Again, it is fortuitous that we consider this optional feature of Sunday Mass during the Easter season – for this season is the particular time singled out in the Roman Missal for this blessing and sprinkling to especially but occasionally substitute for the Penitential Act.
This optional rite echoes the rite which is a required part of the Easter Vigil when after those to be baptised have been baptised and confirmed, the faithful present are invited to renew their promise of of baptismal faith (although they can also be invited to renew this promise during the baptismal liturgy iteself (Roman Missal, The Easter Vigil, 49).
On Easter Day the renewal of promises and the sprinkling follows the homily and takes the place of the Creed.
Dear brethren (brothers and sisters), through the Paschal Mystery
we have been buried with Christ in Baptism,
so that we may walk with him in newness of life.
And so, now that our Lenten observance is concluded,
let us renew the promises of Holy Baptism,
by which we once renounced Satan and his works
and promised to serve God in the holy Catholic Church.
There follows the renewal of baptismal promises and then the priest says:
And the Priest concludes:
And may almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has given us new birth by water and the Holy Spirit
and bestowed on us forgiveness of our sins,
keep us by his grace,
in Christ Jesus our Lord,
for eternal life. All: Amen.
And then the priest sprinkles the assembly with water blessed at the Vigil.
The prayer highlights the way our keeping of Lent prepares us for continuing to live the life of Easter, and the way we were initiated to that life in Baptism.
On other Sundays there is no renewal of promises and the sprinkling (and prior blessing of water, if needed) replaces the Penitential Act. Perhaps in consequence of the absence of the promises on other Easter Sundays the prayer of Blessing is more extensive, echoing some of the principal themes of the blessing of water at the Vigil (and Baptism).
On these other Sundays of Easter Time the priest introduces the rite, saying:
Dear brethren (brothers and sisters),
let us humbly beseech the Lord our God
to bless this water he has created,
which will be sprinkled on us
as a memorial of our Baptism.
May he help us by his grace
to remain faithful to the Spirit we have received.
If there is a weakness in the prayer of blessing that follows it is that it is mostly looking back – to saving mysteries, to baptism celebrated etc, rather to the living of the Baptismal life, (which is better expressed in the concluding words of the introduction.
Lord our God,
in your mercy be present to your people’s prayers,
and, for us who recall the wondrous work of our creation
and the still greater work of our redemption,
graciously bless this water.
For you created water to make the fields fruitful
and to refresh and cleanse our bodies.
You also made water the instrument of your mercy:
for through water you freed your people from slavery
and quenched their thirst in the desert;
through water the Prophets proclaimed the new covenant
you were to enter upon with the human race;
and last of all,
through water, which Christ made holy in the Jordan,
you have renewed our corrupted nature
in the bath of regeneration.
Therefore, may this water be for us
a memorial of the Baptism we have received,
and grant that we may share
in the gladness of our brothers and sisters
who at Easter have received their Baptism.
Through Christ our Lord.
Weaker still are the prayers offered for blessing the water outside of Easter Time. They rather narrowly focus on forgiveness and protection – presenting the faithful as more or less passive recipients of grace rather than active collaborators with it.
To occasionally replace the Penitential Act with the rite of blessing and sprinkling does help vary the experience of a congregation, provide a reminder of the foundational importance of baptism, and open us up to another way of contemplating and praying about God’s saving work, freeing us from the bonds of sin and for a life focussed on love and service.
Of particular importance for the prayerful engagement with this rite is the chant that accompanies the sprinkling.
The Missal offers a range of mostly scriptural texts, and also allows for other appropriate chants.
During Easter Time
Antiphon 1 Cf. Ez 47: 1-2, 9
I saw water flowing from the Temple,
from its right-hand side, alleluia:
and all to whom this water came
were saved and shall say: alleluia, alleluia.
Antiphon 2 Cf. Wis 3: 8; Ez 36: 25
On the day of my resurrection, says the Lord, alleluia,
I will gather the nations and assemble the kingdoms
and I will pour clean water upon you, alleluia.
Antiphon 3 Cf. Dan 3: 77, 79
You springs and all that moves in the waters,
sing a hymn to God, alleluia.
Antiphon 4 1 Pet 2: 9
O chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation,
proclaim the mighty works of him
who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light, alleluia.
From your side, O Christ,
bursts forth a spring of water,
by which the squalor of the world is washed away
and life is made new again, alleluia.
Outside Easter Time
Antiphon 1 Ps 50: 9
Sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall be cleansed;
wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
Antiphon 2 Ez 36: 25-26
I will pour clean water upon you,
and you will be made clean of all your impurities,
and I shall give you a new spirit, says the Lord.
Hymn Cf. 1 Pet 1: 3-5
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy has given us new birth into a living hope
through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
into an inheritance that will not perish,
preserved for us in heaven
for the salvation to be revealed in the last time!
The texts for the chant repay our use in meditation during the Liturgy and outside it too – they are somewhat stronger than the prayers provided!
Questions for reflection
- When and why is the Blessing and Sprinkling rite used in your community?
- How is its meaning presented to the assembly?
- What music is used, and who is it sung by?
- In what other ways and when is the significance of baptism explored with your Sunday congregation?
A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.
~ Excerpts from the English translation and chants of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
~ Commentary: (c) 2021, Allen Morris
~ Photograph: (c) 2003, Allen Morris. Stained glass, former Dominican chapoel, Eindhoven Netherlands.