XXV: The Asperges

Q: What is the Asperges, and what does it signify?

A:   The “asperges” is a ceremony of the Western Church in which blessed water from the baptismal font is sprinkled over the people before the Eucharist. The name of this ceremony is derived from the Latin of Psalm 51, “Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo, etc.” (Purge me with hyssop, O Lord…) which is the antiphon sung during the rite. The ceremony dates back to ninth century Gaul (modern day France). The sprinkler used for the purpose is known as the “aspergillium” or “aspersorium.”

Although not used on a regular basis throughout the Lutheran Church, the asperges has been restored to the Easter Vigil when, after the blessing of the font and the Baptism/Affirmation of Baptism, the pastor sprinkles the congregation three times with water as a sign of forgiveness and reconciliation. When sprinkled with the water, it is appropriate for all to make the sign of the cross in remembrance of their Baptism. The asperges could easily be made part of the regular confession / absolution rite which begins our liturgy and would serve to remind us in a tangible way that our forgiveness and reconciliation were given to us in the waters of the font. In many Lutheran churches, the baptismal font is placed so that parishioners can dip their fingers into the water and mark their forehead with the sign of the cross in remembrance of their baptism. This can be done upon entry into the sanctuary if the font is placed at the entrance or prior to communion if the font is placed near the altar.

In a baptismal sermon preached in 1540 Luther said: “Holy water or water for impurity is the Holy Scriptures. The tongue of the preacher or Christian is the aspergillium. He dips it into the rosy-red blood of Christ and sprinkles the people with it, that is, he preaches to them the gospel, which declares that Christ has purchased the forgiveness of sins with his precious blood, that he has poured out his blood on the Cross for the whole world, and that he who believes this has been sprinkled with this blood.”

Adapted from About Being Lutheran © Lutheran Liturgical Renewal 1991. Used by permission.