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Rite of Sprinkling With Holy Water

And More on Blessed Oils

ROME, FEB. 14, 2007 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Is it OK to do the traditional asperges before Mass, blessing the people with that beautiful music and prayer, and then simply using the normal penitential rite without sprinkling during Mass? The asperges is mentioned in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal under the sprinkling rite, but the new prayer is very shallow compared to the older prayer. We would love to restore that beautiful experience for our people. -- D.P., New Orleans, Louisiana

A: Before the present reform the asperges, or rite of sprinkling with holy water, was done before the principal Mass every Sunday. It was not considered as being part of the Mass in any way.

The priest would enter dressed in alb, stole and cope. He would intone the antiphon "Asperges me" or during Eastertide the "Vidi acquam" and would sprinkle the altar, the clergy and the assembly with holy water while the choir continued the antiphon. After this he would conclude with a prayer that implored the Father to send his holy angel to protect and defend those present at the Mass.

Having concluded this rite the priest would then go to the "sedilia," or seats at the south side of the sanctuary, remove the cope and vest with the maniple and chasuble for Mass.

The present rite is more closely tied to the Mass itself as well as designedly recalling baptism. Its full title is the "Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water." As the title indicates, it does not just involve sprinkling with previously blessed water but the actual rite of blessing itself.

The poverty of the prayers lamented by our correspondent is probably due to a singularly inadequate English translation that greatly impoverishes the Latin original. We can hope that this will be remedied in the new translation currently being prepared.

In this revised rite the priest enters vested for Mass and greets the people in the usual way. After this he introduces the rite with a brief formula and after a brief silence blesses the holy water using one of the formulas proposed in the missal. Where customary, salt may also be added to the newly blessed water, and a brief prayer said.

The priest then sprinkles himself, the ministers and the assembly while an antiphon or other appropriate song is sung.

When he returns to his place the priest says the following prayer: "May almighty God cleanse us of our sins, and through the Eucharist we celebrate make us worthy to sit at his table in his heavenly kingdom." The people respond "Amen."

This prayer suits the new setting of the ceremony, which substitutes the penitential rite, more than the former prayer. The prayer is followed by either the Gloria or the collect of the Mass.

Can the old rite still be used? Even though the asperges was not formally part of the Mass, it was mandated to be held in association with Mass and formed part of the missal. It cannot, therefore, be considered as a simple pious practice.

The fact that it was not continued in that form but rather replaced by the new optional rite is clearly the result of a deliberated choice by Church authority.

For this reason I do not believe that it is a legitimate possibility to simply restore the old rite before the principal Mass every Sunday.

While most parishes would probably not want to hold the new rite of sprinkling every Sunday, it could be done once a month or so, either at the principal Mass or all Masses, or rotating between different Masses on a weekly basis so that the whole parish may experience this rite.

Also, the choir can freely sing the beautiful music of the Latin antiphons that traditionally accompanied the sprinkling rite.


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Holy, Water, Oils, Liturgy, McNamara

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