You Are the Salt of the Earth

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)

Salt (photo: andreas160578 / Pixabay/CC0)

Once a year — around the first week of Advent or thereabouts — I have a priest over for dinner and … as long as he’s there and fed and gently coerced because of the generous application of wine, I ask him to bless my home. At his consent, the kids break out the holy water and a censor loaded with frankincense and lead him throughout my home.

When he’s finished, I break out the big guns — a decorated metal box of exorcised salt that I reserve in my family altar.

Prior to the Vatican II reforms, common salt was used as a sacramental principally in baptisms and exorcisms. It’s currently enjoying a comeback among Catholics. In the fourth century, St. Augustine of Hippo called these practices and physical articles, “visible forms of invisible grace.”

Elisha poured salt onto Jericho’s water springs in order to stop miscarriages, agricultural disasters and other deaths. (2 Kings 2:19–22)

At the third century’s Third Council of Carthage, it was noted that salt was given to catechumens several times a year. St. Augustine of Hippo makes note of this in his Confessions. (I.11) The saint specifically mentioned that he himself was “blessed regularly with the Sign of the Cross and was seasoned with God’s salt” when he converted to the Faith.

Interestingly, the 1962 Rituale Romanum includes salt in the reconsecration of an altar. Salt is exorcized and blessed, mixed with ashes, water and wine and the mixture is used to make the mortar with which the altar is resealed. Exorcised salt is also mentioned in the manual when blessing animals which I think is both fun and adorable. 

A priest may bless salt in the same manner he would use in making holy water, however, the traditional prayer to prepare exorcised salt is the following:

V: O salt, creature of God, I exorcise you by the living + God, by the true + God, by the holy +God, by the God who ordered you to be poured into the water by Elisha the prophet, so that its life-giving powers might be restored. I exorcise you so that you may become a means of salvation for believers, that you may bring health of soul and body to all who make use of you, and that you may put to flight and drive away from the places where you are sprinkled; every apparition, villainy, turn of devilish deceit, and every unclean spirit; adjured by him who will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire.

R: Amen.

V: Let us pray. Almighty and everlasting God, we humbly implore you, in your immeasurable kindness and love, to bless + this salt which you created and gave to the use of mankind, so that it may become a source of health for the minds and bodies of all who make use of it. May it rid whatever it touches or sprinkles of all uncleanness, and protect it from every assault of evil spirits. Through Christ our Lord.

R: Amen.

Salt as a preservative and protecting agent and symbol is used throughout Scriptures. In Jericho, Elisha put salt into contaminated water to prevent miscarriages and agricultural catastrophes (II Kings 2:20-21).

Jesus admonished his followers to “have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” By this, he meant to preserve the quality that makes each of us a blessing to one another (Mark 9:50).

Jesus refers to his followers as the “salt of the Earth.” (Matthew 5:13). He warns us not to lose our tastiness as does salt. This is an admonition to stand against the world’s corrupting influence in the same way that salt preserves food (Luke 14:34).

Paul mentions salt in his Letter to the Colossians when he writes, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6) He means that our speech should be polite and devoid of pride and hatred. That is, let it be wholesome and savory and stand in opposition to the world’s corrupting influences. (Colossians 3:8 and Ephesians 4:29). Paul also uses the word salt as a reference to spiritual wisdom as the Latin word for savor or taste, is sapiential — another reference to wisdom.

It would be blasphemous to treat exorcised salt, holy water or any sacramental as a “magical talisman.” It’s the anthropological distinction between religion and magic/superstition. Magic is manipulative and religion is supplicative. No one can force the Hand of God. A pagan uses his crystals and magic teas because he mistakenly believes that the objects have a special power inherent in them. This is nonsense and an empirical analysis can prove this to be false. But, more importantly, he believes that he has the ability to coax these special powers for his own benefit.

If this understanding is kept in mind, holy water, exorcised salt, a crucifix or a blessed icon can be used to prevent evil influences and even burglary or from safety from danger. A tiny bit of exorcised salt can be used in cooking to heal the sick and strengthen a flagging faith. In this regard, a sacramental must be used respectfully just as one does with the sacraments. This respect is due to Jesus and not to the material thing itself just as the faith of the blind man who begged Jesus to heal him from his blindness (John 9). The man’s faith — not the mud and Jesus’ spittle mixture — led to his cure.

Personally, I like to use pink Himalayan salt just to see the look on the priest’s face when I hand it to him. After all, the salt is going to be a precious sacramental when he’s finished the exorcism. You might as well spend the money that speaks to this sacred transformation. Pink Himalayan salt isn’t common, every day, humdrum table salt — it’s special, and I reserve special things for the Lord. Of course, in a pinch (please excuse the pun) table salt is just as liturgically correct.

Pick your salt, present it to the priest and spread it around inside and outside your home or office modestly. It is, after all, a sacramental and not a magical talisman.