Hi, Paul —
Thanks for the question.
While you are correct that when the Christian departs from this world, their fate is set, no one knows what that fate is. Someone who our culture views as a very bad person, may have had a death bed conversion, or we may not be aware they weren't mentally culpable for his or her actions. We don't know; we are not the judge.
There is only one sole Judge and that is the Just, but Merciful, Savior Jesus, the Christ.
- What is the efficacy of the holy water?
Let me address both the efficacy and purpose of holy water.
The efficacy of holy water is attested to in this article I found on the New Advent web site:
- in one instance it cured one of the emperor's horses
- St. Epiphanius records that at Tiberias a man named Joseph poured water on a madman, having first made the sign of the cross and pronounced these words over the water: "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, crucified, depart from this unhappy one, thou infernal spirit, and let him be healed!" Joseph was converted an subsequently used the same proceeding to overcome witchcraft; yet, he was neither a bishop nor a cleric.
- Gregory of Tours tells of a recluse named Eusitius who lived in the sixth century and possessed the power of curing quartan fever by giving its victims to drink of water that he had blessed.
This is not to say that holy water will always have some visible effect on something or somebody all the time, but as Catholics we believe in the invisible as well as the visible; this is why we bless ourselves, body and soul, with holy water.
As to the purpose:
At a Catholic funeral, as the body is brought into the church it is blessed with holy water. This recalls the waters of baptism. (CCC 1668) This action reminds us that we, who are baptized, are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. We who have died with Christ in baptism will rise with him, if we have strived to follow His will. Immediately following the blessing with holy water, the white pall is placed over the casket. This is an action that is appropriate for the family to perform. The white cloth again recalls the rite of baptism and the clothing with a white garment. A religious symbol may now be placed on the casket. This should be something personal to the deceased; a cross, Rosary beads, a prayer book, that belonged to the deceased. This symbol remains on the casket during the funeral Mass.
- Does that cancel out a few sins or what?
No, the holy water does not cancel out any sin. It's purpose is to remind us of our baptism in Christ so, as we were spiritually buried with Christ at our Baptism, if we followed His Will the best we could, we will rise with him at the Resurrection. Those whose life choices willfully excluded the life of Jesus, have chosen Hell. The Lord Jesus sends no one to Hell. The individuals send themselves to Hell by their life choices.
Our remaining sins are forgiven in the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
1532 The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects:
- the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church
- the strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age
- the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of Penance
- the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul, and
- the preparation for passing over to eternal life.
- Do you need to sprinkle more on a bad person than a good?
The sprinkling of holy water on the body of a baptized Christian has no effect on his or her fixed judgment. The same is true for those who died in God's grace and friendship but are still being purified toward Heaven. To restate what I originally said, there is only one sole Judge and that is the Just, but Merciful, Savior Jesus, the Christ.
We have no right to pass any judgment on anyone's eternal destiny.
Hope this helps,