An Ordinary Viewpoint

Significance of Water



Three Feasts

Traditionally in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church there were always three solemnities associated with a customary blessing of holy water, the Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost. The Epiphany not only commemorates the coming of the Magi who followed a miraculous star to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-15), but also includes, although often liturgically spread over several weeks, the other two initial "manifestations" of Jesus, namely, His Baptism in the River Jordan by His cousin, Saint John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34), and His first public miracle, changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana in Galilee ( "The conscious water saw its God and blushed" John 2:1-11). Hence, the water connection! Pentecost is the great solemnity which recalls the coming of God, the Holy Spirit, in fire and wind upon the Infant Catholic Church, gathered with the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Upper Room in Jerusalem (Acts of the Apostles 1:14 & 2:1-41). But, water is involved because Jesus at one time referred to the Holy Spirit in terms of water, when He said, "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture says, from within him there shall flow rivers of living water", and then Saint John notes, "He said this, however, of the Spirit Whom they who believed in Him were to receive" (John 7:37-39; & Ezekiel 47:1-12).

It is Easter, however, which is the primary water solemnity of the Church year. This is because Easter is the time and season for Baptism, either the baptizing of the new members of the Church or the time for the regaining of baptismal innocence by those already baptized as the culmination and completion of their Lenten penances and self-denial. At Easter Sunday Mass, in place of reciting the Creed, it is the custom and tradition for all the faithful to renew their baptismal promises and commitment, "which they either made themselves or their parents and godparents made for them". It is the association of Baptism with the dying and rising of Christ, an insight from the earliest days of the Church, that situated Easter as the major time for Baptisms. Saint Paul, for example, declares: "Do you not know that all we who have baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? For we were buried with Him by means of Baptism into His death in order that, just as Christ has arisen from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in the likeness of His death, we shall be so in the likeness of His resurrection also. .....But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live together with Christ, for we know that Christ, having risen from the dead, dies no more, death shall no longer have dominion over Him" (Romans 6:3-11). Of course, this is made dramatically and vividly clearer on those occasions when Baptism is administered to adults by immersion.

Most of Planet

It is a fact that we human beings are creatures of water. So it was very fitting that Jesus would use this very common and familiar but also very necessary item as the sign and vehicle of His foundational sacrament. About three quarters of our planet’s surface is covered with water. About two thirds of a human’s body weight is actually water. Even before we are born, when we are in our mother’s womb, we are surrounded by water. It has been pointed out too that human blood has the same proportion of salt in it as does the ocean, another link with water.

Water (H-2 O) generally serves two basic functions: it washes and cleanses as an almost universal solvent, and then it provides for and sustains life. So appropriately, a human being’s first encounter with the risen Christ which occurs through the water of Baptism, first of all, washes away the tragic legacy, original sin, which is the primordial catastrophe that we all inherit from our earliest human ancestors. Then, through baptismal water, Christ infuses His own risen life into the human soul, that is, He pours into the baptized peson His sanctifying grace which makes one a partaker in the very divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4), opening to such a predestined and chosen one the possibility of eternal and heavenly joy.

Since life as we know it seems to depend on water, it is understandable that interplanetary exploration, by NASA or other such entities, always seems to involve a search for water. Life of any kind would seem to require water in order to exist. Looking at satellite photographs taken of our earth from outer space, one can see very plainly places such as the Sahara Desert, where only minimal amounts of life, whether vegetative or animal, can exist, due to the extremely tiny amounts of water available. Where there is more water, there seems to be more capacity for life. Divine life then is properly and wonderfully signified by the waters of Baptism.

The New Eve

In the Easter blessing of holy water, the ritual cites the great moments in sacred history when water destroyed evil and effected salvation simultanously: at creation when order came out of chaos (Genesis 1:1-2); at the time of Noah (Genesis 6-10; 2 Peter 2:5); and at the time of the Exodus, when Moses led the descendants of Abraham through the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10-31). But, of course, it was in our Lord’s passion, when, after His death on the cross, the soldier pierced His side with a lance and blood and water poured out (John 19:33-34). that water took on the most sacred and important significance.

Saint John Chrysostom said regarding the blood and water flowing from Christ’s side, "Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought...I said that water and blood symbolized Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born....Since the symbols of Baptism and the Eucharist flowed from His side, it was from His side that Christ fashioned the Church, as He had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam.... God took the rib when Adam was in deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and water after He was in the sleep of His own death. Do you understand then how Christ has united His Bride to Himself....?

Saint John the Evangelist says, "This is He Who came in water and blood, Jesus Christ, not in water only but in water and in the blood. And, it is the Spirit Who bears witness that Christ is the Truth. For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and these Three are One. And there are three that bear witness on earth: Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three are one!"

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI says, "Water typifies all that is precious on earth. Anyone who has ever been thirsty knows the truth of this....In Baptism a spring of water flows from Christ’s cross through the entire Church, like a mighty stream that gladdens the City of God (Psalm 46:5). We must never forget that the most precious stream of water in the world pours from the cross and death of Jesus..."

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