There are a couple of things that happen. First, we are reminded of our baptism. The blessed water, which fills the baptismal fount, calls to mind for us that we were immersed in water or had water poured over our head as infants or perhaps as adults when we came into full communion with the Church at the Easter Vigil, in the case of non-baptized persons.
We recite the doxology, the holy names of the persons of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to remind us that we were baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. We became children of God and adopted as His sons and daughters and brothers and sisters in Christ upon being baptized.
Second, we make the Sign of the Cross reminding us that in our baptism we entered into the death of Jesus on the cross. The cross also reminds us of Jesus' prescription to His Disciples that if they wish to follow Him, they must take up their cross and follow Him. In a deeper way, we recognize that we belong to a community of believers and are connected more closely to the Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that sacramental signs point us toward the reality of what we receive in the sacraments. Dipping our fingers in holy water and making the Sign of the Cross are sacramental signs which point to the salvific grace we receive in the sacrament of baptism. It is also true, as the Church teaches, that participation in these sacramental signs cleanses us of venial sin and provides protection against evil.
There is a tradition that in Catholic homes families have small founts in the home to remind them of the sacramental signs of baptism, and if regularly used, provide the grace necessary to live out their discipleship in Christ. The use of these sacramental signs will also help us to remember that our baptism had a cleansing effect of original sin and the need for ongoing repentance of our sins.
It is important to remember that when we perform these sacramental signs that we do so with great reverence.
Father Stephen Thompson is pastor of Holy Family Parish in Granite City and St. Mary and St. Mark Parish in Madison.