Monday, February 13, 2006

Giving the Devil his due

I've talked with Catholic students and parents who were surprised to learn that the Catholic baptismal rite contains a minor exorcism -- one, in some cases, which they witnessed unwittingly (apparently) in the baptism of their own infant siblings or children. About the only time most Catholics are reminded in a formal liturgical way of the Devil's existence is in the "Renewal of Baptismal Promises" made at the baptism of those being received into the Church at the Easter Vigil. That rite includes the following questions asked of all present in the congregation:
  • Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God's children?
  • Do you reject the glamor of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin?
  • Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?
Then the rite continues with the Apostles' Creed.

C.S. Lewis once said that there were two dangers to be avoided with respect to the Devil -- first, an excessive curiosity that might lead to dabbling in the occult; second, an excessive indifference that might lead to forgetting that he exists and prowls about the earth seeking to devour souls. It takes little intelligence to guess which side the danger lies on in the Church today. The last time I heard anything serious or intelligent said by a Catholic priest about the Devil and hell was at an Opus Dei evening of recollection -- and what rank-and-file Catholics are going to be caught dead at one of those? Liberal priests, like Fr. O'Leary, may even deny the existence of the Devil. Many others seem too embarrassed to talk seriously about the Devil. Most liturgical references to the Devil in the modern rites are so sanitized that people hardly realize they even refer to the Devil.

Compare the minor exorcism in the baptismal rite found in the Roman Catholic Missal of 1962 -- the English translation of which reads as follows:
I exorcise you, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father + and of the Son + and of the Holy + Ghost. Come forth, depart from this servant (hand-maid) of God, N., for He commands you, accursed and damned spirit, He Who walked upon the sea and extended His right hand to Peter as he was sinking.

Therefore, accursed devil, acknowledge your condemnation and pay homage to the true and living God; pay homage to Jesus Christ, His Son, and to the Holy Ghost, and depart from this servant (handmaid) of God, N., for Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, has calle him (her) to His holy grace and blessing, and to the font of Baptism.

Accursed devil, never dare to desecrate this sign of the holy + cross which we are tracing upon his (her) forehead. Through the same Christ our Lord. R/. Amen.
If Catholics were in the habit of hearing such simple, clear, and powerful language as this on a regular basis, they might not find themselves in such a befuddled funk or so confoundedly indifferent about the sin, death, hell, and the Devil. That would not be a repressive thing. It would be a liberating thing. For it would clarify and bring into focus all that is beautiful, good, and true and worth living for in these few years we've been given on the face of the earth, as well as the supernatural end for which our lives were intended. By contrast to the red meat of the 1962 Missal, it's hard to avoid listening to the liturgical seasons come and go under the new rites and their cotton candy presentations without asking: where is the beef?

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