In yesterday’s blog post, we examined some reports on the revised Rite of Baptism being proposed in the Church of England. Many argue, I think rightly, that the new Rite results in a watering down of many essential truths. The longer is sin nor the devil explicitly renounced. You can read more of that here: COE Waters Down Baptismal Rite??
But for our own purposes, as Roman Catholics, I think it is only fair, and worth examining that our own Rite of Baptism underwent substantial changes as of 1969. Frankly, I was unaware of how substantial the changes were until I began celebrating baptisms in the Extraordinary Form (EF), according to the norms of Summorum Pontificum. I do not celebrate a lot of these EF Baptisms, perhaps two or three year. And while I like the Ordinary Form of Baptism and celebrate it almost from memory, I also find the older form, to be moving and substantial.
Most significant among the changes in the Rite that occurred in 1969,(And what I like to concentrate on here) was the removal of the exorcisms, four in all. And these were not mild exorcisms at all! They were weighty and imperative (i.e. commanding). The devil is really given his walking papers; he is commanded in no uncertain terms that he must depart, recognizing his sentence as having been defeated by Christ who claims this child now for his own.
Critics at the time argued that the prayers seem to treat the infant as though he or she was possessed. And for this, and other reasons, the exorcisms were removed from the baptismal rites of the Church. The new right does feature a prayer that is technically referred to as an exorcism. But the prayers is so mild-mannered, really more in the form of a mere blessing, that I doubt the celebrant of baptism really thinks of it as an exorcism, (let alone any demons understand that they are being commanded to leave). Here’s the current prayer that is, in the rite, referred to as the exorcism:
Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son in to the world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil, to rescue man from the kingdom of darkness, and bring him into the kingdom of light. We pray for this child: set him free from original sin, make him a temple of your glory, and send your Holy Spirit to dwell with him. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Compare that to the prayers of exorcism from the old Rites which I here reproduce in English, though in EF Baptisms I say them in Latin:
Go forth from him (her), unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.
I exorcise thee, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father + and of the Son, + and of the Holy + Spirit, that thou goest out and depart from this servant of God, N. For He commands Thee, accursed one, Who walked upon the sea, and stretched out His right hand to Peter about to sink. Therefore, accursed devil, acknowledge thy sentence, and give honor to the living and true God: give honor to Jesus Christ His Son, and to the Holy Spirit; and depart from this servant of God, N. because God and our Lord Jesus Christ hath vouchsafed to call him (her) to His holy grace and benediction and to the font of Baptism.
And this sign of the holy Cross, which we make upon his (her) forehead, do thou, accursed devil, never dare to violate. Through the same Christ our Lord
I exorcise thee, every unclean spirit, in the name of God the Father + Almighty, in the name of Jesus + Christ, His Son, our Lord and Judge, and in the power of the Holy + Spirit, that thou be depart from this creature of God N, which our Lord hath deigned to call unto His holy temple, that it may be made the temple of the living God, and that the Holy Spirit may dwell therein. Through the same Christ our Lord, who shall come to judge the living and the dead, and the world by fire!
It will be granted, that these are strongly worded prayers. However they are not unlike many other exorcisms that were conducted in solemn blessings, such as the blessing of salt, the blessing of water, the blessing of oil, and so forth. It was a common practice in the rites of solemn blessings to first exorcise what was to be blessed and then bless it. It involved a kind of “clearing in the ground” before planting the seed. We’ll see more of this from St. Thomas in a moment.
Should the elimination of the prayers of exorcism concern us? Not insofar as the Church has permitted it. The Sacrament is surely valid. However, from a pastoral perspective I would like to respectfully propose that we make some consideration of restoring them to some extent.
Dr. Ralph martin makes some good observations in this regard that I would like to post here along with his substantial quotes from St Thomas Aquinas:
St. Thomas, in his fidelity to the teaching of the Apostles and the Fathers, takes very seriously the reality of the devil and the need to remove his influence from the lives of candidates for baptism. One reason for the lack of proper fruitfulness in the reception of Sacraments is that the power of the devil is not dealt with. St. Thomas says: “The power of the devil is restrained by prayers, blessings, and the like from hindering the sacramental effect”. (see ST III, q 66, a. 10) – (Dr. Ralph Martin, The Post-Christendom Sacramental Crisis and the Wisdom Thomas Aquinas. In Nova et Vetera. 11.1 pp 57-75)
Dr. Martin then cites the following quote from St. Thomas: in the Summa. :
Whoever purposes to do a work wisely, first removes the obstacles to his work; hence it is written (in Jeremiah 4:3): “Break up anew your fallow ground and sow not upon thorns.” Now the devil is the enemy of man’s salvation, which man acquires by Baptism; and he has a certain power over man from the very fact that the latter is subject to Original, or even actual, sin. Consequently it is fitting that before Baptism the demons should be cast out by exorcisms, lest they impede man’s salvation. Which expulsion is signified by the (priest) breathing (upon the person to be baptized); while the blessing, with the imposition of hands, bars the way against the return of him who was cast out…. And the anointing with oil signifies man’s ability to fight against the demons…. (ST, III, q. 71, a. 2, Respondeo)
And thus, Dr. Martin, and of course St. Thomas Aquinas provide us with some very significant material for pastoral reflection. St. Thomas’ reflections not only describe the purpose of exorcisms, but also anticipate objections that were raised both then and now.
One objection is why bother exorcizing when the is about to be baptized and thereby freed of sin anyway? The question before us is certainly not the validity, or fact that the Sacrament of Baptism is received with or without the exorcisms; it is. Rather, the question is related to the fruitfulness of the sacrament once conferred.
And thus here Dr. Martin also Quotes St. Thomas in the same question (71) in the reply to the second objection which states: But sin is taken away by Baptism. Therefore men should not be exorcized before Baptism. And St. Thomas answers:
Reply to Objection 2. The power of the devil in so far as he hinders man from obtaining glory, is expelled from man by the baptismal ablution; but in so far as he hinders man from receiving the sacrament, his power is cast out by the exorcisms.
St. Thomas also adds,
Some say that the things done in the exorcism have no effect, but are mere signs. But this is clearly false; since in exorcizing, the Church uses words of command to cast out the devil’s power, for instance, when she says: “Therefore, accursed devil, go out from him,” etc. Therefore we must say that they have some effect, but, other than that of Baptism. For Baptism gives man grace unto the full remission of sins. But those things that are done in the exorcism remove the twofold impediment against the reception of saving grace. Of these, one is the outward impediment, so far as the demons strive to hinder man’s salvation. And this impediment is removed by the breathings, whereby the demon’s power is cast out…. The other impediment is within, forasmuch as, from having contracted original sin, man’s sense is closed to the perception of the mysteries of salvation….. (ST, III, q. 71, a. 3, Resp)
Hence the exorcisms are aimed at improving the fruitfulness of the Sacrament, not the fact of it. Just as we can reasonably conclude that one who is not catechized before or after the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism would generally show far less fruit, so also it seems reasonable to conclude that, other things being equal, the traditional exorcisms help to ensure the fruitfulness of the sacrament that is conferred. To use St. Thomas’ analogy, it does this by preparing the ground, such that when the seed of new life is conferred, it can readily receive it and there is room for it to grow.
As Dr. Martin also points out in his essay, we tend to significantly under-estimate the effects of Original Sin, even in an infant. These days, parents delay baptism for weeks, months, even years. There is little sense that their infant or young child is in any sense under the power of darkness or the evil one. Most parents, even many clergy and leaders, see Original Sin is a kind of technical legal issue to be resolved, more than a massively serious problem to be dealt with as quickly and urgently as possible.
In this kind of a climate, The exorcisms listed above seem heavy-handed, and “over-the-top” while Original Sin seems to most people a little problem to be dealt with when all the family are in town for the nice little baptism ceremony.
Pastorally, we need to make a journey back to a more sober appreciation of the condition in which we are all born, namely in Original Sin. It is no small matter, and the evil one clearly has some doorways, and strongholds in the unbaptized.
The old exorcism prayers articulated this well, and even if some consider their wording a bit excessive and the number of them too numerous they do provide a pastoral framework of sobriety, and they also have the very real effect of helping to clear the ground, and prepare the way for the seed of New Life.
No, the infant or unbaptized person is not possessed in the formal sense of the word, but it never hurts to announce to Satan that is day is done, and give him his walking papers.
1. Obviously, as a parish priest, I am in no way authorized to alter the baptismal rite or any of the liturgies of the Church. I simply propose here a modest discussion among the faithful, (i.e. us) which may or may not bear any fruit at all.
From time to time there are changes, most of the minor that come from Rome regarding the liturgical rites of the Church. Pope Benedict most recently made a change to the baptismal rite.
I only propose that we, namely the people of God, discuss among ourselves the restoration of some or all of the old exorcism prayers. If God the Holy Spirit desires this, the discussion will grow and ultimately have some wider effects in the Church.
2. Of course one immediate solution is to use the older Extraordinary Form of Baptism which was recently permitted to be used again. But Let me be clear, I do not here, in this essay, seek to agitate for large-scale return to the extraordinary form of the sacraments. While parents are free to request this form of the sacrament from me, I do not pressure, or agitate for it. I do not even suggest it. I simply say yes if requested.I am not aware of permission to conduct that Rite in English, and hence the use of Latin remains something of a barrier. (I am aware some clergy think they can conduct EF Baptisms wholly in English. Perhaps they can show me in writing where that is so, and what is the authorized translation to use).
The ordinary forms of the rites will continue to be those used by the vast majority of the faithful. My main hope would be to initiate a discussion about the prayers of exorcism, be they optional or required, being reintroduced into the new rite of baptism.
This would be somewhat in line with Pope Benedict’s desire that the Extraordinary Form, and the Ordinary Form of the liturgies have some salutary effect on one another.
3. As one who has been engaged in deliverance ministry in recent years, I have come to experience and understand the evil one is increasing his territory among many of the faithful. Deliverance prayers, to include minor exorcisms, and (with the bishop’s permission) major exorcism, will be something that will likely continue to grow in Church.
It is increasingly necessary for the faithful to specifically renounce Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises. It is also increasingly essential that many of the faithful be assisted by one-another and by clergy with deliverance prayers, minor exorcisms said by clergy, to include in rare cases major exorcism.
The times in which we live make these sorts of prayers all the more necessary. It is in this context that I propose this discussion. I am indebted to Dr. Ralph Martin for his excellent article where he covers this issue and many others besides. You can read his full article here The Post-Christendom Sacramental Crisis and the Wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas
Again I merely propose simple conversation. I am a loyal son of the Church and propose no rebellion or unauthorized practices in terms of adapting the Rites. Any changes, if they ever happen would take place under the Church’s authority.