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LITURGY Q & A: Blessing of Water Outside Mass

February 13, 2018. And More on the Kiss of Peace

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: In the Appendix II of the Roman Missal, the rubrics for the “Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling of Water” include this: “If this rite is celebrated during Mass […]” (no. 1). Does this imply that this rite could be celebrated outside Mass? The Latin of the rubric says, “Si ritus intra Missam peragitur […].” Again, this would seem to imply that the Church envisages that this rite would be celebrated extra Missam as well as intra. Do you believe it would be possible to celebrate the rite independently of Mass, in other words, as a stand-alone rite? If so, could a deacon celebrate the rite in this case? If not, can you help me understand why not? In other words, if it is only to be celebrated within Mass, why would the rubric even be necessary? It seems that the celebration of this rite would allow the use of holy water with salt in the post-conciliar liturgical use not only at Mass, but generally. — D.B., Nolensville, Tennessee

A: In order to interpret this expression I think we must first see it in its original context:

“1. On Sundays, especially in Easter Time, the blessing and sprinkling of water as a memorial of Baptism may take place from time to time in all churches and chapels, even in Masses anticipated on Saturday evenings. If this rite is celebrated during Mass, it takes the place of the usual Penitential Act at the beginning of Mass […].”

Later, when addressing the question of mixing the water with salt, the missal says:

“3. Where the circumstances of the place or the custom of the people suggest that the mixing of salt be preserved in the blessing of the water, the priest may bless salt, saying:

“We humbly ask you, almighty God: be pleased in your faithful love to + bless the salt you have created, for it was you who commanded the prophet Elisha to cast salt into water, that impure water might be purified. Grant, O Lord, we pray, that, wherever this mixture of salt and water is sprinkled, every attack of the enemy may be repulsed and your Holy Spirit may be present to keep us safe at all times. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

“Then he pours salt into the water, without saying anything.”

Here it would appear that the legislator’s aim in using the expression “if this rite is celebrated during Mass” is directly related to the omission of the penitential rite.

While it is true that the expression “within Mass” is redundant, as this is obvious from the context, I doubt very much if it has anything to do with the possibility of whether this rite is possible outside of Mass. The legislator would not use the missal to implicitly make rules for other contexts.

Indeed, confirming this interpretation we find the possibility and the rules for celebrating the rite of blessing and sprinkling of holy water outside of Mass contained in another liturgical book, the Book of Blessings.

This book contains a slightly different rite from that of the missal, and it is this rite that should be followed outside of Mass and not the rite found in the missal. To wit:

“1388. On the basis of age-old custom, water is one of the signs that the Church often uses in blessing the faithful. Holy water reminds the faithful of Christ, who is given to us as the supreme divine blessing, who called himself the living water, and who in water established baptism for our sake as the sacramental sign of the blessing that brings salvation.

“1389. The blessing and sprinkling of holy water usually takes place on Sunday, in keeping with the rite given in the Roman Missal.

“1390. But when the blessing of water takes place outside Mass, the rite given here may be used by a priest or deacon. While maintaining the structure and chief elements of the rite, the celebrant should adopt the celebration to the circumstances of the place and the people involved.

“ORDER of BLESSING

“1391. The celebrant begins with these words: ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ All make the sign of the cross and reply: ‘Amen.’

“1392. The celebrant greets those present in the following or other suitable words, taken mainly from Scripture. ‘May God, who through water and the Holy Spirit has given us a new birth in Christ, be with you all.’ All make the following or some other suitable reply. ‘And with your spirit.’

“1393. As circumstances suggest, the celebrant may prepare those present for the blessing in the following or similar words: ‘The blessing of this water reminds us of Christ, the living water, and of the sacrament of baptism, in which we were born of water and the Holy Spirit. Whenever, therefore, we are sprinkled with this holy water or use it in blessing ourselves on entering the church or at home, we thank God for his priceless gift to us and we ask for his help to keep us faithful to the sacrament we have received in faith.'”

There then follows a brief Liturgy of the Word with a wide selection of readings. Following the readings, the celebrant uses one of the following prayers of blessing:

“‘Let us pray.’ All pray briefly in silence, then with hands outstretched, the celebrant says the prayer of blessing.

“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. R/ Amen.

“1397. Or:

“Lord, holy Father, look kindly 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. R/ Amen.

“1398. Or the celebrant says:

“O God, the creator of all things, by water and the Holy Spirit you have given the universe its beauty and fashioned us in your own image. R/ Bless and purify your Church.

“O Christ the Lord, from your pierced side you gave us your sacraments as fountains of salvation. R/ Bless and purify your Church.

“O Holy Spirit, giver of life, from the baptismal font of the Church you have formed us into a new creation in the waters of rebirth. R/Bless and purify your Church.

“1399. After the prayer of blessing, the celebrant sprinkles those present with holy water, as a suitable song is sung; as circumstances suggest, he may first say the following words.

“Let this water call to mind our baptism into Christ, who has redeemed us by his death and resurrection. R/ Amen.”

Although similar in structure there are clear differences between the rites within and outside of Mass. Within Mass there is no Liturgy of the Word, as that will follow later. The prayers are also different, since those contained within the missal make explicit reference to the day being Sunday the Easter Mystery as the case may be.

For these reasons I would say that the rite found in the missal should not be used outside of Mass but rather the rite found in the Book of Blessings.

There may, however, be one exception: the blessing and use of salt. There is no mention of this rite in the Book of Blessings.

The missal, as we have seen above, mentions: “Where the circumstances of the place or the custom of the people suggest that the mixing of salt be preserved in the blessing of the water, the Priest may bless salt, saying: […].” The prayer used is not tied to the Sunday or the liturgical season.

The Book of Blessings says: “While maintaining the structure and chief elements of the rite, the celebrant should adopt the celebration to the circumstances of the place and the people involved.”

I think that this rubric would allow for the introduction of the rite of blessing and addition of salt if the circumstances or the custom of the place suggest it.

In other words, in any place where salt would be mixed with the water whenever the rite is celebrated on a Sunday within Mass, it could also be done if holy water is blessed outside of Mass.

* * *

Follow-up: Kiss of Peace

In the wake of our January 30 comments on the sign of peace an Eastern archimandrite wrote:

“While I appreciate the antiquity of the Roman rite in placing the kiss of peace shortly before Communion, I would point out a similar antiquity in the Byzantine rite’s placing the kiss of peace immediately before the creed, with the diaconal admonition: ‘Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess‘ and the people completing the sentence, ‘the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.’ The rationale is that we cannot even confess the same faith, much less ‘all partake of the one bread,’ if we are not at peace with one another. Indeed, based on Matthew 5:23-24, the better place in the Roman rite would be immediately before the Offertory or, in our case, the Great Entrance. In principle I’ve no particular objection to the Roman placing of the Pax; but from the chaos at the Pax that I’ve witnessed during Masses I’ve attended, your original correspondent does seem to have a point.”

While I am not an expert in the Eastern liturgies, and it is true that the rite of peace is seen more in the context of Matthew 5:23-24, it is also noteworthy that the Roman-rite concept of the peace coming from Christ and the altar is not absent.

In the Byzantine rite, before sharing the sign of peace with any concelebrants and beginning the creed, the priest first kisses the paten, the chalice and the altar. Concelebrating priests give one another the kiss of peace by kissing the shoulder and saying, “Let Christ be among us,” then responding, “He both is and will be.”

Placing the kiss of peace after the offertory is also found in other Eastern liturgies. For example, the East Syrian tradition of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana (Mass) uses the very ancient anaphora of Addai and Mari, and places the kiss of peace at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer.

Following a brief introductory prayer which the priest recites with hands joined and bowed head, he kisses the altar, crosses his hands over his chest and prays:

“We offer you praise and honor, worship and thanksgiving [he crosses himself] now always and forever. R/ Amen.”

He blesses the people, saying: “Peace be with you.” Response: “And with your Spirit.”

Following this, one of the deacons receives the sign of peace from the celebrant and offers peace to the other deacons and the assembly. The deacon says:

“My brothers and sisters, give peace to one another in the love of Christ.”

The point is, I believe, that none of the venerable rites of the Church see the exchange of the sign of peace in merely human terms but as a gift that comes from Christ.

The chaos that some of our readers have occasionally observed in the Roman rite stems, I suggest, from the faithful’s having lost sight of this essential point: that the peace we exchange is fundamentally Christ’s gift and a fruit of his sacrifice.