As I’ve said several times, we are the Christian Church, not the Christian Historical Society. We don’t do what we do because it’s old, we do it because it proclaims the Gospel.
That having been said, like Matthew’s scribes training for the Kingdom of Heaven, we should periodically assess our treasures old and new and consider which of them best proclaim the Gospel in our time and place. There’s one treasure I’ve been looking at quite a bit recently…the Asperges (“Sprinkling”).
There’s no question that one of the great theological centers of the ’79 BCP is Baptism; the Baptismal Service and Covenant holds a prominent place in current Episcopal thinking (or, at least people give it lip-service despite actions to the contrary [ahem–CWOB!]). Indeed, one of the major complications for the acceptance of the bishop-elect of N. Michigan is his “edits” to the Baptismal liturgy.
However, despite the centrality of this Sacrament, nothing in our regular weekly services point to directly it. Why not? My suggestion would be to recover the Asperges, a liturgical action that a) is thoroughly within the historic Western liturgy, and b) clearly relates Baptism to the forgiveness of sins and the life of the Church.
As written in the current Roman Rite, the Asperges is parallel to the Penitential Rite that opens Mass. We’ve got a Penitential Rite (however rarely used) and an Asperges rite would be a perfect counterpoint to it. Here’s the rite as it stands in the Roman Missal:
[This would, for Sunday Masses, follow the normal Beginning Dialogue with its seasonal variations]
Invitation to prayer:
Dear friends, this water will be used to remind us of our baptism. Let us ask God to bless it and to keep us faithful to the Spirit he has given us.
[Clear and direct without being overly didactic]
After a moment of silence, the priest says one of the following
God our Father, your gift of water brings life and freshness to the earth; it washes away our sins and brings us eternal life. We ask you now to bless this water, and to give us your protection on this day which you have made your own. Renew the living spring of your life within us and protect us in spirit and body, that we may be free from sin and come into your presence to receive your gift of salvation. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Lord God almighty, creator of all life, of body and soul, we ask you to bless this water: as we use it in faith forgive our sins and save us from all illness and the power of evil. Lord, in your mercy give us living water, always springing up as a fountain of salvation: free us, body and soul, from every danger, and admit us to your presence in purity of heart. Grant this through Christ our Lord.
During the Easter Season:
Lord God almighty, hear the prayers of your people: we celebrate our creation and redemption. Hear our prayers and bless this water which gives fruitfulness to the fields, and refreshment and cleansing to man. You chose water to show your goodness when you led your people to freedom through the Red Sea and satisfied their thirst in the desert with water from the rock. Water was the symbol used by
the prophets to foretell your new covenant with man. You made the water of baptism holy by Christ’s baptism in the Jordan: by it you give us a new birth and renew us in holiness. May this water remind us of our baptism, and let us share the joy of all who have been baptized at Easter. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
[So, all of these 1) mention Baptism as the forgiveness of sin, 2) mention salvation in connection with Baptism, and 3) make some solid biblical connections.]
If salt is to be added to the holy water, the priest says:
Almighty God, we ask you to bless this salt as once you blessed the salt scattered over the water by the prophet Elisha. Wherever this salt and water are sprinkled, drive away the power of evil, and protect us always by the presence of your Holy Spirit. Grant this through Christ our Lord.
[Because of salt’s sterilizing properties it was used as a symbol/creature/means of exorcism and played a role in the Baptismal Rite. Our rite no longer has the salt bit, rendering this optional though, as Elliott points out, it does help keep the water cleaner if used in holy water stoups and such during the week…]
The priest then pours the salt into the water.
He then goes through the church sprinkling the assembly, while one of the following antiphons is sung:
You will sprinkle me with hyssop, 0 Lord, and I shall be cleansed; you will wash me and I shall be made whiter than snow.
During the Easter season:
I saw water issuing forth from the Temple, on the right side, alleluia; and all those to whom this water came obtained salvation and they exclaimed: “Alleluia, alleluia”.
[Music available upon demand in English or Latin as is your preference. And—oh look, some nice biblical passages that connect the sprinkiling to purification of sins and our new life in Christ within the Church!]
When he returns to his place the priest says:
May Almighty God cleanse us of our sins, and through the eucharist we celebrate make us worthy to sit at table in his heavenly kingdom.
My thought is that instead of/in addition to this prayer we could go back to the good ol’ Collect for Purity which also fits here just fine and flow back into the rest of the service…
IIRC, Smokey Mary’s uses the Asperges on Sundays and Feast Days. I should check my back bulletin file and see exactly how they do it.