At the Easter Vigil the priest solemnly blesses the baptismal font where the catechumens (unbaptized adults who want to be admitted into the Catholic Church) are baptized. It is a rather long blessing that recalls the many saving acts of God that were accomplished through water.
Why do Catholics bless themselves with holy water when entering a church?
The blessing starts at the very beginning of creation and goes all the way to the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. Here is the first part of the blessing:
O God, whose spirit in the first moments of the world’s creation hovered over the waters, so that the very substance of water would even then take to itself the power to sanctify;O God, who by the outpouring of the flood foreshadowed regeneration, so that from the mystery of one and the same element of water would come an end to vice and a beginning of virtue;O God, who caused the children of Abraham to pass dry-shod through the Red Sea, so that the chosen people, set free from slavery to Pharaoh, would prefigure the people of the baptized;
The blessing concludes with a reference to the baptisms that will occur in this font.
May the power of the Holy Spirit, O Lord, we pray, come down through your Son into the fullness of this font,so that all who have been buried with Christ by Baptism into death may rise again to life with him.
It is a powerful prayer, but the graces are not only reserved for those to be baptized. It is an ancient custom for priests to bless, in addition to the baptismal font, several gallons of water to be distributed to the faithful. Often parishes have holy water bottles available to fill up and take home.
Holy water is a special sacramental in the Church with great importance in the spiritual realm. Saint Teresa of Avila recalls in her autobiography the power she experienced when using holy water to expel demons.
I have found by experience that there is nothing from which the devils fly more quickly than from holy water. They also fly from the cross, but they return almost immediately. Certainly, the power of holy water must be great; for my part, my soul feels particular comfort in taking it, and very generally a refreshment and interior delight which I cannot express.
Water is a momentous force in salvation history and is meant to remind us of the need to spiritually cleanse ourselves of sin. This is why holy water is used throughout the Easter season, especially on Sundays when the priest sprinkles the people with that same Easter water. As we often sing while the priest blesses us with water, “Sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall be cleansed; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”
So don’t forget the next time you go to church during the Easter season to take home some Easter water!