Lavish use of symbols…

While I encourage lavish use of signs in the liturgy, I’m not sure that this is exactly what I had in mind.

What do people think? Going overboard? Or appropriate for celebrating Theophaneia?


  1. I think it’s great – it seems to bring an atmosphere of joy and celebration (look at all the smiles), but at least in looking at the video does not seem to be goofy or a mockery of the rite. When I think of “solemn joy” this is the kind of thing that comes to mind. And in addition, you would certainly leave this liturgy changed – even if not internally, then you would have an external reminder in your wet clothes!

    What actually concerns me in the video is all of the people making videos and taking pictures with phones, cameras and tablets. What is the symbolism of that? The recording throughout the congregation implies to me that this is a spectator sport – or a mere cultural event rather than religious ritual.

  2. Going overboard.
    At Benediction, a priest at my parish censes not only the monstrance but the whole altar. He walks around the altar, taking a whole minute to cense the whole altar. Then, at the actual Benediction, he raises the monstrance for a whole minute. His arms must be very strong. When he says Mass, after the consecration, he elevates the Host and the Cup for a minute each. Strong arms.

  3. A surefire way to destroy the effectiveness of a liturgical symbol is to employ it so awkwardly that it makes folks titter in the pews. I’ve suffered under a pastor who overdid the sprinkling in similar (though far more restrained fashion), and heard a lot of “wasn’t that crazy?” or “didn’t that make you cringe?”; not a single “what a powerful reminder of my baptism!” The plural of my “anecdote” is not “data,” but seeing the winces and hearing the laughter in that video I vote: FAIL.

    1. @Aaron Sanders – comment #8:
      So when the priest used a wimpy metal sprinkler that let out a droplet at each swing, were the people conversely edified and experienced a deep awareness of their baptismal calling?

      1. @Eric Stoltz – comment #15:
        I’ll overlook the false dichotomy and simply share more experience:
        1) My childhood memories of a metal aspergillum incline me to think that congregation didn’t get much out of their minimal sprinkling, the few times it was indeed done. The rite was unfamiliar – both infrequent and not well understood – and people as often as not seemed to look around as if to say “I didn’t get hit by any water – do I still cross myself? does this still count?”
        2) My young adult experience at an EF parish with fairly regular Asperges is that, even with only a small amount of water (even, if folks were like me, sometimes getting missed by the minimal droplets), people in the pew seemed to value the rite highly and celebrate it with a sober prayerfulness.

        From these differing experiences of a similar amount of water, I wouldn’t pin the success of the rite too firmly to “volume” alone – preparation, familiarity, comfort with the rites also go a long way. The problem with the rite in the video, then, isn’t that the priest exceeded the magical objective maximum sprinkling volume, it’s that I feel I recognize and identify with the wincing and laughter, and see the same failure I’ve experienced myself.

      2. @Aaron Sanders – comment #17:
        In some places I’ve seen the practice where an altar boy stands at the back of the church with a ewer filled with rose scented water, basin and towel. As everyone washes hisor her hands upon entering the church ,Psalm 50/51 is repeated before Mass for as long as it takes to complete the rite.

        It has the advantage of taking the focus off the priest in performance doing his thing. It becomes more of a rite about the community and not just the celebrant front and center sprinking water.

  4. Who needs to “grade” this?

    It’s not that much “more” than a typical procession outside around the church in Russia at great feasts.

    The second day I was in Russia ( for the first time) we were in such a procession and I got soaked. Later our guide said with a twinkle ( or was it a giggle?) “Ohhhh! you are a very holy man!”

    So it’s just another way, and I would let the Russians, Greeks do as they do, and not grade them on some very modern western liturgical reform ideas. Those are our problems, not theirs.

    Read Schmemann’s “By Water and the Spirit” when he says- after all the treatises I’ve read on Baptism I have never discovered if the theologian actually LIKED water.”

    1. @Mark Miller – comment #10:

      I haven’t been to Russia, but it certainly fits with my experience of great feasts at Orthodox churches here. When incense is used, it is used lavishly. When there is music, the harmonies are lavish. When the prayers are offered, they are offered lavishly. Why should one expect anything less than lavishness when water is used?

  5. I can live with this. The aspergillum I have used here is rather ineffective. I remember one I was given to use in a parish in the UK, the sprinkler was made of horse hair, the tail I suspect, some 20cms plus in length. Dip that in Holy Water and a good swoosh covers quite a few rows.
    By the way, why is the Aspereges tucked away at the back of the Roman Missal. I briefly considered an Aspereges rite in place of the Rite of Reconciliaton for this coming Sunday, but for logistical reasons among others shelved the idea.

  6. He certainly went at it with a vengeance. At times I wondered if he hadn’t hadn’t been sniffing the incense for too long. I would think OSHA would wonder about shorting out the electrical system. This did not seem to me to be good ritual but a priest on a war path…..let’s get all that dirty sin out of these people. And it seemed that if they laughed he went back at them. I think this was a teensy bit overboard.

  7. If symbols should be allowed to speak for themselves, then this one said a mouthful! There’s something about the priest’s “gusto” that I really like. Even the people’s reactions, for me, speak of familiarity with the ritual, a certain affection for it, and maybe even a touch of holy playfulness between priest and people. At least it wasn’t so minimized that it was robbed of all meaning.

  8. It might be too much for you, it might be too much for me, but we are not them. Of all the churches I have ministered, I wish I could have inspired the presider toward at least half of that passion for the rite. As a Catholic, even during my childhood and the sacred liturgy in latin, it always seemed more like, “How quickly can I get through this so I can get back to the important parts?” Much of the time I believe we are guilty of sanitizing the richness of our imagery to the point of rendering it anemic. I say more please!

  9. This video is an accurate depiction of the ritual sprinkling that occurs on Theophany. The degree of ritual exuberance varies from one parish to the next, of course. But Theophany is a big deal among the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, and always has been. A sixth-century Jerusalemite diary speaks of Alexandrians leaping out of their boats to collect some of the water of the Jordan that had been blessed on Theophany, and there are many other stories, too. I find most touching and powerful the historical witness to the use of water blessed on Theophany to reconcile penitents to the Church. Keep in mind that for Eastern Christians, this ritual is an annual reception of baptismal blessings anew. I wrote about this and much more in my book, The Blessing of Waters and Epiphany (Ashgate, 2012).

  10. This is a beautiful contrast with an Easter Mass I attended once when visiting out of town. The priest stood at the altar, anemically waved the aspergillum, and said, “Pretend you’ve been splashed.”

  11. A former pastor at our local Newman Center used to walk around with the bowl giving soakers like that. One day he had just a bit of water left in the bowl when he got to the choir area. He glanced at the choice, glanced down at his bowl, and slung the whole works at us. We might or might not have been lucky not to be electrocuted. 🙂

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