The Rite

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Some presuppostions

There is, of course, a kernel of truth in the story: the Church does teach that we have supernatural enemies (fallen angels--devils, and demons) and that people are capable of choosing Hell (the souls of the damned); it does teach that Jesus can use ordained ministers (deacons, priests, or bishops) to drive evil spirits out of the souls of God's children; the holiness and wisdom of the exorcist does make a difference in the efficacy of the rite--in obedience to the Scripture passage, "This kind can only be driven out by prayer [and fasting]," the exorcist often fasts and prays continually until the matter is resolved; there is a renewed emphasis on the need for the ordained to be trained as exorcists so that they are available when needed.

Exorcism is NOT a contest between the exorcist and the unclean spirits. It is the application of Jesus' victory on the Cross to a suffering member of His Body.

Because the movie was designed to make money for the producers, I doubt that it is an entirely accurate representation of the Church's teaching. Some day I will go see it, I suppose; it is not something I look forward to at all.

Some Observations

Tag line: "You can only defeat it when you believe."[1]
We don't defeat the evil spirits; Jesus has defeated them and shares His victory with us. Our faith is not in our faith; our faith is never any greater than a mustard seed compared to the greatness of God's love and compassion for us.
Symptoms of possession
"The Ritual gives three signs that indicate the possible presence of a demon: abnormal strength, the ability to speak or understand a previously unknown language, and the knowledge of hidden things."[2]
Our culture is vulnerable
"Where faith decreases, superstition grows."[3]
An exorcist in every parish?
One review says that the Pope wanted to have "an exorcist in every parish."[4] The normal distribution is at least one exorcist per diocese. Either the movie or the review got mixed up.

Exorcism in Baptism

A prayer of exorcism and preliminary anointing is part of the "Rite of Baptism":

Prayer of Exorcism and Anointing Before Baptism
Celebrant: Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son into 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 splendor of your kingdom of light. We pray for this child: set him (her) free from original sin, make him (her) a temple of your glory, and send your Holy Spirit to dwell with him (her). We ask this through Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

The celebrant continues:

We anoint you with the oil of salvation in the name of Christ our Savior; may he strengthen you with his power, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
All: Amen.
The Celebrant anoints the child on the breast with the Oil of Catechumens.

The Book

  • Exorcism is hard work.
  • It's not magic.
  • People really suffer; people really find relief.

The Movie vs. The Book

  • No Jesuit exorcist in the book. It's probably a homage to The Exorcist to cast Anthony Hopkins as a Jesuit exorcist.
  • The priest in real life was not going through doubts about the priesthood. He was not sent to Rome because he ministered so well to a woman dying young.
  • Most Jesuits don't live alone--especially not in Rome!
  • 175 films or TV shows on exorcism! That raises certain expectations of what "exorcism" is for the movie's audience.
  • "You must believe in it [evil? Satan?] to defeat it" is not from the book.
  • The real priest never had to "exorcise the exorcist."
    • As critic Alan Brien once wrote of Laurence Olivier, "There is a kind of bad acting of which only a great actor is capable."[5]
  • I hated the Hannibal Lector movies and have no desire to see any Anthony Hopkins movie.