Friday, March 20, 2009

Some 'Possession' Cases Still Baffle Exorcists

St. Francis Borgia Exorcising, by Francisco Goya, 1788.

Does Evil exist? Does Satan? How about Demonic Possession?

Such questions are nearly as old as Western Civilization and even if such notions are discarded by the scientific and medical communities, they’re still excellent fodder for scary books and movies.

That’s why I was interested to read of a new book entitled The Rite by journalist Matt Baglio, who follows an American priest named Father Gary, who is sent to Rome to learn to become an exorcist.

TIME magazine this week printed an interview with Baglio. Here are a few of the more interesting questions and answers taken directly from the TIME interview:

When you started the book, did you lean one way or another in terms of whether or not you believed in the possibility of exorcism?

I came at this topic very journalistically, not having an opinion for or against it. I wanted to really understand what it is and why the church still believes in it. But even exorcists themselves admit that 90% of the people that come to see them don't need an exorcism. There still remains a small percentage of cases, however, involving levitation, mind-reading and other paranormal phenomena that can't be explained through science. Maybe one day.

So how is a priest supposed to figure out that an exorcism is warranted? How do they judge who is and who isn't a worthy candidate?

The ritual stipulates that there are three signs that the priest has to look for: abnormal strength, the ability to understand unknown languages and the knowledge of hidden things. But they're very arbitrary, even those things. So they have to be in concert with something else. And typically what priests look for is what they call the aversion to the sacred, which is a person's inability to pray, to say the name of Jesus or Mary, to even look at the priest. Typically, when the person comes to see them, it's the last thing they want to do. They tend to have gone to see many doctors in search of a medical cure for whatever is afflicting them. They don't believe that the problem is demonic. They don't come in and say, "Father, I'm being attacked by demons. You need to pray over me." When someone says that to them, the priests immediately discounts that the problem is demonic.

So what happens during the exorcism rite?
The ritual, as its written, has several different stages to it. You say the litany of saints, you read the Gospel, you say a homily. The priest is allowed to bring in other elements if he wants to — the renewal of the baptismal vows, for example. But at the core of it are the exorcism prayers themselves, which are composed of the imperative and the depreciatory. The depreciatory involves the exorcist entreating God — "God, come down and bless this person." The imperative is the command, "I command you to leave this person." If you were to do the whole thing from start to finish, it would take out about an hour. But none of the priests that I followed in Rome do it like that. Almost all of them get rid of everything except the exorcism prayers. And the reason they do that is because they don't have time. They have a waiting room of 20 people. That's one day. The next day they have another 20 people.
Click here for the complete TIME interview.

1 comment:

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