Remembering our baptism

We’re soon going to be installing a couple of small fonts for holy water in the doorways leading from the narthex to the nave, and this Sunday we’re going to be blessing the fonts before installation.

Such fonts are common in most Episcopal churches, but since it has not been the practice in the past to have them at St. James, I thought some explanation and history might be helpful.

Each week, the fonts will be filled with holy water – that is, with water that has been blessed by a priest. The blessing of the water typically takes place in the sacristy before the service. Traditionally, a little salt is added to the water, and the priest may say:

“Almighty God, who through the water of baptism has raised us from sin into new life, and by the power of your life-giving Spirit ever cleanses and sanctifies your people: + Bless, we pray you, this water for the service of your holy Church; and grant that it may be a sign of the cleansing and refreshment of your grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” Or words to that effect.

A member of the Altar Guild will see to the filling of the fonts each week.

It is customary, when entering or leaving the church, to dip the fingers of the right hand into the water in the fonts, and make the sign of the cross. This is meant to be a reminder of our baptism, and all that that implies. So as we cross ourselves we might silently say “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” – the words said over us as we were baptized.

Personally, I like to say to myself “Remember your baptism.” I really DO remember my baptism because it happened when I was 11. I realize that folks baptized as infants will not have that memory, but it’s still an opportunity to remember what it means to be baptized, and to ponder the gift of new life in Christ.

Let’s be clear about something: Holy water is not “magical.” It is rather a physical reminder of God’s transforming presence in the sacraments, in our lives, and in all creation. Holy water is blessed because it has been offered to God as a symbol of our desire for God’s presence.

Like all such devotional tools in our tradition, no Episcopalian is required to touch the Holy Water, nor required to make the sign of the cross, nor required to do anything you do not understand or appreciate. This is purely optional. But for those who are familiar with this practice, I hope it will be a comfort and a gift, a regular reminder of who you are and whose you are.

And many thanks to Rose Applegate, director of our Altar Guild, for suggesting this addition and for making it happen.