Is there water in your font this Lent?

I’ve been guilty of it myself when I was younger. But we really have to stop this weirdness around removing water from the baptismal font during Lent. I know we get Jesus in the desert for the First Sunday of  Lent, but he doesn’t have to stay there! In fact, we get a flood the first Sunday in Year B too!

So why do so many churches, at least in my area of the world, still persist in emptying its fonts of water? What does your parish do this season with its font?

I wonder if the misunderstanding about things like this comes from not realizing that “there is a time for everything.” The church isn’t opposed to removing water from the font, just not at the beginning of Lent. I wonder if this is just another symptom of our general inability to keep liturgical time and to recognize its nuances within each season.

Here’s what I’ve been trying to communicate to the parishes in my diocese. It’s a slow process, but we do have fewer parishes removing water from its font at the start of Lent, I think. But we still need to get the word out more.

But whatever you do, for the love of God, don’t do this.

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40 comments

  1. I guess you’re thinking your opinion is the only tenable one. Since Vatican II we have recovered the deeper significance of baptism and the waters of baptism. That’s what’s in our font positioned in the baptistry that all pass through on their way to take their place as part of the worshipping assembly. Easter is a pre-eminent season for celebrating baptism and so to refrain from baptizing during Lent (except when there are special circumstances) is a sound idea. Positioned in front of our empty font is the Cross we use for veneration on Good Friday. Attached to it are slips of paper bearing the names of those preparing for Easter sacraments. As the people enter they reach out to touch the cross, sign themselves, and move into the church. There are smaller fonts available for those who can’t imagine refraining from holy water all through Lent. It’s proven to be a good practice that helps our people understand more clearly the meaning of the gesture by which we sign ourselves with baptismal water prior to claiming our place in the assembly.
    Does it trace its origins to apostolic times, no but neither does the practice of taking holy water.

    1. I think this says it all:

      CONGREGATION DE CULTU DIVINO ET DISCIPLINA SACRAMENTORUM

      Prot. N. 569/00/L

      Dear Father:

      March 14, 2000

      This Congregation for Divine Worship has received your letter sent by fax in which you ask whether it is in accord with liturgical law to remove the Holy Water from the fonts for the duration of the season of Lent.

      This Dicastery is able to respond that the removing of Holy Water from the fonts during the season of Lent is not permitted, in particular, for two reasons:

      1. The liturgical legislation in force does not foresee this innovation, which in addition to being praeter legem is contrary to a balanced understanding of the season of Lent, which though truly being a season of penance, is also a season rich in the symbolism of water and baptism, constantly evoked in liturgical texts.

      2. The encouragement of the Church that the faithful avail themselves frequently of the [sic] of her sacraments and sacramentals is to be understood to apply also to the season of Lent. The “fast” and “abstinence” which the faithful embrace in this season does not extend to abstaining from the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church. The practice of the Church has been to empty the Holy Water fonts on the days of the Sacred Triduum in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated (i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday).

      Hoping that this resolves the question and with every good wish and kind regard, I am,

      Sincerely yours in Christ,

      Mons. Mario Marini Undersecretary

  2. (Somewhat tongue-in-cheek): I like the fish thing as it suggests the “original” baptism scene, as long as historians can assure us that there were/are fish in the River Jordan.

    1. The original “Catholic” baptism scene was in the streets of Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday, probably near a well, wasn’t it?

  3. Jack Feehily states about Diana Macalintal:” I guess you’re thinking your opinion is the only tenable one.”

    A bit snarky this evening, the fast getting to you Jack? 🙂

    I don’t see where she states that at all. If you look at her qualifications listed you’ll see that she does indeed have scholarly training in this area more than possibly the rest of us combined so I am apt to give what she states credence.
    Personally, I tend to agree w/ her. At church I think that 90% of parishoners think someone made a mistake and forgot to fill the fonts.
    Emptying the fonts should go the way of purple covers on statues in church.

  4. I had to laugh at the purple cover comment. We have a newly ordained priest at our parish. Our statues are covered in purple cloth this year. We also have more than one crucifix in the sanctuary. I thought this might all be part of the new translation 🙂 However, we do have water in the font.

    1. Oh no! The ugly covers…..
      You might want to have a chit chat w/ him.
      From Fr. Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University over at Zenit (hardly a progressive site but he did answer a question about covering statues beginning at Ash Wednesday)…

      “Veiling during all of Lent may have been a common practice in the Middle Ages, but it has been restricted to Passiontide for several centuries. Hence, the practice our reader described is incorrect. The altar or processional cross is not veiled and, indeed, its use is implied in the rubrics for the solemn Masses of Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday.”

      So kindly tell your neophyte priest it’s not the middle ages although it sometimes looks like we’re headed back there again……..

    2. I also thought the vieling of statues was limited to Passiontide (though I don’t think the Sunday before Palm Sunday is called Passion Sunday in the OF calendar).

      I love the vieling of statues for Passiontide, but think it may be too much for all of Lent. I remember the first time I experienced it and found it symbolically profound and even surprising beautiful.

    3. I think we might belong to the same parish, Deb. With the new priest came a new liturgy committee whose goal is to make things pretty. It’s pretty all right- pretty awful. Our new priest even wore red on Ash Wednesday and distributed ashes from a coffee can. But, yes, we do have water.

  5. For me, not celebrating baptisms during Lent is one thing. Removing holy water from fonts and stoups is another altogether.

    “Lent is a preparation for the celebration of Easter. For the Lenten liturgy disposes both catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery: catechumens, through the several stages of Christian initiation; the faithful, through reminders of their own baptism and through penitential practices.” (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 27)

    Certainly removing something that is there in the church throughout the rest of the year can draw attention to it. Yet I’m not confident that removing the water actually reminds us of baptism, but instead reminds us we’re being denied holy water. What then is the reason for removing it?

    Rather than removing water from fonts and hiding them, it would prefer to find other appropriate ways of drawing attention to the baptism our elect will soon celebrate; thus also focusing the parish once again on the commitment of their own baptism.

  6. Clifton Cathedral, Bristol, was dedicated in 1973. Its font, standing in a shallow baptismal pool, was innovative at the time. The morning following the dedication, a rubber duck was found floating in the pool….

  7. I think removing holy water from the Church during Lent is misdirected creativity. Sure, it can emphesize the penitential desert and the full joy of the sacrament of salvation for Easter. But, it unnecessarily deprives the faithful of a extremely powerful sacramental in the Christian “campaine” against our mortal enemy the Devil. I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get.

    1. Yes, you do need all the help you can get.

      Some folks earlier talked about specific parishes or communities that had planned and educated their folks to what they were doing for Lent. These were specifically in parish churches that had the baptismal at the entrance and no fonts at all. In some cases, the baptismal was empty with visible bowls of ashes present (as a symbol, sacramental – not to replace water in fonts and not for use).

      These specfic parishes also had a ceremony on Mardi Gras or earlier to burn last year’s palms and make them into ashes (high schoo/elementary kids did this as a project). These ashes were then used during lent by the baptismal font in the entrance of the church. Music and the lenten liturgies used these symbols in choices, homilies, and activities during lent.

      In some cases, it had quite an impact on young folks and their parents – sacramentals, rightly used and explained, can have that effect. (and, would suggest, more powerful than trying to teach 2nd graders responses in latin).

      Not saying this would work everywhere; not saying that you need to go to Rome every time you might have a creative idea (sorry, JOL, found the Vatican letter to be an over-reach and talk about centralization and needing “daddy” to say yes – seems to violate lots of liturgical principles – but whatever).

      Thanks to Jack stating his experience. Obviously, if you do something like this, it has to be well prepared; your community has to know what to expect and their role/participation, etc.

      Paul – loved the rubber duckie; Anyone blend that with the Easter bunny?

  8. Imagine — a sensible, courteous letter from the Vatican, written in good English! Who would have expected this level of professionalism!

  9. Back in the day of liturgical gimmicks, (I guess this one is more devotional than liturgical) I had the bright idea to replace the Holy Water in the fonts with white pebbles and then sprinkle those with the ashes of Ash Wednesday as a brilliant, visual reminder of the beginning of Ash Wednesday and our call to fasting, prayer and alms-giving. Certainly people would see this and make the connection as they came into the Church of the Parched Desert. However, I noticed the first Sunday of Lent that everyone coming to Holy Communion had smudges of ashes on their forehead,and right and left shoulders and in the center of their shinning, white shirt/blouse. Thinking there was water in them there fonts they had blessed themselves with ashes that they didn’t realize had been transferred to their fingers. Needless to say by Sunday afternoon the Holy Water was back in them there fonts and gimmicks were permanently out.

    1. Fr. Allan – forgive me but just can’t miss this chance to be like “Colbert” (in your earlier words).

      So, you appear to have learned from your “misguided” devotional/liturgical creativity.

      So, inquiring minds want to know:
      – does this mean that in a few months, you will wake up and realize that your “Southern Orders” falls into the category of a “gimmick” and that folks who touch it are walking around with smudges on their minds?
      – does this mean that you have learned that the “new translation” may, in the future, be just another “gimmick” that has smudged our lips for a period of tiime? Will you reflect on teaching your 1st and 2nd graders responses in latin as just another “gimmick”?
      – and, say it ain’t so, but will you arrive some day at the understanding that EF and TLM are just some retro “gimmicks”?

      Needless to say – when will healthy ecclesiology and liturgy be found again?

  10. Post #3 brings up a thread unto itself. I would like to know how many dioceses inform their own priests about such decisions. No priest should need to refer to a blog or be alerted by their local self-deputized liturgical police officer to be informed of such decisions.

  11. What is wrong from fasting from our sacramentals or shrines during Lent? If we take seriously the power of the sign value of our signs and symbols, the absence of holy water from our fonts during Lent ought to help us treasure our common baptism and eagerly look forward to our recommitment of discipleship at the Great Vigil or on Easter Sunday.

    1. @Bryon Gordon:
      Well, do you believe that sacramentals have an objective effect, or not? If they’re not efficacious, then using them or not using them shouldn’t matter. If they are, then why would you want to be without them?

      Also, it’s one thing to decide for yourself that you won’t use holy water during Lent. It’s quite another to decide for a whole parish that they won’t be using it either.

      1. @Fr Matthew Weber:
        Fr. Weber,

        Just a short note to say that you two might be talking past each other. It’d be important for you to understand what others believe about causality, sacramentals, efficacy within a renewed understanding of symbols. You may not agree with that renewed understanding, but you’d maybe understand better why it’s counterproductive to fit someone else’s practice into your paradigm which the other person does not share.

        Or to put it another way, there has to be some shared assumptions for a constructive conversation about the remaining differences. Or, there has to be profound understanding on all sides of why the basic assumptions differ on each side.

        awr

  12. Talk about “weirdness”! How about much of this thread, including the original post!

    The letter of the CDWDS in no. 3 is only a private response of a low-grade dicastery official to some individual with a FAX machine. It does not have any legislative value. This is not the way liturgical law is promulgated!

    Even so, apparently it needs to be pointed out that the said CDWDS letter is only referring to holy water fonts in a church, not to the baptismal font. For the worship office of the Diocese of San Jose to attempt to turn a private letter into some sort of universal legislation, and then to misconstrue the very meaning of the letter, is both shameful and unprofessional.

    If we are thinking with the Church and, accordingly, do NOT celebrate baptisms during Lent, there is neither law nor reason why the baptismal font cannot be empty during the season. Still, it is reasonable to expect that here should be blessed water in holy water fonts for the faithful. If a church has no holy water fonts other than the baptismal font, portable ones certainly can be put out for the Lenten season!

    1. Fr. Krisman,

      You said “If we are thinking with the Church and, accordingly, do NOT celebrate baptisms during Lent, there is neither law nor reason why the baptismal font cannot be empty during the season.” The Church’s reasons for a preference against baptism during Lent are clear (and parties that often follow a baptism would be problematic), but it seems that an outright prohibition on baptism would not be ‘thinking with the Church.’

      One of the obligations of parents is to have children baptized within the first few weeks of birth (per Canon 867 §1) and the instructions for the Rite of Baptism itself echo this. A firm prohibition on Lenten Baptisms makes this impossible to follow.

      Might there be a way to accommodate both the empty fonts and the parents’ obligation for a timely baptism?

      More information (and the references to both the CIC and the Rite are at http://www.zenit.org/article-32227?l=english)

      1. Common sense prevails in case of health, illness, etc.

        But, as usual, the 1983 canon law was not written with the principles of liturgy in mind. All church law is a hierarchy (see Fr. Krisman’s initial comment about a low level hierarchy, faxed reply that may or may not be the “real” church practice). Liturgical practice, principles, seasons, etc. would easily trump any specific and lower level canon law reference. Keep in mind that even Canon Law lays out principles on how to use the specific canons, what supercedes specific, lower level canons, etc.

        Your concern is an example of the “tail wagging the dog” syndrome. We are a sacramental and liturgical church from which our legal observance proceeds; not the other way around. In fact, a too literal interpretation of canon law is an example of Jesus in the gospels rejecting the legalistic and formal religious practices and interpretations of the Jewish High Priests and religious parties.

        From a theological perspective, the liturgical reforms of VII were based on a more developed sacrament and liturgical understanding (ressourcement) about infant baptism, lent/paschal triidum, etc. These developments placed the “old” priority for immediate baptism within a more comprehensive and developed understanding of the sacrament of baptism – you have seen some of these developments in the past 20 years with the church revising its understandings about “limbo”, original sin, purgatory, and the full purpose of baptism which is more than just “removal of original sin”.

  13. Thank you, Fr. Ron – a voice of wisdom and sanity crying in the wilderness. Lou Brusatti would be proud of you!

    Fr, O’Neil – will repeat my question that I have repeatedly asked Fr. Steve – what seminary did you attend?

    And what about all those churches that have no “fonts” but only a baptismal?

  14. At no. 29 Clarence wrote: “One of the obligations of parents is to have children baptized within the first few weeks of birth (per Canon 867 §1) and the instructions for the Rite of Baptism itself echo this. A firm prohibition on Lenten Baptisms makes this impossible to follow.”

    I think that Bill’s response at no. 30 was well stated and quite adequate. But, to address Clarence’s point even more specifically, I would add that, except for baptisms in danger of death, all baptisms CAN be prohibited during the Lenten season and still be in conformity to Canon 867 §1.

    When I have served as a pastor, I always scheduled baptisms at one of the weekend Masses prior to Ash Wednesday. Parents knew that the next scheduled baptisms would be on Easter Sunday. No parent that I dealt with ever expressed the thought that having to wait eight or nine weeks from the birth of their child to its baptism was outside “the first few weeks after birth.”

    If the lawgiver himself were to think that eight or nine weeks was beyond “the first few weeks,” then the law should have been stated more clearly, such as, “within the first weeks after birth, and not to exceed four weeks.” But, as we know, that is not the case with this law. No. 57 of the Regulae Iuris in Sexto states: “Contra eum qui legem dicere potuit apertius est interpretatio facienda.” (The interpretation is to made against the one who was able to have spoken the law more clearly.)

    1. I beg to differ – I know many parents (including myself) who would find it absurd if their child was born before or early during Lent, and we were told we would have to wait until Easter to baptize. Maybe original sin is not the sole focus of Baptism, but it’s reality enough for some of us to desire to exercise the right to the sacraments at such a delicate stage.

  15. Our parish tradition is to remove the water from all the fonts and fill them with sand. What else do you find in a desert? There have been a few visitors who have inquired about it, but we always tell them that they are free to worship somewhere else if they don’t like it.

  16. Personally, I’ve always welcomed the removal of water from the fonts and the baptismal font for Lent. I know that the symbolism of this is lost on many, perhaps most, but I suspect that those same folks don’t know why they bless themselves when they come into the church anyway. My parish did a renovation two years ago that opened up the gathering space and included a beautiful baptismal font that allows for immersion. It also has flowing water – from a font into the immersion pond. (Sorry, no fish or rubby duckies, darn.) During Lent the water is there, but not flowing. The absence of the sound of flowing water is noticed by everyone. We have a large branch of curly willow sitting in the baptismal font (as well as some hung from the ceiling – we’re one of those big, airy churches.) Imagine the surpirse – and delight – when on the third Sunday of Lent the curly willow began to bud. Now that was a symbol. At the Vigil fresh water is put in, and the water begins to run again until Lent of the following year.

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