Monday, July 9, 2012

How do you make holy water?

Joke answer: You boil the hell out of it.

Supernatural answer: You pronounce the proper words in Latin and add a blessed object, like a rosary, to the water.

Real answer: A priest adds blessed salt to the water (in some forms of the rite, at least) and pronounces the words of blessing while making the sign of the cross over the water.

In his Modern Catholic Dictionary, Fr. Hardon tells us that "(b)lessed water is a symbol of spiritual cleansing, and its use is advised in moments of physical danger and against temptations from spiritual enemies."  He points out, also, that "(t)here are, besides ordinary holy water, baptismal holy water, used with chrism in the conferring of public baptism, and Easter water specially blessed for use during the paschal time."

The Winchester boys aren't too far off, it seems. They get right both the use of a holy object (salt, not a rosary; the salt also acts as a preservative) and the proper words (as far as the bit we hear goes). What they have wrong is the matter of authority. They are not ordained priests, so they shouldn't be able to do it themselves, unless there is some special (fictional) faculty given by the Church to Hunters.

In some episodes, they seem to have acquired holy water from a church or shrine. (Is that Our Lady of Lourdes I see with Dean and Sam?) That's the right way to get it (and we all can do that - bring a clean bottle to your local church and ask!).

What about those emergency needs? Well, a bottle of holy water isn't that heavy, especially compared to a shotgun and seemingly endless supply of salt.

Priests have the authority to bless sacramentals, like holy water. They pronounce a blessing and make the sign of the cross over the water. Many such rituals, echoing the liturgy and sacraments, have both form and matter - words and things. The water and blessed salt added to it are the matter; the proper words are the form.

In a June 2012 post, Fr. Z asked "Is water blessed with the new rite really holy water?" and, in seeking an answer, reviewed the language of the newer rite. Another point of interest: he also noted a difference between constitutive blessing and invocational blessing, the first time I'd encountered the distinction. I may be greatly oversimplifying, but the difference seems to be blessing a thing vs. asking God to bless the users of a thing.

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