Penitential Rite on Easter

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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Q: In the circular letter «Paschalis Solemnitatis,» concerning the preparation and celebration of the Easter feasts, the following pastoral directive is given for the penitential rite on Easter Day (No. 97): «It is appropriate that the penitential rite on this day take the form of a sprinkling with water blessed at the Vigil, during which the antiphon ‘Vidi aquam’ or some other song of baptismal character should be sung.» As the water blessed at the Vigil doesn’t need to be blessed a second time, does this mean that on Easter Day both the invitation spoken by the priest and the benediction of water are omitted when using the sprinkling rite, and that one starts with singing «Vidi aquam» or another song right away after the sign of the cross and the greeting? — S.V.R., Breda, Netherlands

A: The blessing of the water is omitted on this day as is also done during baptism during the 50 days of Easter in which the water blessed during the vigil is used.

It must be noted that while the aforementioned directive is precise in mentioning the use of sprinkling with previously blessed water and the antiphon to be sung, both it and the missal are silent as to the precise rite to be used to introduce the sprinkling on Easter Sunday.

Beginning abruptly with the sprinkling and antiphon might well be essentially meaningless to the faithful. Therefore, I think that the priest should foresee some form of commentary or explanation of the meaning of the rite so that its connection with the penitential rite is understood.

Although it is not specified, I believe that it would also be possible for the celebrant to use the habitual formula of introduction to the penitential rite before beginning the sprinkling.

The missal also offers an alternative to this procedure for Easter Sunday. The habitual penitential rite is used, but the baptismal promises are renewed after the homily according to the rite proposed for the Easter Vigil, omitting the Creed. In this case the sprinkling with the Easter water and the singing of the antiphon are carried out as the conclusion to the renewal of baptismal promises.

On Easter Sunday this second option should probably be favored over that of sprinkling during the penitential rite, as it is the only Sunday that this possibility is available.

On the other Sundays of Eastertide, however, it is recommendable that the rite of blessing and sprinkling be used as the penitential rite.

In this case the practice differs from Eastertide baptisms in which the water is not blessed. The appendix to the missal offers a prayer of blessing and antiphons proper to this season for the Sundays of Eastertide. The blessing is the following:

«Lord our God, in your mercy be present to your people’s prayers, and, for us who recall the wondrous work of our creation and the still greater work of our redemption, graciously X bless this water. For you created water to make the fields fruitful and to refresh and cleanse our bodies. You also made water the instrument of your mercy: for through water you freed your people from slavery and quenched their thirst in the desert; through water the Prophets proclaimed the new covenant you were to enter upon with the human race; and last of all, through water, which Christ made holy in the Jordan, you have renewed our corrupted nature in the bath of regeneration. Therefore, may this water be for us a memorial of the Baptism we have received, and grant that we may share in the gladness of our brothers and sisters who at Easter have received their Baptism. Through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.»

This beautiful prayer would appear to be a relatively new composition although inspired by ancient models found in sixth- and seventh-century manuscripts.

The five possible Easter antiphons are all taken from Scripture. The first antiphon «Vidi aquam» is inspired by Ezekiel 47:1-2,9. «I saw water flowing from the Temple, from its right-hand side, alleluia: and all to whom this water came were saved and shall say: Alleluia, alleluia.»

After completing the sprinkling, the priest returns to the chair and concludes the penitential rite saying, «May almighty God cleanse us of our sins, and through the celebration of this Eucharist make us worthy to share at the table of his Kingdom. R. Amen.»

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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