Sunday, January 09, 2011

The exorcisms of baptism

Unfortunately, one of the liturgical treasures we have lost is the baptismal exorcisms. Actually, it has made a somewhat diminished return in the rites of the adult catechumenate as found in the Book of Occasional Services.

In the first Book of Common Prayer of 1549, as in the liturgy used before the Prayer Books, there was an exorcism of the candidate for baptism. The three exorcisms (plus the "eph-phatha") were reduced to one by Cranmer.

Now, when you hear exorcisms, don’t think of all the exorcism movies you’ve seen. That’s not exactly what we’re talking about here (though it could come to that). It’s more what you might call a decontamination ritual. Elements such as salt and water are also exorcised before they are set apart for sanctification.

Remember, in the ancient world almost all converts are coming from paganism with its sometimes demonic rituals and incantations; it was but another way purging and leaving all those influences behind when coming to Christ and entering his church.

Of course, one could ask if the modern man have any less need for God to expel all the corruption, wickedness, and demonic influences that come from a life immersed in the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

In the first Prayer Book, after an opening prayer the minister is directed to makes a cross with the oil of catechumens on the forehead and chest of the baptismal candidate, saying, “Receive the sign of the holy cross, both in thy forehead and in thy breast, in token that thou shalt not be afraid to confess thy faith in Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue as his faithful soldier and servant unto life’s end.”

Then the priest says, “I command thee, unclean spirit, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that thou come out and depart from this person whom our Lord Jesus Christ hath vouchsafed to call to his holy Baptism, to be a member of his Body and of his holy congregation. Therefore, thou cursed spirit, remember thy sentence, remember thy judgment, remember the day is at hand, wherein thou shalt burn in fire everlasting prepared for thee and thy angels. And presume not hereafter to exercise any tyranny toward this person, whom Christ hath bought with his precious blood, and by his holy Baptism calleth to be of his flock.”

This all became a simple line in most of the Prayer Books that followed: “…grant that all sinful affections may die in him…” Perhaps the anointing and exorcism of the first Prayer Book could be reintroduced just before the examination of the candidates for baptism. Or we could just go back to the baptismal rite of the first Prayer Book or the rite used before that, both of which are quite sound and don't really need to be improved upon.

No comments: