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Liturgical Use of Water

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Besides the holy water which is used by the Church in so many of her rites of blessing, and besides the water employed in the washing of feet and hands and in the baptismal font, water has its recognized place in the ritual of every Mass and in a certain number of pontifical and extraordinary offices which include some form of washing.

With regard to the water mingled with the wine in the Mass, the Fathers from the earliest times have tried to find reasons why the Church uses a mixed chalice though the Gospel narrative implies that Christ consecrated pure wine. St. Cyprian (Ep. lxiii, 13) discussing this question sees an analogy to the union of Christ with His faithful people, but, as the Council of Trent points out (Sess. XXII, De Missa, vii), there is besides this a reference to the flowing of blood and water from Christ's side, from which the Church, the dispensatrix of the sacraments, was formed, like a new Eve from the side of the new Adam. It was probably in allusion to the former symbolism (i.e. the union of the people with Christ) that the earlier "Ordines romani" directed the choir (schola cantorum) to present water at the Offertory of the Mass. We may note also that it has long been the practice of the Greek Orthodox Church to pour a little hot water into the chalice immediately before the Communion, and though there seems no reliable evidence for any such custom in the early centuries, the absence of this usage among the Latins is made by the Greeks a serious ground of reproach. In the purification of the chalice, water is again used in the second of the ablutions, but the present practice according to which the ablution of wine and water is drunk by the priest did not always obtain in the Middle Ages. On the other hand there was a very general custom of providing water, or wine and water, for the communicants to drink as a "purification" after Communion. In fact this is prescribed in the existing rubrics of the Missal (Rit. ser., X, 6), though the "Caeremoniale episcoporum" on Easter Day speaks of a purification of wine alone. Further, a strictly liturgical use of water is also made in such offices as the laying of the foundation stone of a church and the consecration of a cemetery, though here the blessing consists only of the five prayers commonly used for making ordinary holy water. In the blessing of a bell, however, and in the dedication of a church special features occur. In the case of the bell an entirely new prayer, "Benedic, Domine, hanc aquam", is inserted, and with the water thus consecrated the bell is afterwards completely washed inside and out. For the consecration of a church a special lustral water is prepared after the bishop has entered the building, and the various ingredients, viz. salt, water, ashes, and wine, before being mixed together, are blessed with prayers which differ entirely from those employed in the case of holy water for common use. This lustral water is sprinkled while the bishop seven times makes the circuit of the altar and three times that of the interior of the church. The rite of washing the high altar on Maundy Thursday is performed in the Roman basilicas and some other churches with a certain solemnity, and was in old times an even more noteworthy function than at present. For this purpose wine and sometimes rose water were employed as well as the pure element. Again at the opening of the holy doors in the Roman basilicas when the year of jubilee begins, the penitentiaries, provided with sponges and towels, wash and wipe the threshold, after the previously obstructed door has been unwalled. Less strictly liturgical is the use of water which is blessed with various special formulae for devotional purposes. The official "Rituale romanum" contains a number of such blessings, for example "Modus benedicendi aquam" with other similar formulae in honour of St. Adelhaid, St. Willibrord, St. Vincent Ferrer etc., particularly. The purpose of this is generally medicinal and there is in particular a long blessing of the "water of St. Hubert" against the bite of a mad dog.


The reader may be referred to the books mentioned in the article HOLY WATER; cf. Also SCHROD in Kirchenlexikon, s.v. Weihwasser; THALHOFER, Liturgik (Freiburg, 1883-93); and for the Middle Ages especially FRANZ, Die kirchlichen Benediktionem (Freiburg, 1909). See further the commentaries of CATALANI, Pontificale Romanum (Paris, 1850); and Rituale Romanum (Rome, 1757); and THURSTON, The Laity and the Unconsecrated Chalice in The Month (October, 1911).

About this page

APA citation. Thurston, H. (1912). Liturgical Use of Water. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Thurston, Herbert. "Liturgical Use of Water." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. In Thanksgiving for the Water of Life.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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