Without a source of water all creation will die. The woman at the well understood this. That is why her thirst was so great. She knew her soul was withering away. Each time we gather to celebrate liturgy we too engage in a cycle of dying and rising, which is why the use of water, both blessed and common, is woven throughout our liturgy.
This Sunday, we may first encounter water in the church parking lots as the last of snowy trickles give way. Passing into the church, we bless ourselves with holy water either from a font at the doorway or from the actual baptismal font itself. We need the sustaining renewal of our baptismal water during Lent. After the liturgy on Holy Thursday evening however, holy water may be removed from the church to ready us to receive the new blessed water of the Easter Vigil.
During Lent, we will not experience the sprinkling rite, but during the Sundays of the Easter season, this ritual will resume. It is a reminder that we are living our day of baptism. Perhaps it also shows a bit of God’s humor, especially if you are the one who receives the full force from the sprinkler.
During the preparation of the gifts ordinary water is used. As the bread and wine are readied at the altar, a few drops of water from a cruet are added to the chalice holding the wine. This action expresses our Lord’s divine and human natures. It also symbolizes Christ’s death and resurrection being celebrated at the Eucharist, harkening to the crucifixion, and the Roman soldier thrusting his lance to the side of Jesus. From the wounded side flowed blood and water. St. Cyprian made another beautiful correlation by suggesting that the water represents the church (that’s us) being drawn into the life of Christ. We are united to him as inseparably as water into wine.
After the gifts are prepared, the priest washes his hands saying, “Lord, wash away my iniquity, and cleanse me of my sins.” This gesture is a sign of the priest’s desire for purity of mind, body and soul. In the early church however, this hand washing also served a practical purpose. The priest had just received the gifts from people’s homes, a virtual farmers’ market.
The final time water is used in the liturgy might go completely unnoticed by most of us. After Communion, a small amount of common water is poured into the Communion vessels to remove any remaining particles of Eucharist. This may be done at the altar or at a side table. The water that has cleaned each vessel is then poured into the chalice and consumed by the priest or the assisting deacon.
And so we pray, “Springs of living water, praise the Lord.”
Zahorik is director of worship at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh.