How does one benefit by dipping their hands in water?

My fiancé and I visited a Catholic Church recently to attend their Mass. While walking out everyone dipped their fingers in water and made the sign of the cross. My fiancé and I naturally felt awkward and refrained from following suit because it made no sense to us.

So how does one benefit from putting their fingers in water and what difference does it make if one does not?

Hi dronal,

You seem to be under the impression that this is something new. Holy Water is documented in Christianity as far back as 300AD ( and even goes back to Judaism before Christ. Essentially, crossing ourselves with it is a reminder of our baptism and our commitment to Christ. It is also a way of asking the Lord to purify us from our sins before we enter His presence.

Does this answer your question?


So it’s basically just a reminder of Baptism and another way to ask for forgiveness of sins?

What happens if someone doesn’t want to do it? Would it matter?

We bless ourselves with Holy Water when entering church to, well, make ourselves blessed, for lack of a better term.

It is not required in any way, sometimes I will miss the Holy Water depending on the circumstances. However it is one of the things that I like about our Catholic faith. Everything has a meaning and is rooted in the bible or church tradition.:smiley:

Yes. It’s one of the very few blessings a layperson can place on him/herself.

It’s not mandatory, but I don’t know of any reason to not do it.

No, substantively, it wouldn’t matter at all.

There is nothing obligatory about it, and it’s not even something you should feel inclined to do out of respect to those around you (unlike sitting/standing during mass, which is). It’s there for those who like it. Not for anyone who feels itchy about it in the least.

To quote Verbum’s link, “The custom of holy water goes back to the Old Testament where the Jews made ritual ablutions to prepare for worship. The ministerial priests always had symbolic washings with water to prepare for worship in God’s temple.”

It’s an act of reverent preparation. To intentionally and knowingly not do it would be simply be the opposite of reverence, but since you weren’t aware of this you can’t be blamed for it.

I knew a very holy priest who would cup the holy water in his hands and throw it over you if he saw that you forgot to do it :stuck_out_tongue: It was impossible to not see it as an act of love, slightly playful, but so serious that you never forgot to bless yourself again! He was a great man.

I hope you continue to visit Catholic churches! Just remember that you cannot approach for communion until you are confirmed.

Hm. Wasn’t Christ against the sort of ritual washing that was passed on from tradition?

To the replies; what does it mean for the holy water to be blessed and us being blessed by touching it? What changes between someone who touches it and someone who does not if it’s not necessary?

Christ washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. And in fact said to Peter “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

John 13:1-17

So you’re saying that Jesus was speaking of what Catholics do when they leave the Church when He washed the disciples feet?

Hi dronald,

Actually, I hadn’t thought about this type of connection before. In the past, I would have been more likely to respond as others have, that by blessing ourselves with holy water, we are recalling our baptism and trusting in the Lord’s mercy for our lives, and His love for us.

What I was responding to in your post is that Jesus was not entirely against washing or against tradition … Again at the Last Supper, He said, “Do this in memory of me,” which was the start of a new tradition.

You’ve given me something to think about here.

Wishing you a blessed Christmas season,

~~ the phoenix

Merry Christmas to you too!

Washing each other’s feet is not meant to be ritualistic but rather we are to submit ourselves to others regardless of status. I don’t believe it’s relevant to my question regarding the water Catholics put their hands in when leaving the Church.

However, a ritualistic type of washing was done by the experts of Judaism and yet they were wrong. Jesus claimed there is no benefit to washing one’s hands from a ritualistic standpoint, so I’m wondering what the benefit is when Catholics do it?

The OCE has a great article on this:

It comes down to one’s intention and interior disposition. If I were to go and bless myself with holy water for the outward show of appearing holy or good to other people, meanwhile inside being a non-repentant sinner, just going through the motions … then you’re right, there would likely be little to no spiritual benefit to me, and in fact it might even be seen as a mockery and I would be in deep need of an attitude adjustment.

And again, if I were to bless myself with holy water out of mindless routine, or in a monkey-see, monkey-do way because “everyone else was doing it” … well, the Lord looks at the heart, and does not appreciate the lukewarm.

But if I bless myself with holy water in a sincerely prayerful manner, relying on God and not myself, then I believe God is open to such prayer when it is done heart and soul, in a meaningful way. I suppose you can even see blessing yourself with holy water as a “sinner’s prayer” if you like, inviting Jesus to be your personal Lord and Savior.

~~ the phoenix

Supposing that the Pharisees would wash their hands in reverence to God because they are afraid of something unclean entering them; why would Christ condemn such?

And again, what benefit does this “blessing” bring? I just don’t understand what it actually means/does.

Why would anyone not want a blessing of any kind from God? I personally feel the need for every grace and mercy that I can get.

There is a prayer that goes with it as well.
Prayer when using Holy Water
**By this holy water
and by Your Precious Blood,
wash away all my sins, O Lord. ***

Holy water has been around a long time Dronald.
Numbers 5:17
And he shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and he shall cast a little earth of the pavement of the tabernacle into it.

What does any prayer of blessing do? With the thinking you are using then it becomes questionable to even say “God bless you” to anyone else…yet we do so all the time. :shrug:

Use of Holy Water isn’t a ritual washing, but rather the use of a sacaramental.

Sacramentals “are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments: they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual kind, which are obtained through the Church’s intercession. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy - 60)

The Church teaches that sacramentals operate ex opere operantis Ecclesiae. This means that they operate from the works of the Church. To put it another way they work through the intercession of the Church and the prays of those who use them. Sacramentals help us to be open to receiving the graces associated with the particular sacramental through the prayers of the Church. We draw on the prayers of the Church to strengthen and uphold our own.

In the case of Holy Water (there are plenty of other sacramentals), it is used both as a blessing to bring us closer to God, but also as a way to ask for God’s protection. It strengthens us to live Christ’s word through the combined prayers of the Church. Personally I meditate on the Anima Christi after using Holy Water. In particular I think on these lines:

Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me

From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me

As with any sacramental, a person can choose to use it or not. Use of a sacramental without being open to the graces imparted would have little spiritual effect. It would be a little like turning on the heater in your car, but rolling down the windows and closing the vents.

The holy water is blessed by a priest. A priest is God’s designated representative on earth, capable of giving certain blessings in a way that others can’t.

Demons don’t like holy water. Demons also don’t like the “sign of the cross”. The combination of water, blessed by a priest, and the sign of the cross (a sign they may not look upon) is a wonderful combination.

Saints have been successful at thwarting demons’ attempts by these combinations. For example, isn’t holy water also sometimes used even in exorcisms? It’s my understanding demons will feel excruciating pain if holy water comes into contact with them.

Holy water is a reminder of our baptism. Our baptism is how we died and rose in Christ. It is like…the flood…with Noah…the Church (ark) surviving…Christ’s baptism in the Jordan, and lastly, our own baptism.

It’s also the Trinity…the Trinity is an extraordinarily powerful mystery. We need to be reminded of it, constantly.

Water has been used so many times…the Wedding of Cana…water turned to wine. Water flowed from Christ’s side as a symbol of cleansing and mercy, I believe.

Then, of course, we had water turned to blood, Moses. Then, we had water AND blood issue forth from Christ’s side.

So, I see how certain things…water…repeats, and is used, having a place in the Catholic Church, to this very day!

So what is the blessing that comes with touching the water and believing it’s holy? I accept your prayer as authentic and worth saying but how does the holy water help?

Again, the Pharisees (experts in judaism) would wash their hands for extra help from demons. Their intentions were good, yet they were wrong.

I keep seeing the word, “blessing” but I would like to know how that applies to the water on the fingers its self. I accept the prayers and contemplation on God, etc which is an admirable quality of Catholics; but the water its self I don’t see as necessary.

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