August 23, 2009

Dirty Holy Water

One of the little chores that has accrued to me over a couple years of working as a parish priest is to change the holy water in the stoups in the church. You see, when it's humid most of the time, as it is in the summer here in the Hudson valley, the holy water gets dirty before it evaporates. Exposure and having everybody sticking their fingers in it takes its toll. It gets these earth-colored floaties that congregate around the bottom and show up very well in our lovely white marble stoups. So every couple weeks or so, the holy water has to be changed.

Here's the procedure:

1. Get dedicated holy water sponge and bucket.
2. Soak up dirty holy water with sponge and empty it into the bucket.
3. Wipe out stoups if they need it.
4. Use the dirty holy water to water a particularly blessed plant. Like many of the humble saints of this world, her identity is a secret.
5. Get dedicated holy watering can, and fill it.
6. Pray over the water, asking God's blessing on everyone who uses and prays with it devoutly, that it might be an effective recollection of their own baptism. Make the sign of the Cross over the water, and bless yourself with it.
7. Fill the stoups and empty the whatever remains into the holy water bucket in the back of church.

The byproduct of this little job is that whenever I go to another church, I now notice whether the holy water is clean or not. The other day I went for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament at another parish, and noticed that the holy water was pretty grungy. Walking home, I got to thinking about it. Dirty holy water is a pretty good metaphor for my own Christian life.

It does the job, more or less. You can still bless yourself with it, and if you don't really look, you might not even notice what a mess it is. Even though its dirtiness obscures the brilliant light of God that desires to show through it, this doesn't destroy the blessing God recalls to those who seek a way to pray. It's still an effective sign of Christ, just one that isn't as clear and pure as it could be with some diligent attention.


Adoro said...

Fascinating. We have a HUGE font in my parish, way too big and I think it's just a waste of holy water because I think 2 or 3 children could actually swim in it.

And it gets dirty but is only cleaned a few times per year.

I have to ask, though, what about dirty used holy oil? I have some oil given to me by my Mom years ago, blessed. It's nasty. Seriously. I think she gave it to me while I wasn't exactly a practicing Catholic so it went into..ah..."storage", meaning I didn't see it for years.

Now it's just gross. I can't water a plant with it. I can't do anything with it, and gotta say, I'm not going to use it for anything "official." Ew.

What do I do with a little spice-container-size thing of oil? Just bury it like one would other sacramentals?

Unknown said...

I am one of the Holy Water Changers at SJE. I love doing it whenever I get a chance. The worst part is coming to get Father to bless the water after it is changed.

Adoro- Father can confirm this, but I believe that blessed oils are to be burned. Your parish should burn the oils on, or after Holy Thursday from that previous year, so maybe you can give it to them, and they can burn it with theirs.

Brother Charles said...

Indeed, you are right, CUA. Old oils can be put into the sanctuary lamp, or even better, burned in the new fire at the Easter Vigil.

A Bit of the Blarney said...

This was a grand post, a gentle reminder of my own sinfulness. It is a wonderful reflection. I did so enjoy the comments as I learn from each of them Thank you all! Cathy

Adoro said...

I think what I have is blessed vegetable oil...not sure it would be a good idea to put it in a lamp...

Our lamps are candles, anyway, they don't have anything that is oil.

Paul A. Zalonski said...

Perhaps if the priests blessed salt when blessing Holy Water the HW would be cleaner longer. There's a practical reason for doing such. Of course, the priest would have to use the older form as I don't think the blessing of salt is part of the new rites (it's been awhile since I looked for it and my books are out of reach right now).

I'd also recommend washing the stoups with a something that might kill the germs and dry it well before putting freshly blessed water in.

Mike Farley said...

"Dirty holy water is a pretty good metaphor for my own Christian life."

That is an absolute classic! There can't be too many of us of whom it isn't true, either...

for narnia said...

i enjoyed reading your procedure on how you change the holy water. since i'm part of the Altar society at St. Theresa's, that's one of my jobs from time to time. since i've been an Altar server at two parishes, i do something similar to what you do when praying for God's blessings on the people who will use the holy water. after serving at a Mass, i take the bowl which contains the water poured over the hands of the priest and will give it to a plant or flowers, while saying a quiet prayer for the priest who just celebrated Mass. PEACE! ~tara t~

Jeanne said...

Smartest thing our church did was install a holy water fountain that is actually a sink. It's got a drain and hot and cold water circulating in it. When it's time to clean it - very easy. Plus the warmth deduces babies crying during baptism!

K T Cat said...

You can always make me smile and laugh. Love and prayers for you, amigo!