"Sharing" holy water for the Sign of the Cross


#1

I’ve been curious about this for a while but it never dawned on me to ask. I finally did ask my priest and he’s not sure of how or why this practice started.

I’m referring to the “sharing” of holy water between members of a procession coming into a church. Anyone who’s been an altar server likely knows what I’m talking about: where the first person in the procession (usually but not always a crucifer) dips his fingers into the holy water font upon entering and then turns around and touches the hand of the person behind him before signing himself with the cross. The person behind him then turns to the person behind him and does the same before signing himself. This continues onward until the last server/acolyte/seminarian/deacon/whatever finally touches the hand of the priest.

What’s the significance of this and how did it arise? Why doesn’t each and every individual dip their own fingers into the holy water font upon entering?


#2

I don’t think it means anything. I have seen this in some Masses where a deacon does this with a priest, but, again, I think the significance is next to zero. I think it’s very unhygienic, to begin with. I’ve seen dirty holy water fonts that I wouldn’t want to stick my fingers in under any circumstances.


#3

Could it be to prevent the person furtherest away from the holy water to be able to sign themselves without having to reach over the person nearest to the holy water fount?


#4

I think Occam here is right.


#5

I’ve never seen this. It seems like it wouldn’t work well because the holy water would dry up or be used up by the time it got to person #3, and also it requires people in procession to be turning somehow and exchanging holy water. Also, if the first guy coming in can reach the font, then everybody else can too as they’re walking in a line.


#6

I mention a procession in my opening post, but in reality there usually isn’t a procession! When I serve daily Mass with just Father and I, I dip my fingers in and give some of that water to Father before we step into the Sanctuary from the Sacristy. I assumed this was a well known practice, indeed the first couple posts seem to indirectly acknowledge that.


#7

I’ve not seen this passed between all members of the procession, but only to those who are not near the holy water font, or could not easily reach it. At our parish, the server does gives holy water in this manner to the priest, when entering the church for Mass or other rites.


#8

Before it’s called out… I’ve also served in ornate Pontifical High Masses where we processed into the church 25 individuals and we all shared the same initial dab of Holy Water (you’d be surprised how far that can be spread!)


#9

Occam, as in the explanation with the fewest number of assumptions. Problem is I have no explanations yet. :smile:


#10

I have no explanation for it, sorry.

The only time I ever experienced this was when I was a postulant and novice in a Benedictine monastery. We didn’t pass the holy water down the entire line though. One sister would pass it to the sister behind her. The next sister would dip her hand in the holy water font and pass it to the sister behind her.

They also had the custom of shaking drops of holy water off of their fingers for the souls in purgatory.

I don’t know where these customs came from. I just assumed they were monastic and ancient. Interesting to hear that some people pass the holy water at ordinary parishes.


#11

I haven’t seen what you described and if my memory serves me well we didn’t do that when I was an altar server. What I recall and what I have seen is as a procession enters and people are in pairs the one closest to the holy water font dips his fingers in the font, then touches the fingers of the other in his pair. They both get enough holy water to sign themselves with.


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