Most of the time when people think of exorcisms, they think of dramatic situations like those depicted in movies like The Rite or The Exorcist. But did you know that an exorcism is performed with something as common as the rite of baptism?
There are two kinds of exorcisms: major exorcisms and minor exorcisms. A major exorcism is a solemn ritual performed by a priest when a person is believed to be possessed by a demon. They are rare and are only performed by authorized exorcists. A minor exorcism, on the other hand, is a more general exorcism performed even if the recipient is not believed to be possessed and is included in the baptismal rite.
But if a person, such as an infant receiving baptism, is not possessed, why do they need an exorcism?
The Catechism gives the answer: “Since Baptism signifies liberation from sin and from its instigator the devil, one or more exorcisms are pronounced over the candidate.” (1237)
All humans are born with Original Sin (with the exceptions of Jesus and Mary). As the Council of Trent taught, this makes us “by nature children of wrath,” “servants of sin,” and “under the power of the devil and death.” When a person is baptized, they receive God’s grace and are translated from death to life, from the dominion of Satan to the Church of God. Thus, an exorcism is appropriate.
For those interested, here’s the prayer of exorcism in the baptismal rite, titled “Prayer of Exorcism and Anointing before Baptism”:
Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son into the world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil, to rescue man from the kingdom of darkness, and bring him into the splendor of your kingdom of light. We pray for N./and N. Set them free from original sin, make them a temple of your glory, and send your Holy Spirit to dwell within them. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The extraordinary form of the baptismal rite also includes a few minor exorcisms that are more explicit. Here’s an English translation of one of them:
I exorcise thee, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, that thou goest out and depart from this servant of God, N. For He commands Thee, accursed one, Who walked upon the sea, and stretched out His right hand to Peter about to sink. Therefore, accursed devil, acknowledge thy sentence, and give honor to the living and true God: give honor to Jesus Christ His Son, and to the Holy Spirit; and depart from this servant of God, N. because God and our Lord Jesus Christ hath vouchsafed to call him (her) to His holy grace and benediction and to the font of Baptism.
So if you were baptized in the Catholic Church, you’ve received an exorcism!