Update: I have it on good authority that the holy water and baptismal fonts at the parish I reference below are full of holy water this year!
Before we moved to our current city, we lived in a college town and were members of a parish that was dubbed the “conservative” Catholic church in the community (I think simply because it wasn’t the one near the University?). Anyway, we loved being members of that parish, and it took us a long time to cut the apron strings after we moved to our current city and new parish. I bring up the term “conservative” because as I learn more about the Catholic faith and its rich traditions, I realize that parish really wasn’t all that conservative in terms of implementing many of those rich Catholic traditions into the Liturgy.
For example, one of the Lenten practices of that parish was to drain all the water from the baptismal font and replace with sand. I guess the folks on the Art & Environment Committee liked the symbolism of sand representing our need to journey through the desert just like Christ. Yet another year, the holy water was rejected for rocks. I could speculate, but I’m really not sure what the rocks were supposed to symbolize.
I knew well the people involved with making those decisions, and I know they weren’t making them out of defiance in hopes to “show the Church” how to get with the 21st Century. I truly believe they just didn’t know the Church’s rubrics on such things and had no reason to think they were implementing incorrect practices.
So what is correct? In a nutshell, holy water fonts are to be emptied on Holy Thursday (and not a day before!) from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and refilled with water blessed at the Easter Vigil. From the letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments:
. . . 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…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 first Lent at our current parish we noticed the holy water was drained from the baptismal font, but rather than replacing with sand or rocks, the font was simply dry with no running water. It could have been worse; it’s a rather large font!
Fast forward to today, Lent 2011. I have the privilege of sitting on my parish’s Liturgical Committee and this issue surfaced a couple months back as we prepared for Lent. We now have a new pastor who coincidentally tackled this very subject at his previous parish. He provided a simple defense on why we don’t drain the holy water, and just like at my previous parish, the practice was being implemented year after year because good-intentioned lay people weren’t told any different. Once informed, the entire committee became motivated to do what is right and acceptable.
Flow river, flow! I’m happy to report our baptismal font is fully loaded and running with holy water and will be until Holy Thursday. Because it’s different than past practices, questions have arisen as to why the font isn’t dry. When asked, our pastor treats the occasion as a teachable moment to educate the laity; it’s one of his many gifts (1 Peter 3:15).
Is your parish dry? You might want to bring up this topic with your pastor and liturgy committee for future consideration. Here is the official letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
CONGREGATION DE CULTU DIVINO ET DISCIPLINA SACRAMENTORUM
Prot. N. 569/00/L
March 14, 2000
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:
1. The liturgical legislation in force does not foresee this innovation, which in addition to being praeter legem (outside of 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).
Hoping that this resolves the question and with every good wish and kind regard, I am,
Sincerely yours in Christ, [signed]
Mons. Mario Marini Undersecretary (who later went on to be named secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. Mons. Marini died in 2009.)
And if you need more information from a certifiable, qualified, ordained priest, check out Father Z’s post about this very issue.