At the entrance to the church there is a small dish of water, dwarfed by our elegant font, so often walked past, so often ignored and yet a vital reminder for everyone of the power of our baptism in Christ.
The water in there is never there long enough to get stagnant, because at each baptism, the water is renewed; for this water is holy and it is intended for us to remind ourselves of our baptism each and every time we come into church.
Dip your finger into the cooling water, make the sign of the cross by touching your forehead, abdomen, right shoulder and then left shoulder. If you are coming in with someone else, dip your finger in and offer it to them for them to do so: the waters of baptism are to be shared, as God so willingly shares the salvation they promise with you.
In making this sign, we are reminded that from the waters of Baptism we are grafted as the children of Christ and have an indelible mark inscribed upon our souls marking us as Christ’s own forever.
Although the water on our forehead will evaporate in a few moments, Baptism is for all time: a sign to us of salvation won for us by Jesus Christ. What better way for us to begin our worship of the Almighty than to be reminded of this great act of the love of God towards us before we offer Him our thanks and praise?
But is this just another example of Romish practice imported into our fine Anglican Church? Just like all the other things discussed in these articles, the sharing and use of Holy Water has been a feature of Anglicanism before, during and after the Reformation and became most visible under the Oxford Movement. We sometimes forget the heritage of the Church of England and lose sight of the fact that it has always seen itself as Catholic and Reformed.
We are all, and have always been Catholics because we state a firm belief in “one holy, catholic and apostolic church”. Catholic means universal, and does not mean “Roman Catholic”.
In being Catholics, this does not automatically make us what used to be called “High Church”, for that label has not really been relevant to the Church of England since the 1930’s. Just as many of the ‘free churches’ are rediscovering ritual and symbolism, so the Church of England has increasingly become aware of its rich liturgical and symbol heritage carried through the Prayer Book, the English Missal and into Common Worship.
At the heart of this is a yearning to reach out to God with more than just words, using all of our senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste) to engage with God’s wondrous creation and to try to express the inexpressible. By worshipping with more than just our lips, we celebrate our humanity in all its diversity:
“Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord” (Psalm 150)