More on sprinkling

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q:  I was thinking about the sprinkling and how our sacristans have helped with the sprinkling. I know you said that the symbol of the sprinkling is the water and not the minister and that you didn’t think that there would be any damage for the sacristan to assist. I have additional considerations that I am wondering if they would continue to support your thoughts on this:
  • At the Vigil we have the assembly process to the baptismal waters and bless themselves with the water after the renewal of the baptismal promises—the missal directs this action as a sprinkling by the priest— it seems the procession to the font is a “local” custom and an adaptation of the ritual—correct? Would the church see this adaptation as an abuse of the ritual? Would it be a fair “argument” that since we have holy water at the doors of the nave for people to bless themselves as they enter into the nave, that people blessing themselves within the liturgy is acceptable? (by the way, no one is challenging me on this, I am just wanting to be as informed as possible).
  • This leads me to my next thought: if it is acceptable for people to bless themselves with holy water, then that leads me to think that a lay minister, i.e. a sacristan, could reasonably participate in the sprinkling. Again, just trying to find more considerations to support this.

A:   I agree with you on both points. Here in my parish, I too invite people to come sign themselves with water at the Vigil. But that is partly because I have just been in the font baptizing the elect, and I need a little time to go back to the sacristy and change into dry clothing. I find that this activity by the people covers the time I need.

After I commented that the symbol of sprinkling is more about the water than the minister, I recalled one detail about the sprinkling rite. It is hierarchical. “taking the aspergillum, the Priest sprinkles himself and the ministers, then the clergy and people, moving through the church, if appropriate.”

It’s similar to the way that communion is administered: first to the priest, then to the people. So, the liturgy probably sees the sprinkling rite as a presidential act that is tied to the blessing. As the priest blesses the water, so he sprinkles it. This may also explain why there is a blessing of water during Easter Time when the water has already been blessed. The words and the action are tightly linked.
Notice, though, that the rubric does not require the priest to move through the church. If he does not, could someone else do it? It’s probably not what the rubric has in mind, but it may be another way of justifying the usage of a lay minister to assist in sprinkling, as frequently happens at communion.