this spiritual purifying virtue that goes beyond materiality. In the Quran, we can find fourteen references to purifying water, hence the fact that Muslims also grant a great importance to ablutions. Ablutions also play a leading role in Judaism, and are performed in two different manners: By immersing the whole body in a mikve (basin) or by washing one’s hands with a cup. The symbolic of water is also very present in the Bible. It often symbolises the Word of God that purifies or the Spirit of God that regenerates. As such, almost all churches have an initiation ritual that implies the use of water. Baptism, which is often perceived as a symbol of freedom from the sin that separates us from God, is one of them. Concerning holy water, it is often used by the Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and the Anglicans. But, does the use of holy water find justification in the Scriptures?
First of all, it should be noted that behind the Christian symbolic, an ancient Celtic ritual is hidden. In Brittany, for instance, water sources have long been associated with Druidic practices from which many healing and miracle beliefs arose. Those traditions have infiltrated Christianity, and still linger on today. Pope Alexander I (who died in 115 or 116) seems to be the one who introduced this practice in the Church.
Holy water is made up of pure cold natural water. According to the Roman ritual published under the command Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585), natural water consisted of water coming from fountains, wells, rivers, lakes, ponds, cisterns, the sea, and the rain. This water was then taken, and holy salt was added to it (exclusively by a priest) to allegorically mark the union of Jesus Christ’s two natures. Salt symbolised carefulness, while water represented purity.
SO CALLED VERTUES
Holy water is usually placed at the entrance of churches or houses in order for people to anoint themselves with it when coming in and out. The latter practice is still resorted to in the countryside and in some developing countries. Superstition is so tenacious that some people throw it in places where the presence of evil spirits is feared, but also on sick or dead people, and on tombs.
This water is supposed to have effects and virtues that would be useful and salutary to the souls and bodies of those who benefit from it. Here are the seven core supposed virtues of holy water:
– It contributes to the healing of sick people.
– It preserves, sets people free from illusions, traps, and infestation of demons.
– It inclines one’s heart to prayer and rites by purifying the souls from the sins.
– The soils on which it has been sprinkled become fertile.
– It casts out the plague, dissipates thunderstorm and lightning.
– It enables the remission of venial sins.
– It keeps demons away from sick people.
In other words, if you want to lead a full and meaningful Christian life, get plenty of it!
Even if they claim to be reformed and criticise the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical and so-called revival churches have developed their own mystical practices related to water. Indeed, every year, hundreds of Christians go to Israel to get baptised or re-baptised in the well-known river Jordan, which supposedly has particular virtues as the Lord Jesus also got baptised in it.
Resorting to anointing oil abusively, inadequately and in an idolatrous manner to purify oneself, one’s house or belongings, but also to cast out and protect oneself against demons is no less different than the superstitious use of holy water.
WHAT DOES THE WORD OF GOD SAY?
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. And you shall put water in it, for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it. When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to the Lord, they shall wash with water, lest they die. So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die. And it shall be a statute forever to them—to him and his descendants throughout their generations.” (Exodus 30:17-21).
It is a fact that in the old Covenant one resorted to water for ceremonial use, but all this was only the shadow of what was to come. Ablutions and baths cannot wash away our sins, only the perfect sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ can. Meditating his Word daily (which is compared to water), and above all, putting this word into practice, simply enables us to remain in purity and in holiness (Ezekiel 36:25).
Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (John 17: 17)
And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11).
[…] Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27).
- Certified copy of the works of Cardinal Paracciani Ciarelli, J. GAUME, Apostolic protonotary, Vicar general of Aquila (1866)
- “History and usage of holy water” by Reverend David O’Connor
- “Holy water treaty or the Catholic Church justified on the use of holy water” by Nicolas Collin
- Wikipedia on ‘the traditions of water in various civilisations’