Empty fonts do not parch waters of faith

By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

By habit many people enter a Catholic Church and immediately head for the holy water font to dip their fingers and make the sign of the cross.  


Holy water and baptismal fonts have been emptied around the Diocese of Baton Rouge to prevent the spreading of the coronavirus. Missed by many parishioners, priests in the Diocese of Baton Rouge said people can use this season of dryness to reflect upon the importance of their own baptism. Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator 


Today, the fonts are dry.  

Because of health concerns created by the coronavirus pandemic, holy water fonts have been emptied. But an empty holy water font creates an opportunity for Catholics to plunge more deeply into the waters of their faith, according to priests of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  

“Holy water is a sacramental, defined as a sacred sign that bears resemblance to the sacraments,” said Father Matthew Lorrain, pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Brusly.  

The Books of Blessings points out that “holy water reminds the faithful of Christ, who is given to us as the supreme divine blessing, who called himself the living water, and who in water established baptism for our sake as the sacramental sign of the blessing that brings salvation.”  

And for Catholics, “everything starts at baptism,” according to Father Brent Maher, pastor of St. Ann Church in Morganza.  

“It’s the gateway by which we become members of the mystical body of Christ, the church and gain access to the infinite riches that are the right of every Catholic: the sacraments, knowledge of the faith, membership in the community and much more,” said Father Maher.  

He emphasized Catholics were reminded in a recent Sunday reading of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans that baptized Christian Catholics have died to a life of sinfulness and are supposed to live for God.  

“In that sense, holy water is like a miniature flood that destroys sin and produces the green plants of virtue. This is one of the great things about holy water: because it is actually blessed, it has power to open souls to receiving the grace of God. The faithful know this inherently, and this is why holy water is so vital for our expression of faith,” said Father Maher.   

Father Lorrain said Catholics “use holy water as a reminder and renewal of our baptism. Thus, Catholics of all ages, from elders to toddlers, bless themselves with holy water when entering and exiting a church. The blessing helps to remind us that we are entering a sacred place.”  

Many Catholics also keep small containers or fonts of holy water in their homes. They use the water to bless themselves and their surroundings and to invoke God’s protection from all threats to their health and happiness.  

Holy water is also sprinkled over the casket and tomb as part of the funeral rites, as a final act of blessing and commendation to God’s care.  

The priests said emptying of the holy water fonts is necessary to help stop the COVID-19 virus. While parishioners have been understanding they still tell them, “I miss the holy water!”  

For some, it may seem that we are journeying through the season of Lent all over again, according to Father Jerry Martin, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Prairieville. 

“During Lent some parishes will leave their holy water fonts dry to evoke the sense of the dryness of the 40 days of Jesus going into the desert and to make us desire more deeply the waters of baptism,” said Father Martin. “We can use this time of COVID dryness in the same way we use the dryness of Lent. Hopefully, absence will make the heart grow fonder.”  

Accommodations are still being made to make holy water available. Father Lorrain noted that many parishes have placed bottles filled with holy water near the baptismal fonts for people to take home until the fonts can be filled again. At St. John some people bring their holy water bottles filled with water and Father Martin blesses them.  

Father Maher said after times of prayer he offers blessings with holy water and it impressed him that people would linger long after simply to have the holy water sprinkled upon them.  

“As the state began to re-open, I was also able to get some touchless liquid dispensers, typically used for soap or sanitizing gel, and fill them with holy water, and the people have been delighted to have the holy water back, even if in an unconventional manner,” said Father Maher.  

Private baptisms are also being celebrated. Father Martin noted at St. John, after the baptism, the water will be poured out.  

Any time the baptismal fonts are dry, whether it’s Lent or COVID-19 or the font’s pump is “down,” people can reflect on holy water as a powerful symbol of unity with others through baptism, according to Father Martin.  

Until the fonts are filled again, Father Martin and Father Maher said Catholics can connect with the other sacramentals of the church.  

“I love how incarnational our Catholic faith is,” said Father Maher. “We are not spiritual beings like the angels, but are persons made of body and soul. Having physical objects helps us to lift up our mind and heart to God. The options are seemingly limitless holy water, blessed salt, crucifixes, rosaries, chaplets, scapulars, holy cords, icons, statues, pictures, prayer cards, medals and more.  

“All of these are physical reminders to us of God’s presence and provide a way to be ‘touched’ not only in spirit but also in body. More than being just things we can wear, hold or see, these items, when blessed, become powerful instruments of God’s grace for us. That’s why they can be so helpful in the life of prayer. God made us bodily creatures and we are blessed to have these physical things to help us orient our soul. Many times I have clutched a rosary, rubbed my fingers against a holy medal, or looked at a holy image and found great consolation and peace. I have heard the same from countless others.”