Photo and caption by Seth Solo/People/National Geographic Photo Contest
We went around the room and did just that. One person spoke of loss through death. Another talked about her business going bankrupt. (I recall that I was not willing to be as deeply honest as some people, and so I told about the time I had a bad case of pinkeye, and how that has continued, over the years to affect my vision in one eye. It’s more of an occasional nuisance than anything else, but it visits on occasion reminding me of aging, of mortality, and of weakness. )
O God, who art the Author of unconquered might, the King of the Empire that cannot be overthrown, the ever glorious Conqueror: who dost keep under the strength of the dominion that is against thee; who rulest the raging of the fierce enemy; who dost mightily fight against the wickeness of thy foes; … we beseech thee graciously to behold this creature of salt and water, mercifully shine upon it, hallow it with the dew of thy lovingkindness: that wheresoever it shall be sprinkled, with the invocation of thy holy Name, all haunting of the unclean spirit may be driven away; far thence let the fear of the venomous serpent be cast; and wheresoever it shall be sprinkled, there let the presence of the Holy Spirit be vouchsafed to all of us who shall ask for thy mercy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
At the conclusion of the prayer the priest looked at us and said simply, “your stories—your stories of sadness and of joy, your tears and your laughter, have all been used by the Holy Spirit to make this water holy. This water will be used at our next baptism. It will be used to splash people with as a reminder of their baptism. It will used quietly by those who dip their finger in and make the sign of the cross with it. Remember that the Holy Spirit uses us to make water and the world holy.”
The salt is made holy. The water is made holy. We are made holy.
Since its discovery in primeval times, salt has been used for its curative and preventive qualities. Just as it keeps away bad things from invading food, so salt was early on thought to help in warding off bad spirits. The Early Church used salt when a candidate began the catechumenate, the process toward baptism. In some places it is still used around baptism and is known by the wonderful word, “exsufflation,” which included blowing the catechumen’s face, as well as putting salt on the tongue. As salt is put on the tongue, the priest says, “Satisfy him or her with the Bread of Heaven that he or she may be forever fervent in spirit, joyful in hope, zealous in your service.” Salt on the tongue symbolizes the prayer of the church that the faith that is infused at Baptism will be kept strong, distinct, and keep its edge, mindful of Jesus’ words, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matt. 5:13).
In just a few minutes, Anthony will be baptized. Even though he’s young, he already has stories that he will bring to the baptismal font with him. He has all kinds of stories: sad and happy. He has stories about his parents, his wider family, his friends, maybe his pets. With the Holy Spirit and with the story that is, and is to be Anthony, holiness will begin its tale—extending the action, thickening the plot, adding characters, and developing new themes of love and faithfulness.
May God continue to draw us into the story of salvation, so that we may never forget that the Holy Spirit uses us to make the water (and the world) holy.