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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Holy Water

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In the Romish, as also in the Greek, Russian, and Oriental churches, denotes water blessed by a priest or bishop for certain religious uses. The theory of its first introduction seems to have been that water is a fitting symbol of purity, and accordingly, in most of the ancient religions, the use of lustral or purifying water not only formed part of the public worship, but also entered largely into the personal acts of sanctification prescribed to individuals. The Jewish law also prescribed this, and it was a practice held in common by many Pagan nations (compare Riddle, Christ. Ant. p. 725). The sprinkling of the hands and face with water before entering the sanctuary, still generally observed by the adherents to that law, was retained, or, no doubt, may have given rise to its adoption by the early Christian Church. But its use was certainly for a very different purpose. Thus bishop Marcellus ordered Equitius, his deacon, to sprinkle holy water, hallowed by him, in houses and churches, to exorcise devils, which is said to have been done also by pope Alexander I. "Joseph, the converted Jew, Epiphanius says, used consecrated water in exorcism. Holy water was used in all benedictions of palm and olive branches, vestments, corporals, candles, houses, herds, fields, and in private houses. By the canon law it is mingled with salt. The Council of Nantes ordered the priest before mass to sprinkle the church court and close, offering prayers for the departed, and to give water to all who asked it for their houses, food, cattle, fodder, fields, and vineyards. By the Capitulars of Charlemagne, Louis, and Lothaire, on Easter and Whitsun eves all the faithful might take, for purposes of aspersion in their houses, consecrated water before its admixture with chrism (q.v.). In monasteries, a novice carried the holy water before the cross in procession" (Walcott, Sac. Archaeol. p. 314).

In the Romish Church of today holy water is directed to be made of pure spring water, with the admixture of a little consecrated salt. This water (generally placed at the entrance of places of worship, and sanctified by a solemn benediction, prescribed in the diocesan ritual) the Romanist has come to look upon with the most superstitious regard, and it is used not merely for the sprinkling of persons on entering and leaving the church, but also in sprinkling books, bells, etc., and it is frequently taken to their homes, as having some peculiar virtue. Its use has thus become nothing more than a charm. In the Greek Church, holy water is usually consecrated by the bishop or his vicar-general on the eve of the Epiphany. No salt is employed, and they regard the use of it by the Latins as a grievous and unauthorized corruption. The Greeks perform the ceremony on January 6, the day on which they believe that Christ was baptized by John, and twice a year it is usual to drink a portion, viz. at the end of the midnight mass of Christmas and on the feast of Epiphany. In the Armenian Church, holy water is consecrated by plunging a cross into it on the day of the Epiphany, after which it is distributed among the congregation, who take it to their homes. The offerings made on this occasion form a considerable portion of the emoluments of the Armenian priesthood. On the practice of using water for baptism, (See BAPTISM), Bingham, Orig. Ecclesiastes bk. 8, ch. 3 § 67; Eadie, Eccl. Cyclop. p. 313, 658, 659; Coleman, Anc. Christianity, p. 369, 395; Chambers, Cyclop. 5, 394. For monographs, see Volbeding, Index Program. p. 142.


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Holy Water'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/h/holy-water.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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