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Holy Water in the Time of Coronavirus: Old and New Compared

Holy water is an important part of our family’s life. It is rare that someone goes to bed at night or starts his day in our house without holy water on his forehead. So this past summer, I had a priest bless water using the old rite formula for “The Blessing of Water.” To be honest, I didn’t really review the prayers in English beforehand, so I didn’t know what the prayers said. The only thing I knew was that they were powerful prayers that made a powerful sacramental, so I wanted it.

My family has a propensity to get seriously ill. We’ve had multiple trips to the emergency room with sick kids and two helicopter flights to Children’s. Last winter, in usual fashion, my family got hit pretty hard with illness. Influenza A ravaged our home, I got the stomach flu three times, and three of my children got it once. It seemed as though we were always sick.

Bracing ourselves for another sickness-filled winter, we pleaded with God to spare us. But sure enough, Thanksgiving weekend, we got Influenza B mixed with some strange cold-thing that never seemed to go away. It was nasty — so nasty that it put my eldest son in the emergency room (but, thanks be to God, he was cured with a doctor-verified miracle!). “Could this meet our quota this winter?” we asked God.

So far, He’s pretty much answered that prayer.

I’ve been continually thanking Him for not giving us a winter like last winter, and then, about two weeks ago, it occurred to me that we had been using holy water blessed in the old rite by the priest this past summer. I grabbed my Parish Ritual and looked at the prayers in English, and then it all clicked: there is a total of about ten references to bodily health within the rite! Not only does this holy water make demons flee, but it makes disease flee as well!

The Blessing for Holy Water Outside of Mass in the Book of Blessings has no real mention of this. Compare the “new rite” blessing with the “old rite” blessing, and you’ll see the drastic difference.

* * *

New Rite: Blessing of Holy Water Outside of Mass (Book of Blessings)

After some introductory prayers, a mini-homily, and some reading of Scripture, we find three options for blessings. Here is the first option:

“Blessed are you, Lord, all-powerful God, who in Christ, the living water of salvation, blessed and transformed us. Grant that when we are sprinkled with this water or make use of it, we will be refreshed inwardly by the power of the Holy Spirit and continue to walk in the new life we received at Baptism. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

And the second:

“Lord, Holy Father, look with kindness on your children redeemed by your Son and born to a new life by water and the Holy Spirit. Grant that those who are sprinkled with this water may be renewed in body and spirit and may make a pure offering of their service to you. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

And the third:

“O God, the Creator of all things, by water and the Holy Spirit You have given the universe its beauty and fashioned us in Your own image.
R. Bless and purify Your Church.
O Christ the Lord, from Your pierced side You gave us Your Sacraments as fountains of salvation.
R. Bless and purify Your Church.
O Holy Spirit, giver of life, from the baptismal font of the Church You have formed us into a new creation in the waters of rebirth.
R. Bless and purify Your Church.”

Then, the priest is supposed to sprinkle those present with the water, sing a song, and if he wants to before sprinkling, say:

“Let this water call to mind our baptism into Christ, Who has redeemed us by His death and resurrection.”

Old Rite: The Blessing of Holy Water (Rituale Romanum)

After the standard “Our help is in the Name of the Lord…” the priest exorcizes salt (if not done already):

[NB: Any reference to health of body will be italicized for emphasis]

“Creature of salt, I exorcise you by the living (+) God, by the true (+) God, by the holy (+) God, who through Eliseus the prophet commanded you to be cast into the water and to cure its unfruitfulness. Be made a salt purified for the health of those who believe. Be health of soul and body for all who receive you. May every apparition, wickedness, and cunning of the devil, every unclean spirit depart from wherever you are sprinkled, adjured by Him Who is to come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Amen.”

Then he blesses the salt:

“Let us pray. Almighty everlasting God, humbly we implore your boundless kindness mercifully to bless (+) this creature of salt which you have given for mankind’s use. May it be health of mind and body for all who use it. May whatever is touched or sprinkled with it be free of all uncleanness and every attack of spiritual evil. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

Then he exorcizes the water:

“Creature of water, I exorcise you in the name of God (+) the Father almighty, and in the name of Jesus (+) Christ, His Son, Our Lord, and in the power of the Holy (+) Spirit, that you may be water purified to escape all the strength of the enemy and able to root out and displace the enemy himself with his apostate angels, through the power of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is to come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Amen.”

Then he blesses the water:

“Let us pray. O God, for man’s salvation You have established the greatest mysteries in the substance of water, be favorable to our petitions and pour out the power of Your blessing (+) upon this element prepared by many purifications. May this Your creature, which serves Your mysteries, receive the efficacy of divine grace to expel devils and banish disease. In the homes of the faithful and in all other places may anything sprinkled with this water be free from every uncleanness and safe from harm. Let no pestilent spirit or corrupting air dwell therein. May all the hidden snares of the enemy depart. By the sprinkling of this water may anything hostile to the safety and peace of those who dwell therein be banished. And may the well being sought by the invocation of Your Holy Name be protected from all attack. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Then, following the example of Elisha in 2 Kings 2:19–22, the priest sprinkles the blessed salt in the shape of a cross into the holy water:

“May this salt and water be mingled in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, (+) and of the Holy Spirit.”

Then he says “The Lord be with you…” and says another prayer over the mixture of blessed salt and holy water:

“O God, author of unconquered strength and King of an unconquerable empire, forever the glorious conqueror, You restrain the power of the devil, overcome the cruelty of the roaring enemy, attack all hostile wickedness with power. Fearful and humble, we beg and beseech You, Lord, look upon this creature of salt and water with kindness, honor it and make it holy with the dew of Your goodness. Wherever it is sprinkled, may every infection of the unclean spirit cease through the invocation of Your Holy Name, may the terror of the poisonous serpent be driven out, and may the presence of the Holy Spirit be everywhere with us who ask Your mercy. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever, and ever. Amen.”

Then he says again “Our help…” and “The Lord be with you…” and one final prayer:

“Let us pray. O God, by Whose word all things are made holy, pour forth Your blessing upon (+) this creature (these creatures). Grant that whoever makes use of it (them) in accordance with Your law and Your will and with thanksgiving may receive, through the invocation of Your Holy Name, health of body and protection of soul from Your providence. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

* * *

Without getting into the theology of blessings, it is pretty obvious that these two blessings are different. The intention of the newer blessing is a bit vague: it wants to refresh or renew us. The older blessing, on the other hand, knows exactly what it wants to do: cast out demons and disease.

Holy water blessed in the old rite can apparently accomplish not only what the blessing says it can accomplish, but also the “inward refreshing” that the newer rite speaks of. This is testified by St. Teresa of Avila (who would have used water blessed with a rite the same as if not similar to the one found in the Rituale Romanum):

In my experience, there is nothing more frightening to demons than holy water. It makes them run away and never come back…Holy water must be incredibly potent. It has a powerfully refreshing quality that I could never adequately describe. … Everything that is blessed is important, but I think there must be something especially sacred about the prayer that so vastly differentiates ordinary water from water that is blessed. [1]

She further recounts how, when being physically and interiorly tormented by a demon, holy water cast the demon out, and “[i]n that moment, all the sickness left [her], as if someone had scooped it out of [her] by hand” [2].

When it really comes down to it, either the words said in a blessing matter or they don’t. If they don’t matter, then any impromptu blessing by a priest over water will do. We’re not sure what the effect would be, but it would be “blessed.” If words do matter, however, then why not use a blessing that seeks to “expel devils and banish disease”?

In this time of fear and panic, the faithful should be able to rely upon the Church for “health of body and protection of soul” from the sacramentals she gives us through Divine Providence. So during this pandemic, as we run to get our hand sanitizer and cover our mouth whenever we cough, let us also run to get our “old rite” holy water and cover ourselves and our family members whenever we go to sleep and wake up. Both of these things will help to “banish disease” from our midst.


[1] Teresa of Avila, The Book of My Life, translated by Mirabai Starr, Boston: New Seeds Books, 2007, 239.

[2] Ibid.

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