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Priests Who Want Holy Water Must Use the ‘Rituale’—Despite Episcopal Prohibition

As is well known by now, the Responsa ad Dubia from the Congregation for Divine Worship, published on December 18, 2021, try to make the continued use of the Rituale Romanum contingent on episcopal permission. This is but one of many falsehoods contained in the document, which, in addition, violates the rights of bishops on numerous points of canon law. Bishops who truly care for the good of their presbyterate and people will either simply not disturb the priests who already use the great Rituale Romanum, or will—if they are legalistic in mentality—freely grant them the supposed “permission” required to use it.

However, disturbing reports are already coming in from dioceses where bishops are forbidding, or threatening to forbid, their clergy any use of the Rituale Romanum. This is often accompanied by a decision that a local personal parish, run by the FSSP or the ICKSP, will become the solitary place in the diocese where the Rituale is still allowed to be used. In dioceses where several or even dozens of parish priests have been using the Rituale for years, this creates an absolute pastoral nightmare, especially now that the more educated among the faithful are aware of the vast differences between the old and new rites across the board. How can a single personal parish possibly be expected to handle all of the requests for blessings and sacraments that will now be directed exclusively to them? This consideration alone should prompt a bishop to hesitate before restricting and ghettoizing.

The prohibition of the Rituale to diocesan clergy is problematic on numerous points, but here I wish to focus on one very particular problem: holy water.

The Rituale Romanum authoritatively blesses objects, that is, it calls upon God in the name of Jesus Christ to bless the object itself, to make it holy, and thereby to help sanctify those who make use of it and to forcibly expel evils. With more important blessings, and above all that of water, the priest first exorcises the element in the name of Jesus in order to remove it totally from the domain of the Prince of this world (cf. Jn 12:31, Eph 2:2, 2 Cor 4:4) and to give it a sacred status and use. The Rituale does the same with the baptism of infants and adults: they are duly and properly exorcised prior to their incorporation into Christ as members of His Mystical Body.

The new rite of baptism has no proper exorcism,[1] and the new “blessing” of holy water doesn’t even pretend to do an exorcism because the new theology doesn’t believe that the devil has any power over the world after Christ has come; all things are already fine (the theory of the “anonymous Christian” slots in nicely here), and what we do with our rituals is a form of “salvation theater” to manifest to ourselves what we believe has already happened—not what needs to happen here and now to separate, sacralize, and sanctify fallen reality.[2]

Accordingly, the new “blessing” of holy water doesn’t actually bless the water itself; it simply blesses those who will use the water. As Fr. Zuhlsdorf has persistently pointed out many times over the years at his blog, when you use the Book of Blessings to “bless” holy water, you don’t end up with blessed water; the water’s just the same as it was before, because God was never asked, by His sanctifying power, to give it a new relation to Himself and thus a new objective power to affect other things—especially demons.

Let’s have a look at some excerpts from the two books, just to drive home the point. Here’s what the old prayers of exorcising and blessing water look like:

O water, creature of God, 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. I exorcise you so that you may put to flight all the power of the enemy, and be able to root out and supplant that enemy with his apostate angels, through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire….

May this, your creature, become an agent of divine grace in the service of your mysteries, to drive away evil spirits and dispel sickness… May the wiles of the lurking enemy prove of no avail. Let whatever might menace the safety and peace of those who live here be put to flight by the sprinkling of this water, so that the health obtained by calling upon your Holy Name, may be made secure against all attack….

Humbly and fearfully do we pray to you, O Lord, and we ask you to look with favor on this salt and water which you created. Shine on it with the light of your kindness. Sanctify it by the dew of your love, so that, through the invocation of your Holy Name, wherever this water and salt is sprinkled, it may turn aside every attack of the unclean spirit, and dispel the terrors of the poisonous serpent.

Now that’s how the Catholic Church used to pray—and still does, where the Faith survives. The language of the old prayers, which is efficacious by the power of Christ and His Church, makes it perfectly clear why St. Teresa of Avila could write in her Autobiography: “From long experience I have learned that there is nothing like holy water to put devils to flight and prevent them from coming back again. They also flee from the Cross, but return; so holy water must have great virtue.”

In painful and scandalous contrast, the new rite reads like this:

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… (etc.)

Nowhere is there an actual blessing of the water.[3]

Consequently, most Catholic churches for the past fifty years have welcomed the faithful with the ecclesiastical equivalent of birdbaths. You dip your hand into dihydrogen monoxide with germs. And while there’s nothing wrong with playing in water, as children are wont to do, it doesn’t carry any of the demon-dispelling, passion-quelling, venial-sin-remitting power that the Church attributes to the potent sacramental of holy water. No wonder people raised on such ersatz came up with ideas like putting sand in the stoops for Lent, or leaving them empty during Coronatide.

One of the most remarkable moments of my life as a liturgist was when I sat in the audience at the 2019 Sacred Liturgy Conference in Spokane, Washington, listening to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone deliver a lecture entitled “What Makes Water Holy? Reflections on the Rites for the Blessing of Holy Water.” The text has been removed from the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s website, where it used to be located, but fortunately I downloaded it and now make it available here.[4] The talk is remarkable because His Excellency, unlike most prelates, doesn’t beat around the bush, hemming and hawing: he simply comes right out and says the same thing as van Slyke, Lang, Zuhlsdorf, and others, namely: the new blessing of water doesn’t make water holy, while the old one—the one in the Rituale Romanum—does.

Where does that leave us? The conclusion should be obvious. If a priest wishes to prepare holy water for his own use and for the benefit of his people, as the Church has always done in her implacable warfare against the Evil One until the end of time, he must bless it with the Rituale Romanum. There is no other way.

What, then, of the question of “obedience”? Ah, the virtue the enemies of Christ love to abuse for their own purposes, twisting and defiling it to suit their wicked agendas! Here is where we need the “supernatural common sense” called the sensus fidelium.

Our Lord Jesus Christ could never wish His clergy and faithful to be deprived of the powerful weapon and consolation of holy water. Neither could Holy Mother Church, His immaculate Bride, who wills what He wills. It could only be the devil who would want to see holy water disappear from our churches, rectories, and homes, as it gives him more freedom to prowl about the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Therefore, any prohibition on the blessing of holy water can never have its origin from God or the Church, but only from the devil.

Priests have a grave obligation, in conscience, to obey God and the Church and to seek the salvation of souls and their liberation from the Evil One. They will therefore know what to do in such alarming circumstances: if they cannot bless holy water from the Rituale in public, they will do so in private. They will never deprive themselves or their people of this sacramental. And they will avoid altogether the “Book of Blessings”—a wretched, ineffective substitute for the real tools of the trade.

Addendum (2/1/22): In my article I stated that “he [Archbishop Cordileone] simply comes right out and says [in his lecture] the same thing as van Slyke, Lang, Zuhlsdorf, and others, namely: the new blessing of water doesn’t make water holy, while the old one—the one in the
Rituale Romanum—does.” This is not quite fair as stated. It is I who am concluding, on the basis of his argument, that the new rite of “blessing” does not yield holy water, but the Archbishop himself does not state this in so many words. He also notes that the (very rarely used) Asperges blessing in the new missal does in fact state that the water is the object of the blessing, even if the Book of Blessings definitely does not say this. I stand by my position that it was wrong and harmful for churchmen to have abolished the traditional blessing of holy water and that it remains manifestly the best way to bless water, probably the only way of which one can be absolutely certain that the object is indeed blessed and prepared for all the uses for which Holy Mother Church intends it. — Dr. Kwasniewski


Photo credit: Cathopic.

[1] The Dave Armstrongs of the world will pull out their hair and quote the new rite of baptism’s “exorcism,” as wimpy as it is; but that is because they have not done the heavy lifting required to see that its neo-exorcism reflects a wholly different (in fact, Rahnerian) theology, as Thomas Pink demonstrates in his ground-breaking study “Vatican II and Crisis in the Theology of Baptism,” published in three parts at The Josias, and ranking as one of the ten most important pieces I have ever read on the shift from pre-Vatican II to post-Vatican II theologies.

[2] The denial of a difference between “sacred” and “profane,” a commonplace in contemporary sacramental and liturgical theology, is pertinent here as well. For the various claims in this and surrounding paragraphs, see, in addition to Pink, the authoritative studies by van Slyke and Fr. Lang: Dr. Daniel G. van Slyke, “The Order for Blessing Water: Past and Present,” Antiphon 8:2 (2003), 12–23 (which may also be found in U. Michael Lang, ed., The Fullness of Divine Worship: The Sacred Liturgy and Its Renewal [Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2018], 169–95) and U. Michael Lang, “Theologies of Blessing: Origins and Characteristics of De benedictionibus (1984),” Antiphon 15:1 (2011), 27–46.

[3] For those who wish to do a deep dive, Fr. Z offers a side-by-side comparison of the old and new rites; something similar is done in this article at OnePeterFive. Reading one or the other of these comparisons is so revealing of the dastardly work of the liturgical reformers that it will forever change your way of thinking.

[4] The video of the talk is still available (for now) at YouTube here.

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