What You Should Know About The Catholics’ Use Of Holy Water

Water is an ancient symbol of life and purity. It is used by many scriptural rituals and analogies (see Ex 40:12; Is 12:3).  Holy water is, therefore, a sacramental that recalls the sacrament of Baptism and its cleansing effects.  Catholics bless themselves with it while making the Sign of the Cross whenever they enter or exit a church.  It may also be sprinkled on objects when they are being blessed.

Do the Catholics think of the holy water as some kind of magic? Of course not.  However, they know that even common water, when joined to the prayers of the Church, can be a very powerful source of divine blessing, just as God healed Naaman in the Jordan waters.

The Holy Water is a Sacramental and never should we doubt the power of this great sacramental.  As St. Teresa of Avila in her autobiography, The Book of Her Life, wrote of the power of Holy Water, Thus:

“I was once in an oratory, and [the devil] appeared to me in an abominable form at my left side.  Because he spoke to me, I looked particularly at his mouth– which was most frightening.  It seemed that a great flame, all bright without shadow, came forth from his body.  He told me in a terrifying way that I had really freed myself from his hands but that he would catch me with them again.  I was struck with great fear and blessed myself as best I could; he disappeared, but returned right away.  This happened to me twice.  I didn’t know what to do.  There was some Holy Water there, and I threw it in that direction; he never returned again. …I often experience that there is nothing the devils flee from more– without returning– than holy water” (Chapter 31).

Some sacramentals are actions, such as blessings, exorcisms, or the Sign of the Cross.  Others are objects that have been blessed, such as ashes, palm branches, or crucifixes “Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it” (Catechism1670).  While the number of sacraments instituted by Christ is fixed (seven), the number of sacramentals varies according to the pastoral judgment of the Church.

Upon the testimony of Saint Teresa of Avila, we see the importance not only of pausing to bless ourselves with Holy Water as we enter and leave Church but also of having Holy Water available in our homes.

The Book of Leviticus prescribed various ritual purifications using water to remove the “uncleanness” associated, for instance, with coming into contact with a dead body, menstruation, childbirth, or leprosy (cf. Leviticus 12-15).  A person also purified himself with water before entering the Temple precincts, offering prayer and sacrifice, and eating.

For this reason, in the Courtyard of the Priests (the area before the actual Temple building) was the Laver, an immense bronze basin filled with water.  Here the priests purified their hands and feet before offering sacrifices at the nearby altar, bathed before entering the Temple itself, and also drew water for other purifications prescribed in Jewish rituals.

In other Words, We use the holy water for these purposes;

  • As a sign of repentance of sin,
  • For protection from evil,
  • As a reminder of our Baptism.

The repentance of sin symbolized in the washing with water is reflected in Psalm 50:  “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.  Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.  Cleanse me of sin with hyssop that I may be purified; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (3-4, 9).  (Hyssop is a small bush used for sprinkling water).  Remember too how St. John the Baptizer called all to conversion used a ritual washing of water to signify the repentance of sin and purification.

Finally, Holy Water reminds us of our Baptism. By the invocation of the Holy Trinity and the pouring of Holy Water, we were set free from Original Sin and all sin, infused with sanctifying grace, incorporated into the Church, and given the title Son or Daughter of God.

Therefore, when we make the sign of the Cross with the holy water, we should be mindful that we are called to renew those baptismal promises of rejecting Satan, all His works, and all his empty promises, and to profess our credal faith.  Once again, we repent of sin, so that we can offer our prayers and worship to God with pure and contrite hearts.  The same Way water and blood flowed from the Sacred Heart of our Lord as He hung upon the cross– signifying the great sacraments of Baptism and Holy Eucharist, the taking of Holy Water and making the sign of the cross remind us of our Baptism in preparation for the reception of the Holy Eucharist.

Bible Verses we can reffer to

2 Kings 2 : 19 – 22,  Ezek 36:25,  Number 8:7  John 5: 1- 18  Ex 40:12,  2 Kgs 5:1-14  •  Is 12:3
General: Ex 23:25  •  Lv 14:5-7  •  Nm 5:17; 8:7  •  Ps 1:1-3  •  Is 55:1  •  Mt 3:13-17  •  Jn 7:37-39  •  Eph 5:25-27  •  Rv 21:6; 22:1-2, 17
Catechism of the Catholic Church: 1667-1673  •  1677-1678


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