Guest post by Ellen Hutchinson
I bounded up the steps into the church last Friday. (Okay, so I didn’t “bound up the steps.” I’m hitting the big 5-0 later this year and I don’t bound up anything anymore. But it sounds so youthful to say that. Frankly, it was 6:50 in the morning and without morning caffeine, I was grateful to God that I was just functional.) Reaching the top step, I took my usual two steps to the left and dipped my fingers into the holy water stoup.
It’s been empty for several months now, an archdiocesan-ordered response last fall to the H1N1 scare. The dipping of my fingers into the empty stoup and blessing myself as I enter the church is an “auto-pilot” gesture. Or so I thought. For this time, my fingers hit water—holy water—and as I felt the coolness of the water on my forehead, I found myself thrilled by the fact that the holy water was back. Ditto as I left the church after Mass.
I spent much time later that day and on into the weekend thinking about my almost giddy reaction to being able to bless myself with holy water. In CL (Communion and Liberation, the movement which I belong to along with uber-blogger and dear friend Webster, and our beloved Ferde) we are taught to judge our experiences. That, and the fact that my middle name is “dissect and analyze.”
I came to the conclusion that despite initially thinking that my dipping and blessing is an auto-pilot gesture, that I don’t really think of it that way. There’s a whole lot of meaning behind that most simple of gestures. That the crossing of myself as I enter church is my final act of preparation for the Mass; a last ditch prayer that I may be considered worthy of being in the presence of God; worthy to participate in the Mass; worthy to receive Him. That the coolness of the water on my forehead is a final attempt to cleanse myself before participating in the most beautiful of meals. That it is indeed a renewal of my baptism which took place in that same church almost 50 years ago. That as I leave the church, the act of crossing myself and the water on my forehead and chest help to form a shield, to protect me against the evil which awaits me out in the world.
The holy water is back, and I couldn’t be happier. And tomorrow morning, as I walk up the steps, take my usual two steps to the left, dip my fingers into the water and make the sign of the cross, feeling that cool water on my forehead, I’ll pray that I never take that gesture for granted again.