Water plays an important symbolic role in Catholicism. Catholics dip their fingers in holy water before celebrating the Mass, water is poured over a baby's head during the baptism ceremony and priests dip their fingers in holy water before serving the Blessed Sacrament. The use of water in baptism and during the liturgy has a symbolic meaning for Catholics, linking them to the grace and love of God. Water also signifies purification and cleansing.
The water used in baptismal ceremonies contains a mixture of olive oil and balsam, together with the "oil of catechumens," usually olive oil that has been blessed by a bishop at a Mass during the Passion Week. Catholics compare the waters of natural birth, which bring a newborn into the world, with the waters of baptism, which bring the believer into a new life with God. Through baptism, Catholics teach that the believer has God living within him and has received the Holy Spirit.
Upon entry into the church, Catholics dip their fingers in holy water, found in a bowl attached to the wall, and make a sign of the cross on themselves. The act is done in preparation for worship and is believed to bring spiritual cleansing. The act also reminds worshipers of the importance of baptism, God's forgiveness, his protection and care, and the gift of eternal life.
Water Mixed With Wine
During Mass, at the time when the Eucharist gifts -- the two elements that will become the body and blood of Christ -- are brought to the altar, the priest makes offertory prayers. The priest pours wine and a few drops of water into the chalice, saying "By the mystery of this water." The water in the chalice represents the water that flowed from Christ's side during the crucifixion; the wine represents his blood. The use of a mixture of water and wine symbolizes the two natures of Christ -- human and divine.
After holding up the chalice and offering a prayer, the priest or deacon washes his hands -- the lavabo -- to prepare to hold the Eucharist. The washing is carried out by a server who pours water over the priest or deacon's hands. The lavabo symbolizes purification and prepares the priest or deacon to offer the sacraments, ending with the prayer, "Pray . . . that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father."
- Catholic Culture: Catechism of the Catholic Church
- Link to Liturgy:Lesson - The Order of the Mass, The Liturgy of the Eucharist [Offertory]
- St. Joseph Catholic Church: Liturgical Minute 16, Holy Water
- St. Mary's Catholic Parish: Symbols in the Catholic Church and Their Meaning
- Archdiocese of Washington: The Mass in Slow Motion - The Offertory
- Catholic News Agency: The Liturgy of the Eucharist
- Digital Vision/Digital Vision/Getty Images