Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.

Don't Drink the Water

09-22-2013Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

While I don't watch the morning news shows someone pointed this out to me. Good Morning America recently ran a story " Holy Water May Be Harmful to Your Health, Study Finds". Here's the gist of what was reported:

Researchers at the Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna tested water from 21 springs in Austria and 18 fonts in Vienna and found samples contained up to 62 million bacteria per milliliter of water… Tests indicated 86 percent of the holy water, commonly used in baptism ceremonies and to wet congregants' lips, was infected with common bacteria found in fecal matter such as E. coli, enterococci and Campylobacter, which can lead to diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever.

Nitrates, commonly found in fertilizer from farms, were also identified in the water. If ingested, water-containing nitrates over the maximum contaminant level could cause serious illness, especially in infants younger than 6 months, which could lead to death if untreated, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"We need to warn people against drinking from these sources," said Dr Alexander Kirschner, study researcher and microbiologist at the Medical University of Vienna.

Really? A few things that were not reported: the water used in baptismal fonts for baptism and holy water dishes is the same water that comes out of the tap. So it is the same water that is used to drink, cook, wash and bath with at home. Also the report did not note that the levels of the various bacteria and contaminants were not above the maximum contaminant level. In other words what was found in baptismal fonts was pretty much the same level as found in household water. Additionally aside from using fresh water every time we baptize, it's not our custom to drink holy water, merely pour it over the crown of the head. When baptizing an infant in hospital we use sterile water. And personally in 25+ years of baptizing infants I have never had one die from the holy water.

When it comes to the water in the holy water dishes that we bless ourselves with you would expect more contaminants to be found since many people dip their fingers in it. Again our practice is to change the water at least weekly. But the bacteria levels are probably not much more than found in public pools or restrooms.

Now I am not making excuses for unsanitary practices or poor housekeeping but I wonder what motived ABC News to present this story? For some reason I suspect they were not motivated by altruism. Maybe it was just a slow news day. But just maybe they would rather scare people off from Church. After all in the worldview of so many journalists religion is a relic of a superstitious past that we need to shake off. All in all this reporting is a kind of sneaky way to implant the idea that infants are in grave danger of being sickened by holy water.

Years ago the media tried to insert the same panic about receiving communion from a common cup. So the Centers for Disease Control did a thorough study of the practice, they had about 500yrs of data to work with, and concluded that for a variety of reasons drinking from the communion chalice posed little health risk. Even still our practice is that during periods of outbreaks of influenza or other contagious diseases we suspend the practice of offering the communion cup and even forgo the exchange of peace handshake. Additionally our communion ministers use hand sanitizer immediately before distributing communion and we also cleanse all vessels with hot, soapy water after each Mass.

What I found ironic is that ABC News would never report the dangers of chemicals which are part of the lifestyle choices the mainstream media approve of such as chemical contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, that abortion increases the risks of breast cancer or that antidepressants and other antipsychotic drugs increase the risk of violence and suicide.

Actually now that I think about it this story makes a lot of sense. Demons, after all despise holy water.

Love, Fr. John B.