Mention the word “exorcism” and many people’s thoughts immediately fly to horror flicks and scary stories about demonic possession. But there is another form of exorcism in Catholic liturgy that has a far wider application and significance, namely, pre-baptismal exorcism.
A very brief prayer of exorcism can be found in the Catholic rite for infant baptism. More strikingly, Catholics have a series of rather well-developed exorcistic rites that normally take place during the Sunday liturgies of the season of Lent. They are called the Scrutinies, and they come from the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. They are beautiful, fascinating rites. What are we to make of them?
Perhaps, first of all, the celebration of the Scrutinies can help us to acknowledge that the “reign of Satan” is not all about high drama. Pervasive evil, and what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil”—the everyday acquiescence to things that ought not be—is much, much more often the manifestation of Satan’s power from which we need Christ’s deliverance. We bring a broad range of phenomena to prayer in the Scrutinies.
I also believe that the Scrutinies have a unique role to play in the crafting of Christian identity. I’ve written about this aspect of the Scrutinies recently in an essay that was published in the January 2011 issue of Catechumenate Magazine, called “Scrutiny, Exorcism, and the Construction of the Christian Self.” The editors at LTP have kindly given their permission for us to share that article here.
P.S. Some of our readers may want to read something more general about the Scrutinies. If so, you might want to check out this. For those who wrestle with the challenge of celebrating these rites well in the parish, you are welcome to participate in a webinar hosted by TeamRCIA on Tuesday the 22nd of February (at 2 pm Eastern time) for which I’ll be the presenter.