Non Solum: When to Use the Sprinkling Rite

Today’s Question: When to Use the Sprinkling Rite

The Roman Missal allows for the substitution of the sprinkling rite for the Penitential Act on Sundays throughout the year, but especially at Easter, as a reminder of baptism. The sprinkling rite is a wonderful way to reinforce the initiatory quality of Easter, and serves to tie the dying and raising of the faithful in the waters of baptism to the dying and rising of Christ celebrated during Holy Week. But Easter is not the only time that the sprinkling rite can be used. Contrary to the popular desert motif of Lent, Lent’s two-fold baptismal and penitential emphasis makes it an appropriate time for the occasional usage of the sprinkling rite, especially at the scrutinies. Other times throughout the year also lend themselves to the sprinkling rite. The rite specifically provides for the blessing of the water in front of the people so as to solidify its baptismal symbolism. But how often does the priest sprinkle himself as the rubrics suggest?

What are your thoughts? What does your parish do, and why?

Moderator’s note: “Non solum” is a feature at Pray Tell for our readership community to discuss practical liturgical issues. The title comes from article 11 of the Vatican II liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Therefore there is to be vigilance among holy pastors that in liturgical action not only are laws for valid and licit celebration to be observed, but that the faithful should participate knowingly, actively, and fruitfully.” (Ideo sacris pastoribus advigilandum est ut in actione liturgica non solum observentur leges ad validam et licitam celebrationem, sed ut fideles scienter, actuose et fructuose eandem participent.) May the series contribute to good liturgical practice – not only following the law, but especially grasping the spirit of the liturgy!

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16 comments

  1. From my reading of the rite it looks like the blessing of water during the rite is mandatory, not optional. Is there something I’m missing?

    We use it on the Sundays of Lent and I’ve got to say that I find it a bit tedious, largely because of the fairly lengthy blessing prayer for Easter season. It adds a big block of spoken words to the entrance rite, which is not what I think the Entrance Rite really needs. Perhaps if you didn’t have too repeat the blessing every time, or if the prayer were chanted, maybe with a repeated congregational response, I would like it better.

    As I have mentioned before, at our place the actual sprinkling takes place during the Gloria, which I think is a fairly common practice. I notice in the rite that there are antiphons other than the Asperges and Vidi Aquam provided. Does anyone have any experience of these being used? At the Easter Vigil we have used the song “Out of Darkness,” which is a paraphrase of the 4th antiphon given for the Easter Season.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #1:
      I prefer the EF’s form of Sprinkling as it uses already blessed Holy water and begins immediately with the priest introducing it by beginning the chanting of the Asperges Me. I was also under the impression that the revised rite required the blessing of water and I too find it too long and tedious thus we only do it during the Easter season singing an English version of Vidi Acquam. However for the EF Sung Masses the schola always chants either the Asperges or the Vidi Acquam in Latin depending on the season. In the late ’80’s when I was at our Cathedral the bishop at the time chided me for encouraging the sprinkling during the Gloria, a 1970’s innovation. I can’t now recall his cogent liturgical theology forbidding me to do this but he was correct that the singing of the Gloria is too important to be accompaniment music for an adjunct liturgical action. On top of that there is a slightly modified absolution that concludes this rite which would have to be omitted if the sprinkling takes place during the Gloria. The Vatican liturgies always have the free standing Kyrie following the sprinkling rite’s absolution then followed by the Gloria.

    2. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #1:
      Thank you for your clarification. I have looked back over the rubrics and have corrected the post. I myself have never seen the blessing done as part of the sprinkling rite. Whenever I have seen the sprinkling rite used the water was blessed before mass, which is why I assumed that the blessing was often omitted.

      1. @Nathan Chase – comment #4:

        Whenever I have seen the sprinkling rite used the water was blessed before mass, which is why I assumed that the blessing was often omitted.

        In the EF, the holy water must be blessed before the clergy enter the sanctuary to begin the asperges. The older rubric might explain why some of the clergy use water that has already been blessed. Perhaps this is done out of custom or habit.

  2. As the parish community where I currently work celebrates infant baptisms (following Mass) on the third Sunday of the month, in lieu of celebrating those baptisms within Mass, for the time being and during Ordinary Time, the pastor has introduced the custom of using the Sprinkling Rite on those weekends to remind all of our baptism. He has also suggested we will make frequent use of the sprinking during Eastertide. The blessings are a bit long, but can be somewhat didactic (at least during the first few hearings), and I don’t feel once a month during Ordinary Time is too much of burden.

  3. I am still thrown aback by the practice of combining two different rites, the sprinkling and the Gloria, during the liturgy. It begs the question – are there other ceremonies subject to ad hoc combination? How do we justify these substitutions and forbid others? With this question I am thinking of a few older clerics I’ve encountered who simply refuse the Lavabo, leaving altar servers standing with cruet in hand wondering what to do.

  4. I believe that the sprinkling may no longer take place during the Gloria. I’m not sure it was ever officially allowed, but it has been clarified that we mustn’t do that. Having a separate sprinkling rite followed by the Gloria makes the opening rites quite long. The effect is that many parishes have quit, or seriously reduced, their use of the sprinkling rite even during Easter. Law of unintended consequences, perhaps?

    1. @Scott Pluff – comment #7:

      Perhaps, but I remember reading Senn’s observation in one of his books that maybe in the modern day, especially on Sundays, the introductory rites should be longer so that people have more time to ease into the flow of things before listening to the Word.

    2. The priest or deacon can sprinkle the churchgoers usually doing the beginning of the mass (after the Greeting ) (replaces the Potential Act but sometime the preist prefers to do it after the homily (that is rare but I have seen it on two Sundays (Easter Sunday and I think it was Divine Mercy Sunday one year when it happened). Just before the churchgoers are sprinkled the priest has to bless the water. Also Sometimes to save time the Gloria is Sung during the Sprinkling (especially if a small church) so the mass want go to long. I think many priests do not like to do it unfortunately but a few priests love to do the Sprinkling. I know in California it is rarely done but when I lived in Illinois it was always done and the priest would sprinkle me twice every time.

  5. Scott Pluff : Having a separate sprinkling rite followed by the Gloria makes the opening rites quite long. The effect is that many parishes have quit, or seriously reduced, their use of the sprinkling rite even during Easter. Law of unintended consequences, perhaps?

    I rather like the sprinkling rite and my parish does it while singing a related song. It adds what — a couple of minutes to the length of Mass?

    Who is authorized to do the sprinkling? In a very large church can the priest take one aisle, the deacon another, and perhaps an EMHC take a third? That seems like it would go rather quickly.

    1. I am not sure who is authorized. At one Church I saw a priest do one half of a church and than a guy do the other half of the church but I do not know who the guy was and how it got to do it (but I have only seen that once). In some Churches the priest can let the Deacon do it if needed or both can do it if they have two vessels, and two wands. I would always prefer the priest to do it since they usually do the best job.

  6. We have encouraged the use of the sprinkling rite during Easter by parishes for the reasons mentioned. It is always included with Ordinations and we encourage it for Confirmation to make the link between Baptism-Confirmation-Eucharist. There are parishes that will use it for First Eucharist celebrations.

    The issue of whether to use the blessing portion of the sprinkling rite can be circumvented, especially if the water in the font is already blessed (It is redundant to re-bless at each liturgy). The RCIA offers an option at #222 D & E and #354 B – that is an Easter-Season Thanksgiving Over Water Already Blessed. I am aware of a few parishes that will make use of one of these options during the Easter season. I’m sure many of our parishes connect the Gloria with the sprinkling.

    I also know that parishes with immersion fonts will have to periodically use the Blessing & Sprinkling of Water throughout the year when maintaining their fonts. Like pools/spas, they need constant attention and need to be drained, cleaned & re-filled at times. How often this happens varies from parish to parish due to maintenance schedules, but those with substantial fonts are the ones that tend to make a fuller use of this rite during the year.

  7. I strongly dislike collapsing the Asperges into the Gloria. If length is your concern, don’t bother with the Asperges. If you’re going to do it, do it right. The ritual already provides the texts (rather beautiful ones that have the virtue of making more sense for the rite) for music that would be part of the ritual, and the Gloria is not that.

  8. There is an important fact about the Gloria that many people don’t seem to notice. Since it fits into the berakhah format, the actual petitions are for mercy and for the reception of our prayers and are mainly addressed to Jesus as the one who takes away our sins. And so in Germany one uses the Confiteor, the Kyrie, or the Gloria since they all have a “penitential” element. In other words, it seems to me to be a very appropriate song to accompany a sprinkling.

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