Q. What are the appropriate actions for Catholics attending a Catholic Mass or liturgy when a priest proceeds among the congregation, sprinkling them with holy water? Are they to make the sign of the cross, genuflect, or take some other action?
A. It would be appropriate to make the sign of the cross when the priest sprinkles water from the aspergillum in your direction.
Catholic liturgies follow directions detailed in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), but most of the instructions regard the gestures and postures of the priest, deacon or other ministers. While some gestures of the laity at a Mass are prescribed (when we sit and when we stand, for example), not every posture or gesture is explicitly directed.
In the foreward to the Roman Missal translated for the United States in 2011, Pope Benedict XVI reminded, the texts of the Mass “contain riches which have preserved and expressed the faith and experience of the People of God over its two-thousand-year history.”
Equally important, he said, is “an attentiveness to the various kinds of language that the liturgy employs: words and music, gestures and silence, movement, the liturgical colors of the vestments. By its very nature the liturgy operates on different levels of communication which enable it to engage the whole human person.”
Holy water is a sacramental, a blessed reminder of our baptism, and a spiritual protection against evil.
This question was answered by a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln. Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.