Because it’s water.
Poured in a basin.
And declared to be magic.
I’m not trying to be condescending here. It’s just that kids who have not been raised up in any particular faith group and who have not be taught that “evil spirits” are to be feared, or that souls are something to be cleansed, or that hell is an actual place, or that water can be magic — are going to think the idea of holy water sounds pretty odd.
And, especially when there are some rather distrurbing ideas associated with the concept, secular parents may have a hard time explaining it without dismissing the whole thing as a goofy ancient belief more likely to give you E. coli than to save your eternal soul.
So let’s say your kid asks you, “Mommy, What’s Holy Water?” How do you explain it, you know, nicely? Here’s my suggestion.
The short answer:
Holy water is water that is found in churches or other places of worship.
The long answer:
Holy is a word that refers to anything that is connected to gods or religion, so holy water is water that has a religious purpose. A preacher might use holy water to baptize a baby into one particular faith. Or people might touch holy water to make them feel closer to God. Holy water is not different from regular water in any way; it’s only people’s faith that makes it special. Some people believe holy water helps keep them safe and healthy, or helps to “rinse away” their bad feelings or bad deeds. Some people believe entire bodies of water, such as lakes or rivers, are holy. Some people believe religious leaders can make water holy by saying special prayers over it. You might see Catholic people touch holy water and then make the sign of a cross over their chests; that is part of their tradition. Not all religious people believe holy water is actually magic, but they still might treat it differently because, for them, it is a symbol of God. Just like you might someday light a candle and think about someone special who has died. The dead person would not be inside the candle, of course, but the candle would be a symbol to help you feel closer to that person.