From the Pastor: Epiphany Holy Water Blessing Ceremony
Last week I wrote a little about the upcoming Epiphany Water blessing and that this year was the first time we would be able to use the complete ceremony. I wasn’t sure how many people would come for it but I figured that, along with the choir, maybe a dozen people would make the trek. In case I was off by a lot, I printed out 25 copies of the basic blessing prayers in English for them to have. We set up 4 eight-foot tables across the front of the church outside of the altar rail and started labeling and opening up 6 cases of water bottles which I planned on blessing to give out this weekend to those who could not make it on Epiphany Eve. Some hearty helpers came in early and it is a good thing they did! People started coming in with salt (a necessary component of Holy Water in the old Rite) and water. Lots of it. We printed out 25 more copies of the previously mentioned prayers and it still seemed that less than half the people got one. All four tables were soon full and the large jugs underneath the tables had to share space with the continued “stream” of water being brought in. Most people were a bit taken back by the need to take the lids off the water, as they didn’t realize that exorcized and blessed salt had to be added to the freshly exorcized and blessed water.
Most of the time when people get their water blessed by a priest, he simply says a quick prayer over the container, and off they go. The new Rites, even when they are followed to a “t” are sorely lacking compared to the ancient Rites, as so much was simply discarded as “superfluous” and “unnecessary”. As for the Epiphany Eve blessing of the Holy Water, it is nowhere to be found in the new books. To drive this point home, let me show you what the prayer of blessing is in the new Rite “Book of Blessings.” As in most new Rite blessings, the priest “may” say a bunch of non-blessing stuff as written in the book or using “similar words” and perhaps read a few lines from Scripture, with a choice of eight passages being suggested. This part, of course, is optional. Then the prayer of blessing is written for him to say with “hands outstretched.” “Blessed are you, Lord, all-powerful God, who in Christ, the living water of salvation, blessed and transformed us. Grant that, when we are sprinkled with this water or make use of it, we will be refreshed inwardly by the power of the Holy Spirit and continue to walk in the new life we received at baptism. We ask this through Christ our Lord.” There is, of course, a second optional prayer, because, well, there always must be options! “Lord, holy Father, look with kindness on your children, redeemed by your Son and born to a new life by water and the Holy Spirit. Grant that those who are sprinkled with this water may be renewed in body and spirit and may make a pure offering of their service to you. We ask this through Christ our Lord.” Note that in reciting neither of these prayers does the priest make the sign of the cross, nor does he mention driving away demons (neither from the water nor with the water!), or sanctifying the persons, places, and things that will be sprinkled with the water. In fact, neither prayer of blessing even (read them again if you cannot believe this!) asks God to exorcize, sanctify, or bless the water! Need I mention that there is no mention of salt, either? It is pretty apparent even to newly ordained priests that they are better off “winging it” and making up their own prayer if they want the water to receive any sort of blessing at all.
Granted, the Epiphany Eve blessing of Holy Water is much more complex than the normal old Rite blessing of Holy Water, but even in the “normal” old blessing the priest not only exorcizes and blesses both salt and water, he also prays extra prayers while mixing them together, and, just to make sure there is no doubt about what he was doing, prays yet another prayer after the mixing is done. All of the prayers are explicit in stating what is being done and the sign of the cross is made multiple times during all of it. But on this one night, the evening before Epiphany, the old Rite adds even more solemnity to the blessing prayers. We started out with the chanting of the Litany of Saints, asking prayers of individual Saints (ora pro nobis) and multiple or groups of Saints (orate pro nobis). Then came my first beseeching of God that He would ✠ bless and ✠ sanctify the water, then we chanted the Agnus Dei, Kyrie, Pater Noster, and three Psalms. Then came the powerful exorcism prayer I showed you last week, followed by the Magnificat. Only after all of this did I pray the multiple “normal” exorcism and blessing prayers. The schola sang the Te Deum, a traditional hymn praising God with joy and thanksgiving. Oh, and a final prayer thanking God for granting all of the petitions for which we had asked. It took just over an hour, about twice what I expected and half of what I feared! Now that we have done this once in all its splendor, I believe that we may need a larger church to accommodate everybody that will participate next year!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka