The Rite of Asperges, the Aspersorium and Aspergillum

One of the advantages of specializing in liturgical art is that it provides you with an opportunity to explore even smaller items of liturgical art that frequently go unnoticed. One such example is the aspergillum and aspersorium. The names may sound exotic but ultimately they have their roots in the Latin word aspergere, to sprinkle, which points to their purpose and function. The bucket (aspersorium) holds holy water, while the instrument dipped into the water (the aspergillum) is used to sprinkle the holy water onto people or objects. 

Within the traditional Roman liturgy there is a common rite of sprinkling, simply referred to as 'the Asperges' that frequently happens prior to the beginning of the Missa Cantata or Missa Solemnis. This rite sees the priest, vested in a cope in the lituurgical colour of the day, sprinkle the assembled clergy and congregation in preparation for the Mass. While this takes place, this prayer -- taken from the 1st Psalm -- is chanted:
Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor,
Lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.
Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.

Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed:
Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy.
If you're unfamiliar with this rite, here it is:

While it is extraordinarily rare to see this spirnking rite used within the context of the modern Pauline form of liturgy, here it is seen under Pope Benedict XVI; it does not precede Mass in this case, but happens within:

There are variations on form of the aspergillum used to sprinkle the holy water. Some are entirely made of metal with a mace like end that includes tiny holes to collect the water, others include bristles.

Rather more rarely one will occasionally see an actual sprig of hyssop employed for this purpose (coming with reference in the scriptures). 

Within the Latin rite, the form of these objects has been reasonably static given its particular function and below are just a few examples coming from the 1600's until modern times, of these instruments. 

17th century

17th century

20th century

19th century


Second half of the 17th century

First half of the 18th century


20th century

17th century

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