‘My Favorite Catholic Lore’ Holy Water Facts Meme

On January 15 2020, a Tumblr screenshot featuring purported facts about holy water (“my favorite Catholic lore”) was shared to Imgur with the title “How to get +1 holy damage”:

A multi-party Tumblr exchange began with claims from users starfleetacademy and animonaut, who said:

“My favorite catholic lore is that anyone can make holy water in a pinch but the church puts dumb restrictions on us like ‘do this only if someone needs their last rites’ like I WILL bless this McDonald’s sprite and I WILL enjoy the crispiness of our lord and savior[.]”

“Another bit is that holy water cannot be diluted. When I went to the Vatican the tour guide was explaining this, if you put any amount of holy water into any amount of normal water, the whole bunch becomes holy. This is how they sell Pope Holy Water in the gift shop. This is how I’ve been drinking only holy water for two months now. I am immune to demons..”

In the first comment in the conversation, “starfleetacademy” stated that in Catholicism, laypeople (i.e., the unordained) maintained limited authority to create holy water — with the caveat they only do so for a pressing matter such as the Anointing of the Sick (formerly known as “last rites.”) However, the user expressed their inclination to sanctify “McDonald’s Sprite” and, presumably, chicken nuggets.

In the second, “animonaut” asserted that “holy water cannot be diluted,” and that “if you put any amount of holy water into any amount of normal water, the whole bunch becomes holy.” Furthermore, they (perhaps jokingly) claimed they had been drinking only holy water for two months.

Next up in the screenshot was “kaijutegu,” with a purported clarification and an anecdote about their mother’s use of a Catholic “loophole” to create nearly limitless amounts of holy water sanctified by Pope Benedict XVI himself:

It’s not actually any amount of holy water- according to the Church, the water has to be more than half holy water by volume. So if you take a half gallon+a few drops of holy water and a half gallon of secular water, you get one gallon of holy water, plus a few drops. You can then add a gallon of secular water to that and then you have two gallons of holy water. We’ve got a couple jugs of Pope Water in the linen closet at my parents’ house, because my mom used the heck out of this loophole after a trip to Italy in 2008. It was more than a decade ago at this point and we still have Pope Water. We no longer have that Pope, but by god do we have his water.

According to kaijutegu, Catholics could use holy water to make holy water as animonaut described, but kaijutegu said that the “secular water” (as opposed to holy water) was required by volume to be less than half — even if just slightly less. Therefore, they maintained, a half gallon and a few drops of holy water combined with a half gallon of tap water resulted in a gallon of holy water.

As seen in the screenshot, kaijutegu returned to the thread with pictorial evidence of their family’s stash of neverending holy water. Visible on the image on the left side was a gallon jug of water with a black magic marker cross, a line marked “fill,” and the letters BXVI (for Pope Benedict XVI):

Here’s what a jug of Pope water looks like. Mom measured a fill line on them so that we never accidentally run out and just have old jugs of secular water lying around.

In the screenshot’s final exchange, user “corvidbone” contributed two hashtags (with spaces.)  The first was “#catholicism is a hell of a ride,” and the second was “#pope water is gamer girl bathwater but for jesus stans.” The second hashtag was a reference to Belle Delphine‘s controversial sale of her bathwater.

Although the thread was primarily amusing to its participants, it also contained claims that seemed to be news to sharers and commenters. There were two primary claims, each with a stipulation:

  • In the Catholic Church, unordained people were authorized to sanctify holy water (typically the duty of the ordained). However, laypeople were permitted to sanctify holy water only in exigent circumstances, such as the imminent death of a Catholic out of range of a priest or other clergymember;
  • Holy water could be increased in quantity by laypeople, if they added a quantity of holy water to regular water. However, that “loophole” held only if the quantity of holy water (even a large quantity) was greater than that of regular or “secular water,” even if just by “a few drops.”

First was a question of whether laypeople retained the official ability to sanctify water and “make holy water” without the presence of a priest, and further, if laypeople might only do so if the circumstances were pressing.

Brittanica.com defines holy water as it applies to Catholicism and related faiths, but no mention is made of laypeople making holy water holy:

Holy water, in Christianity, water that has been blessed by a member of the clergy and is used in baptism and to bless individuals, churches, homes, and articles of devotion. A natural symbol of purification, water has been used by religious peoples as a means of removing uncleanness, either ritual or moral. Holy water is used in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, certain Lutheran synods, Anglicanism, and various other churches.

Ability of laypeople to create holy water in exigent circumstances seemed a fairly relevant detail that ought to have some dispersal on the internet. Discussions about the ability of laypeople to bless water sometimes came up in the context of the ability of laypeople to baptize others; the ability of laypeople to baptize might be the source of confusion regarding holy water.

Over on Quora, Father Peter Francis Joseph DeFazio twice answered questions about laypeople and the creation of holy water in July 2018. To the first — “Can a layperson bless water and make it into holy water?” — he said:

No. Ordinary water (H2O) becomes holy water via the prayer of an ordained minister (bishop, priest or deacon.) Another way of saying it is God, the Holy Spirit, sanctifies the water upon the invocation of the ordained minister. There are many variations of the prayer of confecting holy water. [Source.]

In a subsequent response (to the question “Can you bless/create your own holy water if you need it desperately and there is no priest present? If not, why?”), DeFazio specifically addressed exigent circumstances like the ones referenced by the first Tumblr user. In his answer, DeFazio indicated it might be possible — but it did seemed to be far from canonical certainty:

Ordinarily, no. As I previously wrote:

[Quoted above excerpt.]

I do not know if it would work or not on an emergency basis—say during times/places of fierce persecutions of Christians, and in the absence of ordained men. God can certainly do anything. If there were no bishops, priests or deacons available, perhaps God would honor the prayers of a non-ordained person in blessing water. Note: This is speculation not official teaching.

My guess is that were laypeople to bless water in such circumstances God would impart a blessing over the water, but it would not be “Holy Water,” per se. Just blessed water, like the blessing of other food and drink.

But under ordinary circumstances, what I wrote [above] applies[.]

DeFazio addressed the question in terms of God’s ability to intervene and make water holy, not the layperson’s emergency ability to do so. He again stated no familiarity with Church doctrine deputizing laypeople to create holy water, but mused that “perhaps God would honor the prayers of a non-ordained person in blessing water.” DeFazio immediately followed up by saying that his comments constituted “speculation,” rather than “official teaching,” indicating that the practice described was not formally recognized by the Catholic Church. (Which was, in turn, perhaps the case due to laypeople being inclined to sanctify Sprite and chicken nuggets.)

A second claim made in the post involved the claim that holy water could be added to unblessed water, to create a far greater quantity of holy water. Similar claims appeared on a Catholic discussion forum in 2008, with the same general features of the claims on Tumblr:

“I was told by a layperson that we could just mix a bit of blessed water with a gallon of tap water and it would make a gallon and a bit of holy water. How can I show this to be incorrect?”

“It is incorrect that you can mix a “bit” of Holy Water with additional water. You can mix up to 51% Holy Water with 49% regular water to replenish it when necessary. there must always be more Holy Water then regular water.”

A Reddit user published a similar question to r/Catholicism in June 2019; users responded and referenced a “general dilution rate” with respect to holy water, but no one seemed sure of the amount:

Although the 49 percent to 51 percent ratio was common in discussion among laypeople on Catholic forums, once again, priests didn’t seem to view the technicalities quite the same way. When asked by a congregant whose holy water font was beset by a crust due to high levels of consecrated salt, the priest suggested that “in a pinch” holy water could be diluted.

However, he stopped very short of saying it could or should be diluted by nearly half:

I suppose you could add a little… a very little bit of water to your Holy Water.

But this brings us to the issue of dilution of Holy Water for the sake of extending it.

Please, don’t do that. Get more Holy Water.

It is possible, in a pinch, to add a small amount of water to Holy Water or Baptismal Water if there isn’t a sufficient quality for the task for which it is needed. However, that should not be the usual practice and only a small amount, proportionally, should be added. And, frankly, I can’t think of many circumstances in which you would urgently need a lot more. I can conjure some… I guess, if I try.

It is better simply to ask Father to bless more Holy Water and make sure it is in sufficient supply.

Overall, the priest above’s stated view seemed to match commonly shared church guidance on holy water, inasmuch as dilution was possible but not advised. UCatholic.com explained:

According to the “Rules for Administering Baptism” under the Rituale Romanum, if Holy Water is not of sufficient quantities, more may be added provided it does not exceed the original quantity of water.

“If the baptismal water has so diminished that it is foreseen it will not suffice, unblessed water may be added even repeatedly, but in lesser quantity than the blessed each time this is done. If it becomes contaminated or has leaked out or in any way is deficient, the pastor will see to it that the font is thoroughly cleansed and replenished with fresh water, and proceed to bless it according to the form given below.”

In short, this means Holy Water can be diluted 49% and still retain its sacramental properties. The 49%/51% ratio has precedent in the Church: the Sacred Congregation of Rites prescribed in 1904 that liturgical candles must be comprised of at least 51% beeswax i.e in maxima parle.

“and at least 51% for the other candles.” — Liturgical Law p. 37

What about adding water for a second time? In almost all cases, this never happens. Safeguards are in place that properly diluted Holy Water is not diluted again and thus retains its sacramental properties.

On a separate forum, a former seminary student made what was essentially the same observation, noting that the 49 percent and 51 percent proportions were something of a Catholic urban legend. Indicated was limited basis in Church doctrine, as well as a lack of understanding among laypeople about the relevance of the dilution rate:

Although these rules are from the 1962 rubrics, they still show that ordinary water may be mixed with holy water and retain its blessing. In other words, it is important to realize that to maintain its sacramental blessing in force, the water added to the original volume is not to exceed 49%. The water added to the holy water must be less than the original volume. Any more than that the holy water looses its sacramental qualities and is to be considered ordinary water.

When adding water a second time to the previous amount of holy water, the water added to that must also be 49% or less of that volume. It should be noted that this is rarely done and that safeguards are generally in place to make sure this does not happen. This should be avoided if at all possible.

Most graduates of a Catholic school are familiar with priests and nuns “debunking” common claims about their belief system, possibly imparted by well-meaning but ill-informed parents and relatives about Church rules and practices. Based on our findings regarding laypeople blessing holy water and the dilution rates of holy water, that tendency seemed to be in play here.

The Tumblr screenshot’s main claims held that laypeople could make holy water but only in exigent circumstances, and that holy water could be essentially doubled so long as the quantity of holy water was slightly more than half the quantity of “secular water.” Based on somewhat mortified answers by priests, neither claim was quite true. When pressed, one priest said it was certainly possible God could intervene and enable a layperson to create holy water — but he seemed unaware of any official Church doctrine recognizing the practice. Similarly, a priest when asked said a tiny amount of holy water dilution was okay, but the 49 percent to 51 percent ratio was not what he described. A former seminary student explicated the Church’s stance on diluting holy water from doctrine, emphasizing that it was advisable and preferred to obtain more 100 percent holy water over diluting holy water with unblessed water.

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