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In Anglicanism, Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Oriental Orthodoxy, and some other churches, holy water is water which has been sanctified by a priest or bishop for the purpose of baptism, the blessing of persons, places, and objects; or as a means of "repelling evil".

The first use of holy water, i.e. for baptism and spiritual cleansing, is common among several religions, from Christianity to Sikhism and Hinduism.

The second use of holy water, i.e. as a sacramental for protection against evil, is almost exclusive to Roman Catholic.

Holy water in Christianity


The use of holy water in the earliest days of Christianity is attested to only in somewhat later documents. The Apostolic constitutions which go back to about the year 400, attribute to the precept of using holy water to Apostle Matthew. Hence the first historical testimony goes back to the fifth century. However, it is plausible that, in the earliest Christian times, water was used for expiatory and purificatory purposes, to a way analogous to its employment under the Jewish Law. Yet, in many cases, the water used for the Sacrament of Baptism was flowing water, sea or river water, and it could not receive the same blessing as that contained in the baptisteries.

Use and storage

Holy water is used as a sacramental in the baptismal ceremony.

Holy water is kept in the font, the church furnishing used for baptisms, which is typically located at 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, 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, though elaborate Ottonian examples are known as situlae. Blessed salt may be added to the water "where it is customary."

In Christianity, asperges is the name given to the rite of sprinkling a congregation with holy water. The name comes from the first word in the 9th verse of Psalm 51 in the Latin translation, the Vulgate, which is sung during the Traditional form of the rite, except during Eastertide.

Proper disposal

In Catholicism, holy water, as well as water used during the washing of the priest's hands at mass, is not allowed to be disposed of in regular plumbing. Roman Catholic churches will usually have a special basin (a Sacrarium) that leads directly into the ground for the purpose of proper disposal. A hinged lid is kept over the holy water basin to distinguish it from a regular sink basin, which is often just beside it. Items that contain holy water are separated, drained of the holy water, and then washed in a regular manner in the adjacent sink.

Christian traditions


The use of holy water within Anglicanism closely adheres to Roman Catholic practice. Holy water is used for baptism, the asperges, and the blessing of objects by a priest. Fonts with holy water are found at the doors of most Anglican churches for the faithful to use in making the sign of the cross upon entering the church.



Traditionally, most Roman Catholic churches have stoups, or Holy water fonts to provide holy water in open fonts into which people dip their hands, and often make the sign of the cross. In recent years, with the concerns over influenza, new holy water machines that work like an automatic soap dispenser have become popular.

This use of holy water and making a sign of the cross when entering a church reflects a renewal of baptism, as well as providing protection against evil. It is also often accompained by the following prayer:

"By this Holy water and by your Precious Blood, wash away all my sins O Lord".

Some Roman Catholics believe that water from specific shrines such as the Lourdesmarker Spring has 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.

Protection against evil

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (number 301) specifically refers to the use of holy water for "protection from the powers of darkness". Lay Catholics are not permitted to perform exorcisms but they can use holy water and other sacramentals such as the Saint Benedict Medal or the Crucifix for warding off evil.

Catholic saints have written about the power of holy water as a force that repels evil. Saint Teresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church who reported visions of Jesus and Mary, was a strong believer in the power of holy water and wrote that she used it with success to repel evil and temptations. She wrote:

I know by frequent experience that there is nothing which puts the devils toflight like Holy water.

In Holy Water and Its Significance for Catholics Henry Theiler states that in addition to being a strong force in repelling evil, holy water has the two fold benefit of providing grace for both body and soul.

Eastern Christians

Among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern-Rite 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.

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.

Although Eastern Orthodox do not normally bless themselves with holy water upon entering a church like Catholics do, 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."

Throughout the centuries, there have been many springs of water that have been believed by members of the Orthodox Church to be miraculous. Some still flow to this day, such as the one at Pochaev Lavra in Ukrainemarker, and the Life-Giving Spring of the Theotokos in Constantinoplemarker (commemorated on Bright Friday).

Methodists and Lutherans

The use of holy water within Methodism and Lutheranism is strictly for the baptism of infants and new members of the church. The water is believed to be blessed by God, as it is used in a sacrament. The water is applied to the forehead of the laity being baptised and the clergyman performs the sign of the cross.

Non-Christian traditions

In Ancient Greek religion, a holy water called chernips was created when extinguishing in it a torch from a religious shrine. In Greek religion, purifying people and locations with water was part of the process of distinguishing the sacred from the profane.

Sikhs use the term ( ) for the holy water used in the baptism ceremony (known as Amrit Sanskar or Amrit Chhakhna.

Bathing in holy water is a key element in Hinduism and the River Gangesmarker is considered the holiest Hindu river.

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 element of earth, fire, and air. 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.

See also



File:ND de Fourvière Intérieur 250709 03.jpg|Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvièremarker, Lyonmarker, FranceFile:Smf, acquasantiera inizio Xv sec 02.JPG|Florence CathedralmarkerFile:Chiesa di Santa Maria a Cintoia (Florence) - Facade - Stoup.jpg|Church of Santa Maria a Cintoia, Florence, Italy.File:Salzburg Kajetanerkirche Weihwasserbecken.jpg|Church of Saints Saint Cajetan and Maximillian, Salzburgmarker, Austria


  1. Chambers's encyclopædia, page 394, Published by Lippincott & Co (1870)
  2. Nathaniel Altman, 2002 Sacred water: the spiritual source of life ISBN 1587680130 pp 130-133
  3. Henry Theiler, 2003 Holy Water and Its Significance for Catholics ISBN 0766175537 pp 13-15
  4. Catholic encyclopedia on Holy water
  5. Sacramentals at thr Vatican website ss. 1667, 1668
  6. Catholic encyclopedia
  7. Henry Theiler, 2003 Holy Water and Its Significance for Catholics ISBN 0766175537 p 48
  8. BBC News on Holy Water dispensers
  9. Philip Bold, 2008 Catholic Doctorine and Discipline Simply Explained ISBN 1409786102 page 283
  10. Jacquelyn Lindsey, 2001 Catholic Family Prayer Book OSV Press ISBN 0879739991 page 65
  11. Richard Clarke, 2008 Lourdes, Its Inhabitants, Its Pilgrims, And Its Miracles ISBN 1408685418 page 38
  12. Thoms O'Brian, An Advanced Catechism Of Catholic Faith And Practice, Kessinger Publishers, 2005, ISBN 1417984473, page 151
  13. Rosemarie Scott, 2006 'Clean of Heart' ISBN 0977223450 page 63
  14. Tessa Bielecki, Mirabai Starr, 2008 Teresa of Avila: The Book of My Life ISBN 1590305736 pp 238-241
  15. Teresa of Avila, 2008 Life of St. Teresa of Jesus ISBN 1606800418 page 246
  16. Henry Theiler, 2003 Holy Water and Its Significance for Catholics ISBN 0766175537 pp 24-31
  17. Greek religion: archaic and classical, by Walter Burkert, John Raffan 1991 ISBN 0631156240 page 77
  18. Sikhism, 2004, by Geoff Teece ISBN 1583404694 page 7
  19. Hinduism, 2004, by Geoff Teece ISBN 158340466X page 22

Further reading

  • (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)

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