Friday, February 13, 2009

13, February 13, 2009

I believe in getting into hot water, it keeps you clean
G.K. Chesterton

As we approach another Lenton journey, I have been asked by some who come to me for all things Catholic about why some parishes empty the Holy Water font during Lent. It occurred to me that you might enjoy the answer I have given. Please note, that if your parish is doing this practice incorrectly that an appeal in a loving and kind manner is always the Catholic way. God bless as you prepare your hearts for the many comings of Christ that we should find ourselves experiencing in these wonderful days of metanoia and penance.


Holy Water Fonts and Lent

One practice that has become somewhat popular is to remove the water from the font or cover the font completely during the Lenten season. While this may be a dramatic sign of thirsting and dryness, this practice does not in fact support one of the main themes of Lent:

Lent is marked by two themes, the baptismal and the penitential. By recalling or preparing for baptism and by repentance, this season disposes the faithful…to celebrate the paschal mystery. The baptismal and penitential aspects of Lent are to be given greater prominence in both the liturgy and liturgical catechesis. Hence, more use is to be made of the baptismal features proper to the Lenten liturgy. (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 109)

If your parish is considering emptying your baptismal font and holy water stoops for the season of Lent, respectfully ask them stop.

We aren’t fasting from water

In light of CSL’s statement and encouraged by the Congregation for Divine Worship (see below), removing water from the font or preventing the faithful from touching the water in the font would be detrimental to the sign of baptism that is a focus of Lent. The baptized remain a baptized people throughout all of Lent. We do not pretend to be unbaptized as though we were catechumens, just as we do not pretend that Christ is not risen during Holy Thursday or Good Friday. Our Lenten practices should more explicitly emphasize our baptism so that we can recognize those areas in our lives when we are not living out the promises of that baptism. What the faithful should be hungering and thirsting for is not the symbol of their baptism but rather a world in which the faithful living out of that baptism is evident. For the catechumens, their hunger for baptism may even be heightened when there are full fonts of water, just as a person who fasts is more aware of their hunger when food is placed before them.

It would be appropriate, as is our Western Church’s tradition, to remove the water from the font after the Holy Thursday celebration, keep it empty during Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and fill it with new water at the Easter Vigil. One possible Lenten option is to use a smaller piece of purple fabric that does not fully cover the font but adds some color to the area. In this way, the Lenten color signifies the season while the water in the font is still accessible as a reminder of baptism for the faithful and a sign of God’s promise for the elect.

While the holy water fonts are emptied from the Mass of the Lord's Supper until they are refilled with water blessed at the Easter Vigil, they should not be emptied prior to Holy Thursday. The following letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments rejects this practice. Note the strong bias (reason 1) against inventing practices not called for in the liturgical law. Forcibly rejected is the argument used by some to justify their abuses that "It is not forbidden, so I can do it." In reality, no one may do in that liturgy that which is not prescribed by the Church, specifically the Apostolic See, who alone has authority over it (SC 22, canon 838.


Prot. N. 569/00/L Dear Father:

March 14, 2000

This Congregation for Divine Worship has received your letter sent by fax in which you ask whether it is in accord with liturgical law to remove the Holy Water from the fonts for the duration of the season of Lent.

This Dicastery is able to respond that the removing of Holy Water from the fonts during the season of Lent is not permitted, in particular, for two reasons:

1. The liturgical legislation in force does not foresee this innovation, which in addition to being praeter legem is contrary to a balanced understanding of the season of Lent, which though truly being a season of penance, is also a season rich in the symbolism of water and baptism, constantly evoked in liturgical texts.

2. The encouragement of the Church that the faithful avail themselves frequently of the [sic] of her sacraments and sacramentals is to be understood to apply also to the season of Lent. The "fast" and "abstinence" which the faithful embrace in this season does not extend to abstaining from the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church. The practice of the Church has been to empty the Holy Water fonts on the days of the Sacred Triduum in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated (i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday).

Hoping that this resolves the question and with every good wish and kind regard, I am,

Sincerely yours in Christ, [signed]

Mons. Mario Marini Undersecretary
Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL

1 comment:

Wade Lair said...

What a wonderful post Daniel! This is something too often missed in Catechesis - that Baptism is an indelible mark on the soul. We have the holy water in the font to make sure we recall our Baptismal promises. Because this mark our God has left on us cannot be removed, even after a life of sin and death, it would make abosolutely no sense to remove this reminder for something as relatively trivial as Lent. Our God loves us all, forever, and nothing can take that away from us, in order to escape the love of God, we have to deny it completely, God never ever will do this on his own motives. How beautiful is that? There is always another entrace to the kingdom of God. The converse of this issue is exactly what the church teaches: Lent is a time to reflect on the Bapistmal promises. We are called to Penance, which is basically a way of self-examination that is, I am a baptised child of God - is my life in order from God's point of view? Because of our place in the world we have received the obligation to act as His children. In Lent we are called to thirst for the things of God, just as the earth is thirsting for new rain to begin the growing season, and the Psalm reminds us, "As the deer pants for water, so does my soul for you." You have a wonderful call to educate people and show them the way, thank you for sharing your gifts!