Holy Water during Lent

June 16, 2011
Q: Do we need to remove Holy Water during Lent? 

Some parishes remove the holy water from the font during the season of Lent replacing them with sand, stones or even cacti which are symbolic of the Lenten “desert experience”. Some simply cover the font with a purple cloth while others put ashes or simply leave it empty.

One parish church in the U.S. provided the following reason:
"As was customary in the past there is no Holy Water in the Church receptacles until Easter. May the sand remind us of our Lenten journey in the desert as we prepare to celebrate the joy of Easter. As we await the blessing of water at the Easter Vigil, may we prepare to renew our Baptismal promises from our hearts!"

In reality, such innovation is praeter legem ("outside of the law") which means that it is not regulated by liturgical law. Although technically not illegal, such innovation is contrary to the Theology of Lent which is not just a season of penance, but also a season rich in the symbolism of water and baptism. Lent is a preparation for Baptism and for renewing our baptismal promise. The restoration of the Catechumenate and its Lenten rituals since the Second Vatican Council reemphasized the baptismal character of Lent. 

We cannot just interpret something on the basis of praeter legem. The right properly belongs to the Apostolic See, who alone has authority over it (SC 22, canon 838). The Congregation of Divine worship and Discipline of Sacraments wrote a letter (Prot. N. 569/00/L) dated 3/14/03 to clarify matters: 


Prot. N. 569/00/L 
March 14, 2000 

Dear Father: 

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

Note: Sic — generally inside square brackets, [sic], and occasionally parentheses/brackets, (sic)—when added just after a quote or reprinted text, indicates that the passage is just as it appears from its original source. The usual purpose is to inform readers that any errors or apparent errors in the copied material are not from transcription.


Lent is a period of spiritual discipline and battle. It is logical that we don’t remove one of our spiritual weapons, the holy water. Remember that Holy water is a sacramental that when piously used, may prepare us for grace. The first use of holy water is spiritual cleansing (ie Baptism; Sacrament). The second use is for protection against evil (ie Sacramental)[1] Furthermore, the rite of the blessing of water is accompanied by prayers of exorcism in both the traditional and revised rites:


Traditional Rite
The exorcism of salt follows: 

God's creature, salt, I cast out the demon from you by the living God, by the true God, by the holy God, by God who ordered you to be thrown into the water-spring by Eliseus to heal it of its barrenness. May you be a purified salt, a means of health for those who believe, a medicine for body and soul for all who make use of you. May all evil fancies of the foul fiend, his malice and cunning, be driven afar from the place where you are sprinkled. And let every unclean spirit be repulsed by Him who is coming to judge both the living and the dead and the world by fire. 
All: Amen 

Revised Rite (1984) 
(Where it is customary, salt may be mixed with the holy water. The priest blesses the salt, saying: 

Almighty God, we ask you to bless this salt as once you blessed the salt scattered over the water by the prophet Elisha. 

Wherever this salt and water are sprinkled, drive away the power of evil, and protect us always by the presence of your Holy Spirit. 

Then he pours the salt into the water in silence.) 

Q: When do we remove the Holy Water? 
The letter clearly states that the holy water fonts are emptied after the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday until they are refilled with fresh water blessed at the Easter Vigil. That period is already the Easter Triduum and the end of Lent which are the days when there is no Eucharistic celebration (ie Good Friday, Black Saturday). The fonts should not be emptied prior to Holy Thursday.  


Holy water is not like meat which we renounce during the season of penance. It actually further enhances our Lenten liturgy and underscores the baptismal character of the Lenten season.

If your parish is still practicing the removal of holy water during Lent, you may present the above letter to your Pastor in the hope of correcting the matter. If this practice was authorized by your local Bishop, you will need to contact him and politely inform him that this practice opposes the liturgical legislation that is approved by the Vatican. You may then ask him to reinstate the Holy Water in the font during Lent.

[1] Henry Theiler, 2003 Holy Water and Its Significance for Catholics ISBN 0766175537 pp 13-15


  1. This is a good post! It has been customary for my parish to keep the Holy Water font empty only on Ash Wednesday and then again for Good Friday as mentioned in the Letter. Though the above letter doesn't say anything about Ash Wednesday... so my question is why on Ash Wednesday?

    God Bless

  2. Olivia,
    it's because Lent starts on Ash Wednesday.At the very beginning of Lent some would remove the water from the fonts which is not liturgical. Thanks a lot.

  3. What a beautiful article!! My family love having holy water. I always give them a sprinkle at night. I do have many holy water fonts in my house for each room.


God bless you!

Powered by Blogger.