Questions Answered – June 2022

Can Holy Water Be Mixed?

Question: Can you replenish holy water that you have for personal use by adding to it with regular water when it gets low?

Answer: First it is important to discuss just what holy water is and what it signifies. It is described as a sacramental. This means that it does not cause grace in the recipient by the work being performed but according to the devotion of the recipient. It is certainly an outward sign which comes from baptism and thus is a kind of renewal of baptism.

The use of holy water began in the earliest days of the Church, though this use is only described rather late. The Apostolic Constitutions which were written about the year 400 state that the Apostle Matthew received a precept to use holy water. Though this is based on an apocryphal letter, it testifies to the use of holy water. This would make perfect sense for expiation and purification given the Catholic understanding of Baptism. The history of who may bless the water outside of the ritual of Baptism is unclear in both the East and the West.

The water blessed outside of Baptism was sometimes drunk and was said to have miraculous powers much like Lourdes water today. Such water was reserved at the entrance of the Church, as we do, and was also sprinkled on the people. By the time of Pope Leo IV the custom of blessing and sprinkling holy water before Mass on Sunday, as we do in the Asperges, was well established. Hincmar of Rheims (806–882) gave these directions: “Every Sunday, before the celebration of Mass, the priest shall bless water in his church, and, for this holy purpose, he shall use a clean and suitable vessel. The people, when entering the church, are to be sprinkled with this water, and those who desire may carry some away in clean vessels so as to sprinkle their houses, fields, vineyards, and cattle, and the provender with which these last are fed, as also to throw over their own food.” (PL CXV, col. 679)

Today this practice continues, though in the history of the last 1000 years there have been variations as to times and places for this blessed water. This is a sacramental, there are many variations in the customs of its blessing, and it now does not take very long for a priest or a deacon to bless water. Though it is true that plain water added to blessed water takes on the nature of blessing, there are some restrictions recommended for this. The Catholic Answers column sums it up as well as any: “The common custom (though not officially recognized) is that so long as the water added to the holy water does not amount to half the amount of the holy water then all water in the container is considered blessed water.”

The reverse is also the common understanding. Adding a thimble of holy water to a gallon of regular water does not make the container full of holy water. The holy water would need to be more than 50% of the combined water.

As previously stated, this is common custom and not official teaching. Since it does not take very long for a priest or deacon to bless water, adding regular water to holy water should only be done when absolutely necessary.

Grace and Modern Christian Authors

Question: What is Christian spirituality in modern times? Would authors like C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers qualify as spiritual writers?

Answer: You have chosen two of my favorite authors for your question. Before I discuss each, though, it is important to state what Christian spirituality is for modern times. Spiritual theology is always the same. This study entails some systematic presentation of what grace is and how it affects everyday life as to the formation of the virtues and the rooting out of faults. A systematic treatment of this most important doctrine is lacking today because the whole idea of sanctifying grace is threatened. Catholic authors such as Arintero, Royo, Aumann, Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, and Dubay are important sources for this discussion. They were very intent on recovering this for a theology of contemplation throughout the first half of the twentieth century. It is best to go to them for a systematic presentation of what grace offers us.

The contemporary world is characterized by a desertion not only of grace but of any real interest in taking God or religion seriously. This has been the case since the beginning of the Enlightenment but was advanced lightyears by the World Wars of the twentieth century. Many non-Catholic authors have taken up the challenge even of belief in God which this brave new world offers. The presentation of a serious challenge to the secular atheism of the age demands not only a rigorous knowledge of early Christian and medieval sources but also a kind of secular proof of credibility.

Though they were Anglicans and never came over to Rome, both of the authors mentioned had this in spades.

Dorothy Sayers was the first woman to graduate from Oxford University in Medieval Studies. She also wrote the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. She did a masterful translation of The Divine Comedy replete with excellent notes. In these she exhibits a wonderful grasp of Thomas Aquinas and Catholic doctrine in general.

Perhaps her most interesting contribution is a series of plays she wrote on Christian doctrine which have been reprinted by Ignatius Press. She discovered from the reaction to these plays that there were many young Anglicans who actually knew nothing about the traditional Patristic teachings encapsulated in the early ecumenical Councils. Her conclusion was much like G.K. Chesterton’s: that many people in contemporary Western society were rejecting Christianity largely from ignorance of what the Church teaches. As a result she wrote an article called The Dogma is the Drama.

She makes the point that dogma is the most interesting thing in the world. She demonstrates this in her book Creed or Chaos. For example: “Christ, in his Divine Innocence, said to the woman of Samaria, ‘Ye worship ye know not what’ being apparently under the impression that it might be desirable, on the whole, to know what one was worshipping. He thus showed Himself sadly out of touch with the twentieth-century mind, for the cry today is: ‘Away with the tendentious complexities of dogma; let us have the simple spirit of worship: no matter what!’ The only drawback to this demand for a generalized and undirected worship is that practical difficulty of arousing any sort of enthusiasm for the worship of nothing in particular.” (Creed or Chaos? 19)

C.S. Lewis also contributed much to the effort to restore the credibility of Christianity in contemporary society. He, like Sayers, was an academic at both Oxford and Cambridge and highly respected internationally for both his philosophical works and his popularization of the defects of post-Christian atheist society in the twentieth century. There is much speculation about why he never converted to Catholicism. Most people agree that he was raised in Northern Ireland and though he understood basic Christian doctrine well, the whole idea of Church society with a supreme authority was something to which he could not warm. His attempt to address what he called “mere Christianity” was great about the philosophy of religion but lacked a basic understanding of a sacramental Church. His book The Screwtape Letters is probably the best and most interesting treatment of the theology of hell. The Space Trilogy is especially good at showing the whole false façade of seeking intelligence which is really nonsense in contemporary ideas.

I would say that these authors are excellent and helpful provided one realizes that there is a side to Christianity that they found eluded them and to which, in Lewis’ case, there was some hostility. Happy reading!

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

Please send your questions to:
Fr. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.
375 NE Clackamas St.
Portland, OR 97232
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Comments

  1. Avatar Tom Showerman says:

    Dear Father Mullady, Again, your answers are clear and easy for all to understand. The Church is well served with your “Yes” to Christ’s call to the priesthood. Sincerely, Tom Showerman

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