Your friend comes with you into a Catholic church, sees you dip your fingers into the holy water, and asks you "why did you do that?"

What do you say?

Water is mentioned many times in the Old Testament. The Book of Ezekiel describes the river which flowed out from under the threshold of the Temple and eastwards, and where it flowed it brought life and fruitfulness. (Ezekiel 47:1-12) Earlier, Ezekiel gives God's message: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you." (Ezekiel 36:25)

Through Isaiah God instructs the people to repent saying, "Wash, make yourselves clean." (1:16) These words point to the Sacrament of Baptism, and the forgiveness of sins. From the sacrament of Baptism there developed the sacramental of holy water. Near the time of the Apostles, Christians took water that had been used for Baptism, carrying it home in any containers they could find. They used it to sprinkle their homes, themselves, their fields and animals. Quickly they noticed the blessings that followed. After that, there were blessings of water apart from Baptism, but they were still seen as a reminder of the grace of Baptism.

An early blessing of water and oil from the fourth century A.D. reads: "We bless these creatures in the Name of Jesus Christ, Thy only Son; we invoke upon this water and this oil the Name of Him Who suffered, Who was crucified, Who arose from the dead, and Who sits at the right of the Uncreated. Grant unto these creatures the power to heal:  may all fevers, every evil spirit, and all maladies be put to flight by him who either drinks these beverages or is anointed with them, and may they be a remedy in the Name of Jesus Christ, Thy only Son." (Pontifical of Serapion of Thmuis)

Water was blessed and used at the beginning of Sunday Mass as it still done at the Easter Vigil and as may be done by the priest on any Sunday of the year. The blessing used now says: "Lord, God Almighty, creator of all life, of body and soul, we ask you to bless this water; as we use it in faith forgive our sins and save us from all illness and the power of evil. Lord, in your mercy give us living water, always springing up as a fountain of salvation; free us, body and soul, from every danger, and admit us to your presence in purity of heart."

In the 800s, Pope Leo 1V ordered that each priest bless water every Sunday in his own church and sprinkle the people with it, Hincmar of Reims gave directions as follows:
"Every Sunday, before the celebration of Mass, the priest shall bless water in his church, and, for this holy purpose, he shall use a clean and suitable vessel. The people, when entering the church, are to be sprinkled with this water, and those who so desire may carry some away in clean vessels so as to sprinkle their houses, fields, vineyards, and cattle, and the provender with which these last are fed, as also to throw over their own food."

St. Teresa of Avila wrote about this power of holy water: "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. For my own part, whenever I take it, my soul feels a particular and most notable consolation."

Some ways Catholics use holy water include: taking it when travelling, to bless the motel or hotel and luggage, sprinkling the car before a trip, keeping some at the front door to use on coming in and going out, using it before an exam, blessing the sick, putting it on a letter, (one mother sprinkled the letters she sent to her daughter in prison) sprinkling around the house or property when there is danger from storms or fire. A grandmother, alone when her husband and son were fighting fires sprinkled the full hayshed and the fire stopped right there so that the shed and home were saved, blessing a workplace, class room etc. blessing the sick and dying and their room, sprinkling the graves of loved ones in a cemetery, together with the priestly blessings, these uses of holy water are a powerful prayer for Divine protection and fruitfulness.

So, get a bottle and fill it up at the Church. Ask your priest if you can keep some of the water from the baptism of your children. Place a holy water font at the door of your home, and as you use the holy water, renew your baptismal promises to know, love and serve God, and ask Him to keep you free from sin and to give you His grace.

Source: Catholic Contact magazine.