Why are Catholics — and non-Catholics — so fascinated by exorcism?
Perhaps because it’s the most palpable battle between Good and Evil — the classic protagonist and antagonist in raw, exposed forms.
Hollywood prepares to release yet another movie about exorcism. “The Rite,” starring Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue and Ciarán Hinds, opens in theaters today. And to add to the buzz, the Discovery Channel recently announced that it was collaborating with the Vatican to launch a reality TV-series “The Exorcist Files” about the ritual, but the Vatican denies its involvement.
It’s not only Hollywood that’s giving exorcism more attention — the church seems to be ramping up efforts. Regina Apostolorum, a pontifical university in Rome, added a course on the ritual in 2005. And in November, more than 100 U.S. bishops and priests gathered in Baltimore for a Conference on the Liturgical and Pastoral Practice of Exorcism.
So what is exorcism anyway? The Catholic News Service offered this explanation:
An exorcism is the ritual of evicting demons or other spiritual entities from a person or place believed to be possessed. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an exorcism is performed by an exorcist who asks “publicly and authoritatively” in Christ’s name “that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion.” This power comes from Jesus, who exorcised demons in the Bible.
As I mentioned in another CatholicMatch post, I wrote a story (Exorcism: It’s on the big screen, but is it still in the church?) about the subject after another recent exorcism movie, The Last Exorcism. It was difficult to convince priests to talk to me about the ritual, likely because of the way it’s been sensationalized over the years. And, as one priest told me, he’d rather his parishioners not think about it — not because it was trivial, but because evil is so real. He didn’t want them to become too fascinated by the subject.
Yet, one of the priests I interviewed said something I just loved because it summed up his solider-like approach to what he called “the battle”:
“Christ conquers Satan and demons on Calvary. All the rest is mopping up operations, including exorcism.”
I’m looking forward to seeing “The Rite.” I read the book by Matt Baglio and I found it to be a level-headed, journalist approach to the subject (it was this 2009 interview with one of my favorite writers, Rod Dreher, that piqued my interest). The book was stuffed with fascinating history, witnessed accounts, and extensive interviews.
What’s so surreal about exorcism is that movie portrayals aren’t totally off from the real thing — Baglio describes some people vomiting up nails and climbing walls, among other things. I’m curious to see how this film will portray exorcism. Baglio seems optimistic about the film.
Why should single Catholics care?
Because many of you can take comfort in knowing that you’re probably already doing something that severely diminishes Satan’s hold on you: receiving the sacraments.
As priests in-the-know told me, when someone is concerned about demonic oppression (different from full-out possession, which is pretty rare) in their own life, priests tell them to receive the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist. Both are more powerful than exorcism, which is not a sacrament.
And, they added, unlike in the movies, good always triumphs.
So, CatholicMatchers, will you see the film? Why or why not?