Blessed corpses — and holy ghosts — after typhoon

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Here’s my nominee for “Most Bland Headline of the Weekend.” It appeared atop an Associated Press report:

Church services held in typhoon-shattered city

On the other hand, the story’s lede is pretty compelling:

TACLOBAN, Philippines (AP) — Hours after the storm hit the Philippines, the Rev. Amadero Alvero was on the streets, sprinkling holy water over the dead and praying for them. By late afternoon, the 44-year-priest had blessed about 50 corpses in the remains of this shattered city.

He then returned to his half-destroyed Santo Nino church and led Mass. On Sunday, Alvero was again overseeing worship at the peach-colored building, leading services for hundreds of survivors of one of the worst storms on record.

“Despite what happened, we still believe in God,” he said. “The church may have been destroyed, but our faith is intact, as believers, as a people of God, our faith has not been destroyed.”

Before I get to my GetReligion-specific point, let me make a general journalistic observation: This story seems to lack strong editing.

The “44-year-priest” reference in the first sentence leaves me wondering if the reporter meant to say “44-year-old priest.” If the idea really is that the priest has served for 44 years, then no hyphen is needed between “year” and “priest.” In any case, the wording strikes me as awkward.

Meanwhile, that last quote (starting with “The church may have been destroyed”) needs a period, not a comma, after “intact.” Right now, two independent thoughts are joined into a single run-on sentence. (And yes, I’m fully aware that my pointing out such an error guarantees that someone will find a grammatical error in this post and comment on it. Thank you in advance.)

But here’s my bigger concern about this story: the lack of explanation on the practice of sprinkling holy water over the dead.

The story points out that more than 80 percent of the 90 million residents of the Philippines are Roman Catholic. However, this is the only additional information provided on Alvero’s blessing of the corpses:

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Holy scandal! Is sipping holy water really dangerous?

OK! OK!

I yield to all of you who sent me the link to that strange ABC News “Good Morning America” report about the dangers of sipping holy water! Let’s talk about that story a bit and, trust me, there isn’t much to talk about.

First things first: Is there really some kind of epidemic out there linked to people drinking large amounts of holy water? Here’s the top of the story:

Despite its purported cleansing properties, holy water could actually be more harmful than healing, according to a new Austrian study on “holy” springs.

Researchers at the Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna tested water from 21 springs in Austria and 18 fonts in Vienna and found samples contained up to 62 million bacteria per milliliter of water, none of it safe to drink. Tests indicated 86 percent of the holy water, commonly used in baptism ceremonies and to wet congregants’ lips, was infected with common bacteria found in fecal matter such as E. coli, enterococci and Campylobacter, which can lead to diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever.

So there are several things going on here.

Several people have asked me if members of ancient, liturgical churches really do drink holy water. The short answer is “yes,” but it is not very common. A better word would be “sip,” linked to prayers for divine healing.

However, I have never, ever seen anyone drink water from a baptismal font! In Orthodoxy, that would have oil in it, for starters. The water people might sip would be linked to the annual blessing of the waters, when people take home containers of clean, blessed water from this special ritual. I have never seen water used, well, twice that is involved in this rite.

Catholic readers: Can someone enlighten us on the ritual practices that might — repeat might — be linked to this story. Do people really stop and sip the water that is in the fonts near Catholic parish doors?

And then there is this, care of a tweet from the always newsy Father James Martin:

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