QUESTION: “On a pilgrimage to Lourdes, the priest was reluctant to bless the water that I wanted to bring back. Is there something wrong with blessing Lourdes water?
ANSWER: Things, places, actions and words that we use in our devotions are called sacramentals. Their effect depends on the devotion of the Christian faithful who use them as an aid to prayer. Those that are approved by the Church also benefit from the prayers of the whole mystical body of Christ. They are not magical and should not be used in a superstitious way as though their effects were automatic.
At Baptism we use water that is blessed for the sacramental rite, and we use holy water in the church and in our homes. The older form of the consecration of baptismal water is a lengthy ritual. Eamon Duffy, in his book ‘The Stripping of the Altars’, describes how the font containing the baptismal water was locked because of the power of this sacramental. Ordinary holy, or ‘lustral’ water is blessed in the older form of the Roman Ritual by first exorcising and blessing water, then exorcising and blessing salt, then mixing them together and saying a further prayer of blessing. This holy water is then used in many other sacramentals in which a person or thing is blessed and then sprinkled. In the modern rite there are separate blessings, but water blessed for Baptism is also used simply as holy water.
Lourdes water is a sacramental approved by the Church. The water from the spring is ‘blessed’, so to speak, by its connection with the holy place at which Our Lady appeared to St Bernadette. We bathe in it and drink it in response to the instructions that Our Lady gave to the young saint. Since the time of St Bernadette herself, the use of Lourdes water has been the occasion of many miracles which God has worked to help us in our faith and in the conversion of souls. It is a particular sacramental in its own right and therefore it is not necessary or appropriate for the priest to give an additional blessing.”
– This article by Fr Tim Finigan was published as part of the feature “Catholic Dilemmas” in “The Catholic Herald” issue May 30 2014. For subscriptions please visit http://www.catholicherald.co.uk (external link).