By Father Edward McNamara, LC
ROME, 29 October 2013 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I was wondering about what instrument may be used for the rite of blessing and sprinkling holy water. I have seen branches used as well as aspergillum. Is there any guidance on this? I have looked at the General Instruction of the Roman Missal but to no avail. — J.H., Coventry, England
A: There does not seem to be much in the way of precise norms regarding the making and use of an aspergillum or sprinkler.
Monsignor (now bishop) Peter Elliott in his ceremonial handbook gives the following good advice but without providing official references:
"The sprinkler may take the form of a brush or of a hollow perforated ball, perhaps containing a sponge. But the pocket size sprinkler conveniently used in pastoral situations does not seem appropriate for celebrations in a church."
Some older guides, for the extraordinary form, also state that as well as the brush or hollow globe, "preferably, a sprig of hyssop or other shrub is used."
Other sources restrict this latter option to significant celebrations such as the blessing of a new church or cemetery. This use was specified in the rituals for such consecrations but without necessarily limiting its use to such occasions.
The oldest form of sprinkling is clearly that of using hyssop or another shrub — a practice which is also found in the Bible. The brush form, now less common, was often used in the Middle Ages and is evidenced by several sources, such as a 12th-century bas relief in the cathedral of Modena in Italy. The modern form with the hollow ball is from the 15th century at the earliest.
Recent popes have used both branches and hollow spheres in blessing with holy water.