The Guéranger Blog

Welcome to the Gueranger Blog! You have stumbled across the notebook I use to record my thoughts as I read through Dom Prosper Gueranger's 15-volume set, The Liturgical Year. I do not have any special expertise in liturgy, but I have some general knowledge of Catholic theology and an enthusiasm for Gueranger's magnum opus. Think of it as the Liturgical Year fan site!

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Blessed Salt

Canisius | 30 March, 2006 16:00

In V,342ff., Dom Gueranger describes the extremely impressive ceremony used back in the day for admitting candidates to the catechumenate. It involved a solemn procession to place one of the four gospels at each corner of the alter, an explanation of the distinctive features of each gospel, the traditio symbolorum in which the new catechumens were given the creed and the Our Father, and more.

At one point, the priest blessed some salt and had each of the catechumens taste it. The salt, Gueranger explains, signifies wisdom.

Blessed salt is one of the more obscure Catholic sacramentals. Since I didn't grow up Catholic, I was married with kids before I had ever heard of blessed salt, and my first thought was to wonder where the heck that idea had come from. The story of Elisha using salt to purify water in 2 Kings 2:19-22 seemed like a possible background, but I wasn't aware that Catholics actually put blessed salt in water.

The connection with this ritual is illuminating. First, you can see right away that sprinkling folks with holy water in this situation would lead to massive confusion. The ceremony introduces people to candidacy for baptism, i.e., for being doused with holy water, so to douse them with that particular sacramental just now might give the wrong impression.

Second, there is the connection with wisdom. I looked through all of the fifty or so occurences of "salt" in Scripture, and there is not any connection I can see between salt and wisdom in Scripture. From a biblical perspective, the connection would rather be between salt and friendship, I think. But there is an old folk etymology that says the Latin word for "wisdom" (sapientia) is a combination of "savory" (sapidus) and "knowledge" (scientia), so that "wisdom" is "savory knowledge". The idea is that true wisdom comes not just from reading words about realities but from a real "taste" for the thing itself--a kind of "letter vs. spirit" distinction. Given this traditional notion about true wisdom, it makes sense that a Latin rite introducing new catechumens to wisdom (i.e., the gospels and the creed) would work salt in as a sacramental: salt makes things savory.


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