Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hyssop in the Eye

If anyone is wondering what hyssop is, it is this:

It is a woody plant with blue flowers. Hyssop is considered a sacred plant and often spoken about in the Hebrew Bible. Often, it is used in the Catholic ceremonial, where the priest dips the branch into a bowl of holy water and sprinkles onto the congregation to bless them. Normally, such ceremonies have replaced the hyssop with this: an Aspergillum

But, for the story I’m about to relate, I had the real thing - in the eye. Twice. Sort of.

Before I begin, I need to tell everyone that I’m not a very religious person. Or rather, I was never taught it at a young age. The most I was told came from my mother when out of the blue one day she said our church was out in Rankin, Pa, a suburb south of Pittsburgh and quite away from our little isolated valley in the next county. I always assumed this was her ready excuse not to go into detail concerning religion. So when Easter arrived, all I knew about the holiday was doing these things, and watching this movie.

My first real taste of religion. I’m not knocking the movie, seen in two parts on television, featuring Charlton Heston. It’s on top of the list as one of my childhood favorites since we were allowed to stay up late on a Sunday. Yet my real taste of religion came years later, back in early 2000, when I was invited to attend an Easter vigil in the early evening.

We arrived at the church, the one pictured above: Saint Vincent Basilica in Latrobe Pennsylvania. Many people know of Saint Vincent by the college, as well as it being the summer training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. The church was founded in 1846, the first Benedictine monastery in the United States. It is operated by the Benedictine monks in Saint Vincent Archabbey (the building located on the right-hand side in the back.)

This was my first Roman Catholic ceremony I attended, so mostly I sat in the back, reading through the program, and mumbling during the parts where the congregation was expected to participate. Then came the ritual of cleansing as the priests carried their incense lamps while dipping the hyssop into the water.

Flick! Flick!

The congregation got sprinkled with the water. I watched as the priests went up one row to go down the second. They approached me with his bowl of holy water and the actual hyssop branch (unlike what's pictured below).


My eye blinked rapidly at the water. My first reaction was to rub it out, but I didn’t want my action to seem sacrilegious in digging furiously at my eyeball. The last thing I wanted, during my first Easter vigil, was to cause any affront to anyone. So I dealt with the momentary discomfort, more puzzled that it had happened.

See, I’m not sure if anyone has noticed from my blog avatar, but I wear glasses. I’ve worn glasses since I was 8-years-old. For most of my life, I can’t remember a time when I had gotten water directly into the eye like that, not even during a rainstorm. But somehow, despite looking directly at the priest flicking the hyssop at people, he managed to get the water in my eye.


Different Easter. Same church. Same priest. A different pew in a different section and sitting farther away from the main aisle. He came walking along as my body tensed. I still remembered the incident from last time. I kept my face directly at the wet hyssop branch.


Right in the eye. I waited until he passed before taking off my eyeglasses and inspecting them for any holes. The lenses weren’t even wet.

How the h—, holy mother, was he able to do that again? I couldn’t fathom it. No matter the years that have passed and the many examinations for the thickness of the lenses, I’ve come to no obvious answer on how the holy water got into my eyeball, THE SAME EYE, twice on Easter vigil.

All I know is that if I again attend a ceremony at that church, I’m wearing these!

Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter!


  1. I love Charlton Heston! I've never seen the Ten Commandments, so I should go out and rent it.

    People might give you some starange looks if you wear goggles to church, but hey if it helps keep those water drops out, then go for it :)

    Great Easter story!

  2. Hey, maybe three hits and your eye gets "cured"? Well. you never know.. (I'm as blind as bat without my specs, I'd be up for a third hit!)

    This is a sweet tale, thanks for making me smile. Happy Easter, Michelle.

  3. Thats really funny. Oh, and for the record, I love that movie. You can always wear a baseball cap to church. Then the visor (with your glasses) would make it a heck of alot more difficult to get past. They might frown though. Hmmm. Maybe you better just close your eyes as if you're in a meditative state. Yeah, that's it.

  4. That is hilarious! (In a, you know, sorta bizarre, WTH kinda way. . .)

    I've seen people standing there as Father comes by to bless them, and if they're on his first flick after dipping the branch into the bowl, they can just get drenched. . .

    One of those endearingly earthy 'Catholic things'. . .

  5. And I hope your Easter was well and suitably blessed!

  6. That's a really good story, and an interesting mystery. I'd chalk it up to a divine need of some sort on your part. Have you ever been exorcised? :-)

    No, really, it's sort of spooky. Same priest? That's the really interesting part, to me. Goes beyond simple chance into Twilight Zone territory.

  7. Whoa!!! What are the chances?! :)

  8. whoda thunk it?! that is a pretty odd coincindence.

  9. Oh wow. . . sorry for laughing Michelle but you have to admit that's darn funny. The goggles idea is a hoot ! Go for it ! :o)

  10. Once is coincidence. Twice is spooky.
    Nice background by the way!


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