Posted on September 28th, 2011
Rarely can books dealing with demons or the supernatural be accused of being overly mundane. Matt Baglio’s The Rite is the first book I’ve read on exorcism or demonology that falls into that category. The book wasn’t entirely boring, although it took me awhile to finish; there simply wasn’t the eagerness to turn the page and discover what happens next.
Baglio, a journalist, tells the story of an American Priest of the Roman Church who is trained in Rome to perform exorcisms. He pulls back the mystery surrounding how exorcists are trained. Far from unthinking superstition, the priests hear lectures from psychologists, medical doctors, and law enforcement, among others. Instead of finding demons under every knock of a shutter or mewing cat in a rainstorm, the exorcists tend to be very skeptical, only performing exorcisms when every medical and psychological cause has been ruled out.
Some of my favorite quotations from the book:
*The prince of disobedience is the Devil and you beat him by being obedient, not by your own personality, or charisms.
*An exorcist must remember not to pray the Ritual in such a way that it could be confused with a magic ceremony.
*The most essential thing … is that the exorcist has faith.
*It is a misperception that demons like to speak. In fact, they will almost never do so unless ordered to by the exorcist.
*Because of the unique role they play exorcists are faced with a variety of moral and spiritual dilemmas that can open them up to potential attack by demonic forces. Perhaps the most obvious of these is sexual temptation. Exorcisms are highly charged encounters, often taking place in small confined spaces that involve a lot of thrashing and moaning from the victim, who is almost always a woman. There are several theories for the preponderance of female victims: Women are more intuitive and in touch with their spiritual side; the Devil targets women specifically to use them to tempt men; or as Father Bamonte suggests, it may simply be because more women than men are willing to seek out an exorcist. Given this gender dynamic, it is recommended that the exorcist have a “helper” in the room who is also a woman (this is listed in the guidelines of the 1614 Roman Ritual).
*The exorcist must be the ultimate skeptic.
*The discernment of spirits is far more than just an educated guess, and is not to be confused with “intuition.”
*[From the Ritual:] “I adjure you, Satan, prince of this world, know the power and strength of Jesus Christ, who defeated you in the desert, overcame you in the garden, vanquished you on the cross.”
*Being an exorcist meant more than just sprinkling holy water onto someone and saying a prayer. It was also about bringing the sacraments back into people’s lives.
*[From an accident that the Exorcist suffered, he learned that] “suffering was the cross,” which ultimately brought him closer to God. He could see now that “suffering was a part of life,” and that “nobody escapes this world unscathed.”
Baglio works hard to be very objective, and not sensationalize his subject or the people in the book. If you’re looking for a straightforward understanding of the modern Roman understanding and practice of exorcism, this is an excellent book. I still recommend Malachi Martin’s Hostage to the Devil as the best work I’ve read on the subject. Hostage to the Devil, though, will scare the daylights out of you, and should not be read before going to sleep (trust me)! Baglio’s book does not need the same caution.