Does your parish suffer a Lenten drought each year? Are you tired of having your fingers pricked by a small cactus that somehow found its way into your holy water font? Are your fingers still sore from when you jammed them last year on pebbles where water was the day before?
Churches throughout the United States of America seem to suffer a plague not even given to the Egyptians: the removal of holy water from their fonts for the forty days of Lent, and the four days preparing for Lent; remember, Lent begins not on Ash Wednesday, but on the First Sunday of Lent (cf. Paschale Solemnitatis, 23).
Some years back when the position of “liturgist” appeared on church payrolls and these “liturgists” had to find ways to justify their pay, someone devised the well-intentioned idea to remove the holy water. Shortly afterwards it occurred to someone to fill the empty fonts with sand, rocks, cacti, and other irritating and irrational things as if the fonts were part of some sort of grade school art project (there’s a name for them, but I can’t think of it at the moment). It is, after all, a “holy water font.”
Why do such a thing, you ask? Because, they say, Lent is a journey through the “desert” and everyone knows that deserts do not have water. So what? Deserts also do not have layers of purple cloth and burlap draped everywhere in funky patterns, nor do they have large congregations of people.
The intention, I think, was good and was to help people repent of their sins by attempting to get them to focus on their baptism, but, as I have said before, they removed the very thing that helps us to focus on our baptism. I can’t say that I even once remembered baptism when I could not find the holy water. I was, instead, irritated by the fact that the holy water was gone and began to think ill of those in charge (which should have led to repentance rather quickly but often didn’t). The logic was flawed and, as is so very often the case these days, the thought was not carried out to its completion.
Together with the simple theological reasons arguing against the removal of holy water, they forgot even the liturgical actions in which holy water is used (after they removed it from the fonts): the blessing of ashes on Ash Wednesday (Sacramentary, p. 77) and the blessing of palms on Passion Sunday (Sacramentary, p. 123). Logically, these two actions alone would speak against the removal of the holy water.
You will find nowhere in the liturgical books a provision for the removal of holy water, either as an option or as a requirement, but until recently there was also not a strict prohibition against the removal of the holy water.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has put an end to this question (or at least they thought they did) on 14 March 2000 when they sent the following reply:
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:But even before this the same Congregation advised pastor that in their homilies, they should carefully explain “particularly the passages of the Gospel which illustrate the diverse aspects of Baptism and of the other sacraments, and of the mercy of God” (Paschale Solemnitatis, 12). The removal of holy water would be counter-productive to such preaching.1. The liturgical legislation in force does not foresee this innovation, which in addition to being praeter legem [outside the law] 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) [Prot. N. 569/00/L].
We must always remember this, as has been so often stated in my com box: the life of grace does not stop, not even during Lent.
Googling around for a fun image for this post I found a post Fr. Z did on this same question, but with more reflecting upon holy water itself (I didn't find a picture I wanted to use).