Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Rite of Exorcism

"As a layperson, the first thing that surprised me about exorcism was that not many priests knew anything about it, especially not American priests."

-- Matt Baglio, Journalist

In the fall of 2005, Matt Baglio, the author of The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist(New York: Doubleday, 2009), was a journalist associated with the Rome bureau of the Associated Press living in Italy when he heard that a Vatican-affiliated university was offering a course entitled "Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation." He thought it might be a PR stunt. "Did the Church still believe in exorcism?" he asked himself. Not knowing what to expect, he decided to go to the class, viewing it as a rare opportunity: "I thought there was at least an article in it." Little did he know that the envisioned article would turn into a book.

The first day of the course, changed all of his preconceptions about exorcism, largely formed by sensationalist Hollywood depictions. "Not only was the ultramodern classroom an odd setting to see priests, Franciscan friars, and nuns of various orders listening to lectures on the powers of Satan, but, to my surprise, I found the students themselves to be anything but the 'superstitious' or puritanical priests portrayed in popular culture." (p. 235)

One of the most unexpected things about exorcisms as described here is that they aren't typically a one-time deal. More often than not, they resemble a periodic scheduled visit to one's therapist, with the exorcist scheduling their next visit in his appointment book at the conclusion of a session. The vast majority of exorcisms might strike an observer as monotonous affairs. This isn't to say that there aren't occasionally the unexpectedly violent and convulsive confrontations one might expect, but that these are not typically conclusive. A well-known case in Rome reportedly took over 40 years.

Another surprising thing is the disparity in the number of exorcists and workload profiles between various countries. As of the writing of this book, Germany reportedly has no exorcists, the United States 14, and Italy somewhere upwards of 400. "According to the Association of Italian Catholic Psychiatrists and Psychologists, in Italy alone, more than 500,000 people see an exorcist annually." (p. 6)

The author writes:
As a layperson, the first thing that surprised me about exorcism was that not many priests knew anything about it, especially not American priests....

My first behind-the-scenes look at exorcism occurred when I began to interview the various exorcists on their "home turf." Here and there I would catch a glimpse of what existed on the other side -- a group of people hounding Father Tommaso outside the sacristy of the Scala Santa; Father Bamonte wiping a puddle of holy water off a chair so that I could sit down for an interview; sitting in Father Carmine's waiting room while a woman screamed and banged around in his office. Perhaps most surprising was that far from being carried out in some hilltop monastery, many of the exorcisms were performed in churches located right in the heart of Rome. In fact, it was common to be talking to an exorcist while groups of tourists paraded around taking photos of religious iconography. One bizarre aspect of researching this book was this juxtaposition of two worlds -- talking to a victim of demonic possession or hearing an exorcism and then emerging into the bright sunshine and chaotic streets of Rome.

Each exorcist I interviewed was compelling in his own right.... I also found their candor to be refreshing. Many of the books I'd read had ordered everything into neat little boxes, yet here were exorcists with years of experience telling me that there were still things that couldn't be known.

Then there were the victims. Like Father Gary, not only did I find their apparent normalcy surprising, but I also found them credible, even likable people These were not people who struck me a trying to pull a fast one; they were sincere, heartfelt individuals who were struggling with something even they seemed at a loss to understand. Later, when I participated in exorcisms, this impression was only reinforced.

Many people assume that an exorcist is out to prove that people are possessed; however, with each of the Italian exorcists I talked to, I found the opposite to be true. It is also wrong, I think, to assume that the Church is on one side promoting the belief in spirits while the secular world is on the other, trying to debunk such notions. Stroll down to the local New Age bookshop to see the tremendous popularity of angels, "channeling," and "astral travel," not to mention thenumber of "ghost whisperers" and therapists who practice "spirit releasement." (pp. 236-238)
The Italian exorcists interviewed in Baglio's book are at pains to rule out psychological disorders before proceeding with exorcisms. Following suit, Fr. Gary Thomas, the American priest from San Francisco whose training in Rome is the principal subject of Baglio's book, promotes the importance of erring on the side of caution by assembling teams of medical doctors and psychologists or psychiatrists who could fully vet potential "patients" before proceeding to exorcism, and recommends making this a matter of standard national policy once the USCCB can be made to take the issue seriously enough to address it. (pp. 211ff.)

[Hat tip to N.B.]


A critic of the "Reform of the Reform" from the left

Our Canadian friend Paul Borealis just called our attention to John F. Baldovin's Reforming the Liturgy: A Response to the Critics(Liturgical Books, 2009), via J. Peter Nixon's review, "Engaging the Opposition" (America, September 14, 2009).

Looking up the book on Amazon, I found an ample review by Alcuin Reid(scroll down), which gives it three stars and begins with this quotation from Mahatma Gandhi: "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." While Reid concedes that it is far too early to declare victory, particularly in debate over the production of modern rites, his incisive discussion, highlighting numerous flawed assumptions and arguments in Baldovin's 197-page book, leaves the reader doubting whether there is much if anything to be learned from this book that has not been already stated numerous times before by partisans of the liturgical status quo.

Nixon's review of Baldovin's book in America strikes a balanced tone, but bears the luggage of all the-usual-suspect assumptions found among those drifting among the flotsam and jetsam of the AmChurch mainstream. It refers to the Novus Ordo as if it were an established "rite" (It is not: it is the Roman Rite's "ordinary form," whose unsettled form continues to be debated) and the intended product of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council (It is not: they did not envision free-standing altars, the removal of Communion rails, Communion in the hand, the ordinary use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, women serving in the sanctuary, etc.), rather than a series of progressively institutionalized innovations stretching over the last four decades; and we're still waiting for the latest changes in the once-again-reformed vernacular translations of the Lectionary.

Nonetheless, if there is anything positive here, it may be the simple fact that the once trendy-lefty radicals who are complacent with the status quo have finally noticed that there is, in fact, an opposition with substantive arguments and attempted engagement.

[Hat tip to Paul Borealis and Alcuin Reid]

Fr. Charles Arminjon on the blessing of trials

Fr. Charles Arminjon's End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life (Sophia Institute, 2008), was a life-changer for St. Therese of Lisieux. The book consists of a series of conferences given by Fr. Arminjon at the Cathedral of Chambery (Savoy). I quote from one of the notes:
St. Ambrose held that a life free of trials was a certain sign of divine malediction, and said, "I should not wish to live for a single night under the roof of a man who has never suffered." Another saint said, "Why attach any importance to afflictions? Temporal life is but a transition. A whole lifetime of pain in this world is of no more consequence than an uncomfortable night in a bad hostelry."
[Hat tip to Sir A.S.]

Liturgical books

Tridentine Community News (September 27, 2009):
We occasionally come across some books that merit mention in this column. They might interest our readers on a liturgical level, as prayer books, or simply because of their uniqueness.


As has previously been announced, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron will be visiting St. Josaphat Church on November 29 to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation according to the Extraordinary Form. Have you ever considered where the texts of Extraordinary Form Sacraments may be found?

To our knowledge, there is no book currently in print that contains the Sacrament of Confirmation as administered by a bishop. Reprinted ritual books, such as the 1950s Weller edition of the Rituále Románum, only contain Confirmation as administered by a priest in case of necessity (yes, that was permitted pre-Vatican II).

Leave it to Fr. Borkowski to come up with a solution: He unearthed a 1934 edition of the Pontificále Románum. This book contains not only the Sacrament of Confirmation, but a variety of other Episcopal ceremonies.

Cantus Históriæ Passiónis

During Holy Week, the Passion of Our Lord is chanted by three voices in the sanctuary, traditionally a priest, a deacon, and a third voice who can sustain the lengthy Narrator part. The music for the Passions is lilting and memorable. It is not found in the conventional altar missal. The music is rather contained in a three-book set, known as the Cantus Históriæ Passiónis Dómini Nostri Jesu Christi. The three volumes are named for each of the chanters: Christus (Christ), normally sung by the celebrant; Synagóga (Crowds); and Chronísta (Narrator). Each volume contains notes only for the individual concerned.

Finding the correct edition for the Extraordinary Form is a challenge. The Vatican Press currently sells a 1989 Novus Ordo Latin single volume version of this book, Pássio Dómini Nostri Iesu Christi Liber Cantus, too different to be useful. The web site www.musicasacra.com offers a downloadable Tridentine edition, however it suffers from two problems: 1) It is a single volume edition, which can be confusing to the singers, and 2) It is an edition from before 1955, and thus the excerpts of the Gospel terminate in the wrong places. Hand editing must thus be done to end the Passion at the right point to match the 1962 edition of the missal.

After years of asking booksellers to notify us, borrowing others’ books, and searching on-line, we finally located and purchased an actually-in-force edition: a 1956 version of the three-book set. Publishers out there: There is a market, albeit small, for a reprinting of these books.

Blessed Be God

Are you looking for a comprehensive prayer book, with traditionally-phrased prayers? Back in print is Blessed Be God, a 750 page compendium of numerous devotions, novenas, and the Sacraments. The book is available for $30 from www.pcpbooks.com, or (866) 241-2762.

Daily Roman Missal

It is easy to get spoiled by the various Latin/English hand missals for the Extraordinary Form. They are beautiful aids to prayer.

It is worth reminding our readers that at least one reasonably impressive hand missal exists for the Ordinary Form: the Daily Roman Missal, published by Midwest Theological Forum ($49-99 for various editions, from www.theologicalforum.org, (630) 739-9750). MTF also publishes a lovely Novus Ordo Latin Altar Missal we have previously mentioned.

The Daily Roman Missal includes Latin for the Proper Antiphons (Introit, Responsorial Psalm, Alleluia, Communion) and Ordinary of the Mass. Caveat: The Entrance and Communion Antiphons provided are those for spoken (Low) Masses. At sung Masses, different antiphons are used, taken from the 1974 Graduále Románum. This is a peculiar inconsistency for those of us accustomed to be able to trust the antiphons in our 1962 missals.

A collection of devotional prayers are provided at the back of the current edition. Overall, the book generally resembles the Magníficat subscription paperback missal.

While it is not as comprehensive as most Extraordinary Form hand missals, the Daily Roman Missal is the best such product for the Novus Ordo that we have yet seen, and the only one to include Latin. Note that there have been several revisions of this book, with each successive version improving upon the earlier ones.

With the impending changes to the English translations of the Mass, now may not be the best time to invest in an English hand missal. We do expect MTF to issue an updated edition of this missal when the new translations are released, and at that time, this book will likely be worthy of your investigation.
[Comments? Please e-mail tridnews@stjosaphatchurch.org. Previous columns are available at www.stjosaphatchurch.org. This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Josaphat bulletin insert for September 27, 2009. Hat tip to A.B.]

Nolite timere: Tolle lege, Verbum Domini sit

This is a project that has long begged to be undertaken, and has been waiting for just the gifts and background brought to it by its author. More than a few of us have long felt the need for the philosophical presuppositions of historical critical approaches to Biblical interpretation to be critically examined -- with a view to the practical end of improving catechesis and preaching, as well as confidence of the laity in Bible reading. This need is particularly acute in the Catholic circles where there is an urgent need for the public and private uses of Scripture over the last half-century to be disabused of the post-Kantian skepticism that is the legacy of Protestant Liberalism, and for those uses of the Bible to be liberated by a well-founded hermeneutic of confident faith. The concerns exhibited by Pope Benedict XVI's writings offer an ideal foil for precisely such a task, and I am delighted to see Professor Scott Hahn undertake it. On the one hand, this will mean that the readership will not be confined to a handfull of postmodern posers from departments of aesthete atheology discussing each other's arcane footnotes about whether Jesus really said what the apostolic writers said He said. On the other hand, nobody should be deceived by the comparative accessibility of Hahn's style or the relative brevity of the book: this is a piece of mature theological reflection seasoned by a career of Biblical teaching and research. I expect a wide readership for this volume; and from the following endorsements, I see I am not alone:

"A compelling manuduction right into the very core of Pope Benedict XVI's theological vision. In this clearly written and cogently argued essay, Hahn makes a convincing and highly pertinent case for what Pope Benedict holds to be the crucial challenge for the Church and theology today--the reunification, and thereby the renewal, of exegesis theologically conceived and theology exegetically grounded. Theologically insightful and surefooted, this book is one of the best and certainly the most timely and urgent among the recent introductions to the theology of Pope Benedict XVI."--Reinhard Huetter, Duke Divinity School

"Hahn here renders an important service in so clearly setting forth the hermeneutical principles, biblical framework, and doctrinal positions of Pope Benedict XVI, arguably the world's most important contemporary theologian. The parallels between the biblical theology of the pope and of evangelicals, together with their respective attempts to interpret Scripture theologically in an age marked by modern biblical criticism, are particularly fascinating."--Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Wheaton College and Graduate School

"As a Protestant biblical scholar, I found Hahn's exposition of Pope Benedict's biblical theology both informative and inspiring. In spite of differences, Protestants need to read this book to understand how deeply we can agree on the primacy of Christ and the Word. Through Hahn, I have a new appreciation for the mind and heart of Pope Benedict."--Tremper Longman III, Westmont College

"The increasingly painful bankruptcy of the historical-critical method in our time has created a vacuum precisely at the point where the living Church requires substantial nurture. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken into this crisis like no one else, and his best expositor, Scott Hahn, has done us a tremendous service by synthesizing Benedict's erudite and prayerful biblical theology into a lively, readable, and intellectually reliable conspectus. This excellent volume will be indispensable for all Christians who seek to be more maturely grounded in Scripture."--David Lyle Jeffrey, Baylor University

Table of Contents:
  1. Ignorance of Scripture Is Ignorance of Christ: The Theological Project of Joseph Ratzinger
  2. The Critique of Criticism: Beginning the Search for a New Theological Synthesis
  3. The Hermeneutic of Faith: Critical and Historical Foundations for a Biblical Theology
  4. The Spiritual Science of Theology: Its Mission and Method in the Life of the Church
  5. Reading God's Testament to Humankind: Biblical Realism, Typology and the Inner Unity of Revelation
  6. The Theology of the Divine Economy: Covenant, Kingdom, and the History of Salvation
  7. The Embrace of Salvation: Mystagogy, and the Transformation of Sacrifice
  8. The Cosmic Liturgy: The Eucharistic Kingdom and the World as Temple
  9. The Authority of Mystery: The Beauty and Necessity of the Theologian's Task
[Hat tip to J.M.]