Is your holy water safe? While it is true that fecal matter has been discovered in samples of water taken in Vienna, Austria, from 21 springs and 19 baptismal fonts, according to a study at Vienna’s Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology, the chances that anyone would get infected by the e-coli present are low, unless the water is ingested.
While it is true that if e-coli bacteria from fecal matter is ingested, that it can can cause ailments such as cramps, fever, diarrhea, stomach pain, and other illnesses, the likelihood of anyone contracting these ailments from holy water under most circumstances is small.
The holy water samples from Vienna were found to have 62 million e-coli bacteria per each milliliter of water, according to the study. But, though a recent report about the study on ABC News suggested that being blessed with the holy water might prove to be more dangerous than it’s worth, and the report warned against drinking holy water or touching one’s lips with it, those things are not done very often, at least not in the United States.
One source that was quoted for ABC’s report was Dr. Alexander Kirshner, who warned that people should not drink from these sources. However, in the United States, in Catholic churches, the practice is for people to dip their fingers into the baptismal font and just make the sign of the cross on their foreheads, hearts, and shoulders — the holy water does not ever touch the mouths of the faithful during this procedure.
Also, in the United States, when an infant is baptized in a Catholic church, the holy water is gently poured on the baby’s head, the neck of the infant is leaned back, and the holy water falls away from the child’s face and any remnant is then dried with a cloth. The infant’s eyes, nose, and mouth are not touched.
Besides these actual practices of Catholic churches in the United States, the study was only conducted in Austria and only applies to Vienna’s Catholic churches, not those of America or any other country in the world.
During the flu epidemic last year, some officials in the Catholic Church said that it might be a good idea not to offer the “sign of peace” by shaking hands during Mass to try to prevent the spread of the flu.
As with examples such as the flu, where a person might be contagious, washing one’s hands and avoiding touching one’s face are useful precautions to prevent the spread of either e-coli or any other communicable disease. Despite the concerns of their being fecal matter in holy water in Vienna, those concerns have not been shown to apply anywhere else.
In Vienna, the researchers have suggested adding salt to the holy water to cut down on the amount of e-coli bacteria. Also, changing out the holy water more frequently is another measure they suggested.
While there might be a danger of contracting e-coli bacteria from the holy water in Vienna, that danger has been greatly exaggerated by some recent media reports. The danger from contracting e-coli bacteria even in Vienna is not very high, and your church’s holy water, more than likely, is entirely safe, though it’s not recommended that you drink any holy water.
Written by: Douglas Cobb