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In our (Presbyterian) church, we have a stone baptismal font in which we fill with water whenever we need to baptize somebody. At other times, it's empty, more for reasons of plumbing than doctrine - apparently there's some chance it could be damaged if kept full, due to its age and design. Our minister mentioned that in the Catholic Church, this would be considered wrong, as the font is meant to be kept full at all times, with the water traditionally being replaced each year at Easter.

What is the reason for this custom of keeping the baptismal fonts full? Is it a strict requirement or just a common practice? And as a practical matter, how is the water kept clean if it has to last all year?

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Yes it definitely could/would be damaged. The ph, calcium hardness and alkalinity would all have to daily be measured and balanced. Like a hot-tub a filtration unit and some form of anti-microbial agent like chlorine or bromine would have to be kept in the water and it would turn the color of the stone. –  caseyr547 Jun 23 '13 at 20:34
    
Yeah, that was my first thought when I read that: you keep a bunch of standing water sitting around too long in the open, it will start going bad. –  Mason Wheeler Jun 23 '13 at 21:23
    
@mason nobody's drinking it though. Plus it's holy, so it doesn't go bad. –  Peter Turner Jun 24 '13 at 2:54
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up vote 4 down vote accepted

They're not kept full all year long, there is a blessing concerning Holy Water that takes place solely during the Triduum. But that is not the water kept in the font.

There is a fairly erroneous Catholic tradition that some priests take part in where they dump all the Holy Water before Lent starts then fill them back up when Easter comes around.

What we do get fresh before Easter are the three Holy Oils and the Easter candle for the year. But a priest could bless water, salt or whatever whenever he wants to. It could be said that Easter Blessed water is better, but it's probably just as good.

http://www.fisheaters.com/water.html

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Maybe it is a wise idea to keep the water moving to resemble the "living waters", and change the water so that it is fresh and not unhygienic. It'd be ironic, if the "holy water" causes disease due to its dirty residue by baptized patrons. –  Anonymous Jun 23 '13 at 21:19
    
yeah, they definitely do that in parishes that can afford it –  Peter Turner Jun 23 '13 at 21:21
    
Since baptism is so important in Christianity, maybe the money that goes into maintaining a clean water supply for the church should be top priority, and funded by the loyal congregants. –  Anonymous Jun 23 '13 at 21:25
    
Thank you for this answer, which clarifies a lot of things. It looks like another case where we got it wrong, so thanks for setting us straight. –  James T Jun 24 '13 at 11:52
    
@JamesT I was a little surprised myself, I had no idea that we even reserved water from the Easter Vigil mass (I guess they delete my edit history if I do it quickly enough, but I completely contradicted myself in my first paragraph in my initial answer) –  Peter Turner Jun 24 '13 at 16:31
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