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Photo: Janis Olson Photo: Janis Olson

Holy water in a hand-decorated bowl offers a daily renewal of our baptism

We Catholics use holy water at church so often that we might take it for granted. Yet we certainly notice its absence on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. It’s startling to see the holy water fonts dry. Gone is the reminder of our baptism, our source of new life in Christ, our life-giving waters.

But at the Easter Vigil, all is restored: The fonts are filled again and the baptismal water is blessed. In this blessing, we hear how God has given water the “power to sanctify” throughout salvation history — the great flood cleansed the earth of sin, the Israelites passed through the Red Sea to freedom, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. For the remainder of the Easter season, the congregation is sprinkled liberally with this holy water in place of the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass. We are reminded of our baptism and our baptismal vows.

During the 50 days of Easter at my house, we make a point of using holy water often. Our holy water font sits in a central location, near the front door, so that it is easily accessible in all of our comings and goings. When we pass by, it’s easy to dip our fingers in and make the sign of the cross.

It is great to start the day with a blessing and a reminder that we live for Christ. When we walk out the front door, we are ready to bring Christ to the world, and we also feel his protection.

This year I made a holy water bowl to sit on our altar, our family prayer space. I used a clear glass bowl so that I could affix a design to the bottom that is visible through the water. I chose the Vidi Aquam, the antiphon used during the Easter-season sprinkling rite. After downloading a copy of the music in chant form, I printed it out and glued it to the bottom of the bowl.

Now when we look at the bowl, we see through the water to the Latin words and notes of the antiphon: “I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple, alleluia.” This alludes to both the water that flowed from Christ’s side on the cross when he was pierced with a spear and also to Ezekiel’s vision described in Ezekiel 47:1.

Around the outside rim of the bowl, I glued scallop shells. An ancient symbol of baptism, scallop shells often are used to pour water over a person’s head during the sacrament. They also are a symbol of St. James the Greater and, for almost a thousand years, of Christians who make the pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Holy water can be used for more than just blessing ourselves. We can bless our homes, our sick friends and family members, our workspaces, even our cars (arguably a place we put ourselves most at risk every day). My family uses holy water in the blessing of both our Advent wreath and our Christmas tree. After we mark our front-door lintel on Epiphany, we process through the house together, sprinkling every room with holy water.

When our supply of holy water runs low, we bring a mason jar to Mass and fill it from the baptismal font. At first, we used holy water mostly at Eastertime and special occasions, but over the past few years we have found ourselves incorporating holy water into our daily routine.

What a blessing. Lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor! (Wash me, and I will be made whiter than snow!)

Holy water font

Photo: Janis Olson

-Clear glass bowl (I used a small Pyrex kitchen bowl)
-Design for bottom of bowl
-White copy paper
-Paint brush, medium-sized, either foam or bristle
-Decoupage medium, like Mod Podge
-Hot glue gun and glue sticks
-Scallop shells from a craft supply store

Choose a design for the bottom of the bowl. You can find images of the Vidi Aquam chant online, or choose another appropriate design.

Set the bowl on top of the paper, framing the part of the chant or image that you want to see. Trace around the bowl and cut out the circle. Trim the edges of the circle until it fits the bottom of the bowl well.

Using your foam or bristle brush, apply a medium coat of Mod Podge onto the bottom of the glass bowl. If there’s not enough decoupage medium, the paper will wrinkle more easily; if there is excess, it can easily be wiped away. Place the paper design circle onto the bottom of the bowl. Firmly smooth it out, making sure to push out any wrinkles. Let dry 15–20 minutes.

Apply a medium coat of Mod Podge on top of the paper circle, making sure to seal the edges well. Let dry thoroughly. Repeat with a second coat and let dry thoroughly. If the bottom is tacky, use a clear brush-on or spray sealer and let dry.

Preheat the hot glue gun. Arrange the scallop shells around the rim of the bowl to see how well they fit together when overlapping. Then apply the heated glue to each shell and affix it to the bowl, overlapping them as you go.

Once the glue has cooled, clean up excess glue strings and fingerprints on the glass.

Fill with holy water.

Northwest Catholic - April 2017

Michelle Bruno

Michelle Bruno is a member of Kent’s Holy Spirit Parish. Contact her at