Across the globe, Catholic churches have emptied holy water fonts in an effort to stall the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it’s officially known. From India to the U.K., the U.S. and even to Rome, dioceses are opting for this measure of precaution. Even the healing pools at Lourdes have been temporarily closed. I’m not a scientist or health professional, so I won’t attempt to evaluate such decisions.

It has, however, got me thinking about the importance of holy water in general and the need to keep it in our homes and with us when we travel.

The significance of water goes back to Old Testament times, when it was used for both private and liturgical purification rites. It also was used as a sign of God’s creative power, as in the story of Creation in the Book of Genesis. Elisha used it as an agent of healing when he told Naaman to wash in the Jordan seven times to rid himself of leprosy. In the Book of Exodus, the waters of the Red Sea parted to let the Israelites — a symbol of the baptismal waters. In the New Testament, Christ identifies himself as Living Water, sanctifying the waters of the Jordan with his baptism, and made baptism in water (and the Spirit) a necessity for salvation.

The water used for baptisms and in holy water fonts today is blessed by a priest. This blessing makes the water a sacramental. Sacramentals are instituted by the Church as sacred signs that bear a resemblance to the sacraments. Holy water is used in the rites of the Church to bless — or make holy — churches, altars and other objects. The priest blesses us or we bless ourselves or our children in the sign of the Cross as a reminder of our baptism. This gesture also is a sacramental that can absolve us of our venial sins and protect us from the devil.

Holy water is not only a part of our Catholic heritage — it’s also an important part of our Catholic faith and devotion. It’s easily used and, generally speaking, easily accessed.

The removal of holy water from the fonts in churches to protect against the spread of coronavirus is a significant move but not necessarily a prohibitive one. Emptying the fonts doesn’t mean that we aren’t allowed to use holy water during these days — it just means it’s not kept in the stoups. We have the possibility to keep holy water in our homes, and most churches have a holy water tank with a spigot from which we can fill holy water bottles to take home with us. If your church doesn’t have a holy water tank, you can ask your priest to bless some holy water for you. Not only can we take holy water home, but we should take holy water home! Every home should have holy water for the same reasons a church does – to bless ourselves and our children, to absolve ourselves from venial sins and protect our homes and families from the devil. It’s a sacramental that should be kept in the home and used on a daily basis.

The empty holy water fonts in churches can be a reminder of the dangers of the potential to spread the coronavirus. But they also can be a reminder to do something that should have been done all along by keeping holy water in our homes and making frequent use of it.